Oxfam workers involved in a prostitution scandal in Haiti could be prosecuted in the UK for sex crimes, a former senior United Nations official has suggested.
Andrew MacLeod, the former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre has claimed that “predatory paedophiles” were now targeting charities in order to “access children” in the developing world.
Mr MacLeod, who now works for the charity Hear Their Cries, added that if aid workers had engaged in sexual activity with under-age children they could be prosecuted in England for breaking international sex tourism laws.
“The impact of sex tourism laws make it unlawful for anybody to have sex with children under the age of 16 anywhere in the world or aid, abet or support that,” Mr MacLeod told the Today programme.
“If they were adults, this man should be charged in front of the courts in Haiti because prostitution is illegal.
“If they are children, they should be charged in front of the courts here because he’s broken the sex tourism laws. If they are uncertain, they should pass the dossier to the police for investigation.”
“Since 1999 the National Crime Authority, or its precursor, have been warning that predatory paedophiles, as we cracked down in the developed world, are now going to the developing world to get access to children.
“Their chosen methodology is through charity. If we going to wipe out this problem that’s been known about for 30 years, people need to go to jail.”
Meanwhile, the Charity Commission on Monday revealed it has received as many as 1,000 reports a year related to safeguarding and sexual abuse in the charity sector, its director of investigations has revealed.
As new allegations continue to emerge over Oxfam’s handling of a prostitution “cover-up”, Michelle Russell claimed that the charity sector was “not immune” as she lifted the lid on the scale of the problem.
It comes as Oxfam’s chief executive Paul Goldring is due to meet Penny Mordaunt later today following threats by the Aid Secretary to pull the charity’s funding.
Meanwhile, Priti Patel, the former Aid Secretary, said that the Oxfam scandal was only “the tip of the iceberg” as she claimed she faced resistance from senior mandarins in the Department for International Development when she had tried to tackle the issue.
She added that the department’s civil servants failed to support her when she tried to raise concerns during a speech at the United Nations last September.
Writing in The Telegraph she says that as International Development secretary she had tried to ensure “accountability not just on aid effectiveness, but also the sexual abuse, not just of adults, but also the rape of children”.
Separately it has emerged that more than 120 workers employed by Britain’s leading charities have been accused of sexual abuse in the last year alone.
According to figures compiled by charities on sexual harassment in Britain and abroad, Oxfam recorded 87 incidents in 2017, Save the Children recorded 31, Christian Aid 2, while the British Red Cross reported a “small number of cases”.
All four charities receive money from the Department for International Development.
The revelations have caused a public outcry, while the Government is also coming under growing pressure to clarify what knowledge it had of the problem.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said that “every organisation” in the sector faced “problems of predatory men in powerful positions, abusing their authority and their power”.
Mr Watkins added that “every single one” of the 31 cases made public by Save the Children related to “sexual harassment”.
He said that the reports had resulted in 16 dismissals, and in 10 cases a dossier was passed to police officials in the worker’s home country or location they were stationed in.
“Be assured we take this incredibly seriously, my staff are out there helping children in some of the most dangerous and difficult places in the world,” he continued. “We owe it to them to make sure they are protected.”
Defending the Charity Commission’s handling of the Oxfam scandal, Michelle Russell said the watchdog was “categorically” told by Oxfam there had been “no abuse” of beneficiaries and no “possible crimes”.
She made the comments ahead of Oxfam’s showdown with Penny Mordaunt later today, in which the Aid Secretary is expected to grill the charity’s leaders over their handling of the controversy.
The charity’s chief executive Paul Goldring will meet with Ms Mordaunt amid threats to withdraw Government funding, in which he is expected to claim that Oxfam had not informed ministers of the allegations in 2011 because it believed that staff accused of paying prostitutes were not guilty of exchanging “sex for aid”.
Oxfam received £34m in state funding last year.
Discussing the internal Oxfam report from 2011, which was exposed earlier this week, Ms Russell said that had the Commission known the truth it would have “dealt with this very differently”.
“We were categorically told there was no abuse of beneficiaries involved in the allegations. Nor were we told that there were issues or possible issues around possible crimes, including those involving minors.
“What we did know – and it was made public at the time – is that it resulted in the sacking of several members of staff and resignations. We were assured that Oxfam had investigated it fully.”
Asked if the problem of exploitation could be more widespread in the charity sector, Ms Russell said: “The charity sector is not immune from these sorts of allegations and incidents happening.
“We have about 1,000 incidents a year reported to us by charities involving safeguarding issues.
“What is really important – and perhaps this hasn’t happened in the past so much – is that there is a light of transparency and accountability on it.”
It comes as Oxfam faced fresh allegations on Sunday night, amid claims that the charity knew of concerns over two of the men caught up in the Haiti sex scandal before they were posted there.
According to The Times, Oxfam chiefs in the UK had concerns over the behaviour of Roland van Hauwermeiren, the country director in Haiti, prior to him being sent to lead the relief effort there.
The newspaper claims to have seen internal documents showing that he was appointed to the job despite directors holding concerns over his behaviour towards women.
On Sunday, Caroline Thomson, Oxfam’s chairwoman of trustees in the UK, said: “It is not sufficient to be appalled by the behaviour of our former staff – we must and will learn from it and use it as a spur to improvement.”
She added that concerns raised about the recruitment and vetting of staff involved in the scandal were being examined.
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