Oxfam to set up independent commission to review practices

(Reuters) - British aid organization Oxfam said on Friday that it would create an independent commission to review the charity’s practices and culture after accusations of sexual misconduct in Haiti.

Britain’s The Times newspaper reported last week that some Oxfam staff had paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake.

Oxfam, one of the world’s biggest disaster relief charities, has neither confirmed nor denied that specific account but has said an internal investigation in 2011 confirmed sexual misconduct occurred, and it has apologized.

Oxfam said in a statement that its High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change would be comprised of women’s rights experts who would have access to Oxfam records and staff, partners and communities it supports.

It said it would create “a global database of accredited referees to end the use of forged, dishonest or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff” and that it would invest in resources in its safeguarding processes.

Oxfam said it was committed to publishing a 2011 internal investigation “into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti as soon as possible, after taking steps necessary to protect the identity of innocent witnesses,” adding that the “names of the men involved have already been shared with the authorities in Haiti.”

Britain’s development minister, Penny Mordaunt, said on Wednesday that Britain would stop funding overseas aid agencies if they failed to learn from Oxfam’s sex abuse scandal.

Oxfam’s International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in the statement, “What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so. In my language ‘Okuruga ahamutima gwangye, mutusaasire.’ It means “From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness.’”

Reporting by Abinaya Vijayaraghavan in Bengaluru; Editing by Toni Reinhold