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Haiti suspends Oxfam operations pending sex scandal probe

Port-au-Prince, Haiti | AFP | Haiti on Thursday suspended the operations of British charity Oxfam pending the outcome of its investigation into allegations that its staff sexually exploited Haitians after a devastating 2010 earthquake.

The country’s ministry of planning and foreign aid said Oxfam GB had made a “serious error” by failing to inform Haitian authorities of the actions by their staff at the time they occurred.

“These reprehensible acts, alleged crimes, acknowledged by the perpetrators as well as the NGO, are a serious violation of the dignity of the Haitian people,” a government statement said.

It said the charity was suspended for two months pending an internal Haitian investigation into the matter.

Aviol Fleurant, the minister for planning and foreign aid, said that if Haiti’s own investigations found “a link between the crimes committed and the money that Oxfam received to help the Haitian people I will see to it that the foreign ministry declares, in the name of the government, Oxfam-GB persona non-grata and will have to leave the country.”

“Haiti is no longer an NGO republic,” he said after meeting with Oxfam’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Simon Ticehurst. “We are not joking: the dignity of the Haitian people has no price.”

An investigation conducted by Oxfam a year after the earthquake had found that seven staff were accused of using prostitutes at an Oxfam-funded residence.

The 2011 report, disclosed on Monday, also found that three staff members had physically threatened a witness.

One official has acknowledged paying for prostitutes and the others were accused of harassment and intimidation.

A young Haitian woman told The Times newspaper she had had relations with the former Oxfam country director in Haiti, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, when she was 16 and he was 61.

Van Hauwermeiren denied to Belgian media last week, however, that he had organized orgies with young prostitutes in Haiti, and said he had “intimate relations” with “an honorable, mature woman” whom he did not pay.

Four staff were fired for gross misconduct and three others, including Van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to quit.

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