Posted by News Express | 14 February 2018 | 2,609 times
Oxfam is a United Kingdom-registered charity that ranks as one of the foremost international non-governmental bodies that have over the last many years impacted positively on lives of members of the human race, from highly disadvantaged communities.
This global brand is currently embroiled in a needless sexual scandal generated by the careless lifestyles of some of its aid workers, who were involved in the previous relief delivery efforts in Haiti, in the aftermath of the last earthquake that devastated that heavily impoverished Island nation.
The British charity is accused, in a very devastatingly scandalous manner, of concealing the outcomes of investigative probes it waged into the widespread but damaging claims that staff used prostitutes while delivering aid in Haiti, in 2011.
This scandal has rocked this otherwise highly reputable organisation, which is one of the international charity groups that are well-known by millions of the poorest of the poor in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Congo, and other less-developed world nations.
Yours faithfully had on many occasions, during my holidays in the United Kingdom, patronised shops run by the Oxfam, UK, because of my passion and zeal to support in a very impactful way the humanitarian efforts of this and many Europe-established charities, whose activities are targeted at ameliorating the hardships faced by the impoverished people in the so-called Third World nations.
In fact, the entire United Kingdom’s media are awash with the sizzling stories of how some of these aid workers attached to this British charity were caught red-handed, abusing the weaker members of the Haiti population and, indeed, capitalising on their weak financial and existential status to deprive them of their universally guaranteed fundamental human right to the dignity of their persons, among other salient rights.
This scandal has broken out at the inauspicious time when the world has already been rattled by the emergence and, indeed, witnessing the ever-expanding scenarios of the widespread sexual exploitations of women in the film industry in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
One of the greats and a wealthy man of considerable global status, Mr Harvey Weinstein, is at the centre of an increasingly disturbing sex scam that spanned many decades, in the famous film industry in God’s own state.
In fact, the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal has taken a turn for the worst, particularly for the main protagonist indicted in these ever-expanding scandals. The New York State has sued Weinstein’s company. And, in the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the studio failed to protect staff from abuse by Mr Harvey Weinstein, the founding chairman of the Multi-billion dollars conglomerate. The law suit alleges Mr Weinstein abused female employees and made verbal threats to kill staff members. But a lawyer for Mr Weinstein had said: “Fair investigation would show that many of the allegations were without merit.”
Also, this issue of sexual exploitation of young girls against the British charity is coming barely few weeks after another scandal blew up within the British Presidents Club Charity, following stories in the tabloid over sexual intimidation of girls who attended a recently held “men only” dinner, to raise funds for charity.
News reports from British media have it that Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and the Bank of England, were among those forced to clarify their involvement in this show of shame, which reportedly occurred when participants at that dinner after enjoying expensive wines made passes and, indeed, groped the sexual organs of girls who were invited as ushers.
The UK’s Presidents Club charity has since then been forced to close down, following these sad allegations of sexual harassment of girls at a men-only gala. Incidentally, in that event being discussed, over £2 billion were raised for charities by top echelons of the very rich elite of UK.
Again, Oxfam’s sex scandal didn’t emerge too far away from the period that the media has compelled the British Parliament to realistically set up effective mechanisms for investigating cases of sexual harassment of interns and other visitors to the Westminster parliamentary building.
Even a senior minister was forced out of his job, when it emerged that he touched the upper part of the leg of a female journalist whom he invited over to a bar for a drink.
It is, therefore, not shocking in any way that the British government has taken serious look and handling, in a very effective way, the story of the sexual exploitations of teenage sex workers in Haiti, by workers of the publicly-funded charity, which is reportedly netting in an average of 40 million pounds sterling from the tax payers, yearly.
Understandably, this scandal has led to the retirement of the second-in-command in the hierarchy of Oxfam, in the person of Penny Lawrence who said she was ‘ashamed’, and takes full responsibility.
Oxfam – which denies a cover-up – has met with the International Development Secretary, in a bid to prevent its government-funding from being cut, so reports a British tabloid.
Ms Lawrence joined Oxfam GB in 2006 as international programmes director, leading teams across 60 countries, according to the charity’s website.
“Concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad, as well as Hait, that we failed to adequately act upon,” she noted in a statement, adding:
“It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.”
The media in Great Britain are reporting that the allegations emerged in The Times on Friday, which said Oxfam’s country director for Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, used prostitutes at a villa rented for him by Oxfam in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
According to the paper, Oxfam knew about concerns over the conduct of Mr van Hauwermeiren and another man, when they worked in Chad before they were given senior roles in Haiti. Oxfam said allegations that under-age girls may have been involved were unproven.
Widza Bryant, who worked in HR for Oxfam in Haiti from 2009 for three years, said she shared “ongoing rumours” about locals being exploited with her boss “on many occasions.”
She told BBC News: “There were a lot of rumours on the ground about management and leaders exploiting the locals sexually and in other ways, to get jobs and to have good standing.”
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, admitted failings to act on complaints and when it allowed Mr van Hauwermeiren to move onto another post, after allegations were revealed.
“At that time, the use of prostitutes was not explicitly contrary to Oxfam’s code of conduct – bringing Oxfam into disrepute in any way abusing people who may have been beneficiaries of course was.”
He recalled: “There was an exploration of how should the organisation respond but we didn’t act on it.”
The media is also disclosing that European Commission has said it expects full clarity and maximum transparency from Oxfam, adding that it is ready to “cease funding any partner not living up to high ethical standards.”
The charity’s programme in Haiti received €1.7 million in EU funds in 2011.
International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said Oxfam had apologised for its “appalling” behavior; and that the government had not been told at the time the allegations involved sexual misconduct or beneficiaries.
Oxfam has been told to tell the Department for International Development by the end of the week (mid-February, 2018) how it will handle any future allegations around safeguarding, or it faces losing government funding.
Ms Mordaunt also called for clearer whistle-blowing policies across the charitable sector, and launched an urgent review into safeguarding and aid-providers.
The Innocent drinks company – one of Oxfam’s corporate sponsors, which donates around £100,000 per year – said it wants to see a clear plan “for how this could not ever happen again.”
The scandal has taken a turn for the worst for the organisation, even as the charity has since postponed a “Fashion Fighting Poverty” event, which had been due to take place as part of London Fashion Week on Thursday, saying it was not the “right time” at present.
Oxfam’s own investigation in 2011 led to four people being sacked, and three others resigning, including Mr van Hauwermeiren.
The decisive way that the British system is handling this range of sex scandals involving Oxfam reminds a typical Nigerian of the sordid and sorry approach that the Nigerian government handled the issues around sexual exploitations of girls in the internally displaced persons’ camps (IDPs) in the North-East – devastated by five years of Boko haram terrorism.
The sad development of rampant sexual exploitations of IDPs by people who otherwise are paid by the tax-payers to deliver relief items to the needy and provide security and succour for these internally displaced persons is, to say the least, very primitive and despicable.
The relevant governmental authorities in Nigeria were rather found stampeding to provide cover and to deny that these scandals ever occurred, even when the United States-funded Human Rights Watch deployed experts to the North-East of Nigeria, who took time to investigate and compile the records. It took the publication of this report for the police to come up with a tepid response, claiming to have arrested these suspected sexual predators. But that announcement made in the form of public notice was the last anyone has heard of that matter, even as impunity manifests in Nigeria has ensured that the sexual scandals are about to be swept under the carpet.
Till date, since December 2016, not one military officer or aid worker implicated in these scandals in the North-East of Nigeria has faced justice.
A popular national daily, The Guardian of Nigeria, even went as far as writing an editorial on these sex scandals, and stated thus: “There are certain things, which, under any circumstance, must not happen in any civilised community. One of these is the sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable, powerless and traumatised persons, especially children and women. For this reason, the harassment, sexual exploitation and violence against women and teenage girls in the camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), allegedly perpetrated by security operatives and other officials of the state, should be condemned in the strongest terms. It is barbaric, inhuman, shocking and morally evil.
“Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who brought this to public knowledge, revealed that those implicated in, and arrested for, the sex scandal included ‘two policemen, three army officers, one prison official; one Air Force officer, an employee of the Borno State Ministry of Agriculture and two members of the Civilian JTF’. If further investigations indict these suspects, they should be made to face the severest punishment such atrocious acts carry.”
The Guardian continued: “Although there have been reports of lawlessness and criminal activities going on in the IDPs’ camps, the revelation of what caused the action of the police came after a Human Rights Watch report unearthed 43 cases of abuses and misconduct in IDPs’ camps in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
“In its report, the non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Watch, accused camp officials, vigilante groups, policemen and soldiers of engaging in rape, harassment and sexual abuse of women and teenagers. Some victims, who allegedly spoke to Human Rights Watch, said they were drugged and raped, while 37 of them were said to have been coerced into sex through false marriage promises, and materials and financial aid.”
These reported cases of sexual violations of teenage internally displaced persons sheltered in the different displace peoples' camps, serve to remind us that the institutions that ought to safeguard the human rights of the vulnerable members of our society have all gone to bed and, are, in need of reawakening, because these abuses go to the roots of our constitutional rights.
The right to the dignity of the human person, for instance, which is enshrined in chapter four of the 1999 Constitution is usually treated with kid gloves whenever perpetrators of such heinous crime against humanity are found to be politically exposed or are members of the armed security forces.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, may be expressing similar disappointment on the weakening of major democratic institutions, when he wrote, quoting a UN document in his recent seminal lecture delivered in London. He stated: “Democracy also requires functioning institutions. It requires a legislature that represents the people, not one controlled by the President, Prime Minister, bureaucrats, or the military. It requires an independent judiciary that enforces the rule of law with equal concern for all people. It requires well-functioning political parties and electoral systems. It requires security forces that are professional, politically neutral and serve the needs of people. It requires an accessible media that is free, independent and unbiased; not one controlled by the state or corporate interests. And it requires a vibrant civil society, one that can play a watchdog role on government and interest groups – and provide alternative forums of political participation.”
A notorious fact, however, is that: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several human rights treaties, ratified by most countries, already embrace sexual rights, even though they are not explicitly stated.”
These global rights laws are to the effect that sexual rights are implicit in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Also, worthy of note is the Millennium Declaration and the Yogyakarta Principles, which also encompass these rights.
“Sexual rights are human rights and apply to everyone. It is the duty of all governments to respect, protect and fulfill these rights,” so said writers of the piece, Sexual Rights for All.
It is true in Nigeria and universally, that: “Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life, and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles; sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.”
“Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”
Nigerian governmental institutions must wake up to their pro-rights duties and functions, by ensuring that people in authority who abuse vulnerable members of our society are made to face the wrath of the law. Our laws must not be manipulated to become respecter of persons or status. All Nigerians, like other members of the human race, must be equally subject to have their day in the courts of competent jurisdiction. Nigeria should borrow the positive ways of fighting sexual abuses from the United Kingdom, from where we even got political independence.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via email@example.com
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