Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, has reached out to the victims of sexual scandals involving seven of her officials, apologising to them on behalf of the charity organization.
Speaking in an interview with BBC, Byanyima, who is Ugandan, offered an apology in her native Luganda language saying, “From the bottom of my heart, forgive us, forgive Oxfam.”
Asked to comment on the scale of the sexual exploitation problem at Oxfam, Byanyima said the bulk of the organisation’s well-behaved staff had been let out by a minority who didn’t share its values.
“I know we have almost 10,000 staff around the world working in more than 90 countries. The majority of those are doing the right thing,” she said.
“They are people of values who care about humanity, who are saving lives. We do have, I know, a porous system that has brought in people who do not share our values, and that’s my challenge.”
She said the organisation would appoint an independent commission to investigate claims that its staff engaged in sexual exploitation while working in disaster zones.
“I’m really inviting anyone who has been a victim of abuse by anyone in our organization to come forward. I’m here for all the women who have been abused. I want them to come forward and for justice to be done for them,” she said.
Though Byanyima said she did not know how many sexual predators were still working for the charity, she said Oxfam would “do justice” and “atone for the past.”
“I’m appointing a high-level, independent commission that will look into our culture and our practices and make recommendations to make us stronger at protecting our people,” she said
The London Times revealed the allegations last week in a report accusing the UK-based charity of covering up an internal inquiry finding that Roland van Hauwermeiren, Country Director for Chad, and members of his staff, had paid prostitutes for sex in the African country.
Similar accusations emerged after Van Hauwermeiren and his team were reassigned to Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Earlier this week, Byanyima’s deputy, Penny Lawrence, resigned over the scandal, acknowledging that she was “ashamed” that such behaviour had taken place while she was Programme Director for the organization.
In the interview that aired Friday, Byanyima said Oxfam would “create a vetting system.”
But in an open letter on Thursday, Van Hauwemeiren, a 68-year-old Dutch citizen, denied the allegations of sexual exploitation, saying he had “intimate relations” with a woman in Haiti during his tenure there, but that she was “not a prostitute” and he “never gave her money”.
Oxfam has confirmed that it dismissed Van Hauwemeiren last year over the allegations; however, he said in the Dutch-language letter that he left of his own accord after failing to control rumours of sex scandals.