Following revelations of sexual misconduct by Oxfam personnel in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee initiated a special inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.
Hearings at the IDC in London begin today, but procedural rules require that all submissions remain confidential until they are accepted as evidence, which we understand becomes official tomorrow.
I will post any hearing updates on twitter.
A coalition of lawyers from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Disaster Law Project (DLP) and Doughty Street Chambers has submitted a joint submission to the International Development Committee (IDC) inquiry on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and related misconduct in the humanitarian aid sector. The submission sets out key changes necessary to establish effective safeguarding processes and strengthen accountability in the sector, and calls for an independent, external sector-wide inquiry.
“The IDC’s inquiry is an important first step, but an in-depth independent inquiry is necessary to reveal the scope of the problem, analyse how safeguarding practice are operating on the ground and ensure accountability” said Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney with IJDH and one of the submission’s authors. “An independent inquiry is an opportunity for the UK to lead globally in ending abuse and impunity in the aid sector and rebuilding public confidence. This goes far beyond Oxfam” she continued.
The submission was made following a meeting of the Haiti All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) chaired by Lord Griffiths in March, where Brian Concannon, Executive Director of IJDH and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, spoke alongside Nick Roseveare, Director of International Programmes at Oxfam. At that meeting, Concannon emphasised that the Oxfam scandal is merely “the visible tip of the iceberg” and that the entire international aid sector is in the same boat with Oxfam over safeguarding, stating “and it’s sinking…If they don’t fix the boat, then it will sink.”
Both Concannon and Robinson emphasised the need for an independent sector-wide inquiry at the APPG, a position also welcomed by Oxfam. At least 23 organisations have been reported to have been implicated in SEA in Haiti, the Ivory Coast and Sudan. Robinson said that a sector-wide review would have greater credibility with the public; would better protect Oxfam’s reputation and the reputation of other aid organisations and would be far more cost efficient than if each aid organisation conducted its own internal review. While the Charities Commission investigation into Oxfam is welcomed, Robinson said that “an organisation-specific approach is not going to have the sector-wide impact that it needs to have”.
The Haiti All Party Parliamentary Group meeting participants, which included Lord Bates, Minister of State at the Department for International Development, were receptive to the proposals and encouraged a submission to the IDC.
In addition to explaining the need for a broader inquiry beyond the IDC and proposing models which DFID could fund, the submission draws the Committee’s attention to key deficiencies in existing safeguarding policies, with a particular focus on organisations’ Codes of Conduct and grievance mechanisms. The submission calls upon IDC to make recommendations to:
- strengthen cooperation between humanitarian actors and local authorities in criminal and civil actions;
- compel organizations to clearly define and expressly prohibit SEA, violations of domestic law, staff misconduct, and other actionable program concerns in a Code of Conduct; and
- require grievance mechanisms that are transparent, accessible, secure, and capable of providing victims with an adequate remedy.
The work of IDC and any subsequent independent inquiry to “must consider misconduct towards both staff and beneficiaries, hear directly from affected communities and address not only sexual abuse but other misconduct like physical violence and corruption” said Phillips. “All abuse in the aid sector is unacceptable.”
Reports from the Haiti APPG can be found here and here.
Jennifer Robinson, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, email@example.com, +442074041313 (London, UK)
Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, firstname.lastname@example.org, +509-4645-2888 (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Kathleen Bergin, Director, Disaster Law Project, email@example.com, +1 857-222-6176 (Ithaca, USA)