21/02/2018 HARDtalk


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21/02/2018

With the entire aid sector under scrutiny for safeguarding failures, Stephen Sackur speaks to Amira Malik Miller, an experienced aid worker who witnessed misconduct at first hand.


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LineFromTo

in the UK on Tuesday.

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It has just gone half past four in

the morning. It is now time for

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HARDtalk.

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Welcome to HARDtalk. I am Stephen

Sackur. There is something

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distressing about the revelations of

sexual explication and gross

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misconduct inside one of the world's

best known humanitarian aid

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organisations. Oxfam is at the

centre of a storm of investigations.

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Now the entire aid sector is under

scrutiny for safeguarding failures

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which appear to go back decades. My

guess is Amira Malik Miller. She is

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an experienced aid worker who

experienced misconduct first hand

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and is now prepared to speak out. So

what went wrong and why? -- my

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guest. Amira Malik Miller, welcome

to HARDtalk.

Thank you. You work for

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the Swedish government.

But how

expensive is your experience of aid

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work in the field?

I worked in the

humanitarian assistance sector for

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over 15 years. I have been based in

Liberia and West Africa. I have done

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a lot of work in Sudan. I have

travelled extensively. I have had a

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lot of experience and travelled

extensively and covered some of the

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world's biggest humanitarian crises

over the past 15 years.

Now you know

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there is a huge amount of scrutiny

on the humanitarian aid sector

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because of revelations, allegations

of serious sexual misconduct,

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harassment, exploitative behaviour,

and the revelations focused on

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Haiti. But now we're hearing of

other allegations in other places.

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When this story broke in few days

go, were you surprised?

I was

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shocked when I first saw the

headlines, because I recognise the

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man who was on those photos. And I

felt it was very unfair the way that

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Oxfam was betrayed. Because I knew

that I had part one and part two of

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that story. And I felt it was

unfair. But I was not shocked. I

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knew that this was going on and so I

felt that I needed to say something.

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Many aid workers have actually found

it very difficult to speak out. Many

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have spoken anonymously. You have

chosen to go public with us. So I

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think we need to go into a little

bit of detail about your experience

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with one particular individual who,

as you say, has now been named. The

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allegations surrounding him and his

work with Oxfam in Haiti. But let's

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go back to Liberia. Was it 2004?

It

was 2004. This was really my first

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job. I was excited and grateful. I

had been out before previously on

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trainee positions in Sudan. But this

was my first real job after

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graduating and is doing a masters.

I'd been working in development and

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human rights. They really want to

get into human rights- the

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humanitarian assistance sector. I

got a job with Miller, an agency in

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Britain.

-- Merlin. How old were you

at the time?

I was 24 at the time, I

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think.

So you go out and meet your

colleagues from Merlin. What they

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generally older, and where they

generally male?

Not all of them, but

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the senior management team

absolutely were. But not all of

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them. There were other female staff,

others in my age group, as well, but

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I was in the most junior position. I

had gone out after having been

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briefed in London. I heard it a few

whispers of things happening in

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Liberia. I made it clear during

those chats that that was not

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something that I would be OK with if

it happened, and if it was to do

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with sexual misconduct. I went out

and was met by this individual at

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the airport.

And I think we need to

name him, he is a Belgian national,

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called Roland van Hauwermeiren.

Right.

Now, it was he the director

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of operations in Liberia at the

time?

It was the country director.

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My job was partly to be his

assistant but also to be a grants

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manager. I shared an office with

them and so I knew his schedule and

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so on. He picked me up from the

airport, which Apple was a little

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bit odd. But it was a nice chat and

so on. -- which I thought was. He

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did a phone call and I thought they

were talking about me. There was

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something said about a green light.

I did not reflect so much on that at

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that particular moment, but I have

since. I felt that he was checking

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out, see what kind of person I was,

and would I be a problem...

A

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problem in what sense? Taking

exception to his behaviour?

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Possibly.

Because I think we need to

talk about what the heavies you saw

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from him and other members of the

Merlin NGOs staff on the ground in

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Liberia. Because this individual has

since been connected to events in

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Haiti. -- Merlin NGO.

What I saw was

not him. It was another member of

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staff. And we were living in two

different compounds then. I was

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living in one called London. In most

of the staff were living there. He

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was living in another compound with

one or two other staff members,

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Roland van Hauwermeiren. I got up

one morning and went into the

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kitchen. There were other people

around as well. I went into the

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kitchen and found one of the senior

staff members there with quite young

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Liberian girl. -- quite a young

labour and gold. I do know she was

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over 16 or 18, but possibly. What I

saw was something I was

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uncomfortable with and I did not

think was appropriate. And I

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confronted a person there. -- quite

a young Liberian girl. There was a

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lot of touching and so on. I thought

that was inappropriate and went

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against our code of conduct. And

that is why I confronted that men

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straightaway, and why I then, the

following Monday, broke into head

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office and said " This has happened

and I am not coupled with this, and

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I expect you to do something". -- I

am not comfortable with this. And

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they did. They got back and checked

on it and said somebody was coming

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back quickly, and somebody did. I

felt supported. It took about ten

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days to come down with a team from

London HQ to investigate it. At that

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point, well previous...

Did you

confront your direct boss, Roland

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van Hauwermeiren. What did you say

to him?

I did us anything to him at

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that time. There were about three or

four men involved in this, I

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thought. They suspected that I had

reported it, but they went short.

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They knew that a team was coming

down from London.

Did you believe

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the local girls were prostitutes

that you saw?

I believed that there

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was some sort of something that was

definitely an imbalance of power. I

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don't think there would have been

there just out of wanting to be

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there. I think that they were

expecting something. Whether it was

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paid sex or not, I have no proof. I

certainly felt that it was

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inappropriate and went against the

rules, our code of conduct, our

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security rules and so on, at that

point. It was still very strict,

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then. In Liberia, this was just

after the civil war, of course. What

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I wanted to say is that the time

that it took the London team to come

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down, these individuals absolutely

worked on me. I was under

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surveillance, almost. Someone was

almost always with me, and they had

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private chats to me, and try to make

out that this was not something odd,

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that it was normal, and that they

had not done anything wrong, and so

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on.

Did you feel from that moment

that there was a sense of

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entitlement? That they were in a

tough location, doing a tough job,

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and consorting that as I would sound

flippant, but I don't know the right

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word. But having sex with young

women on location, could be seem to

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feel that they were entitled to do

that?

Hard to tell. But they try to

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make it sound normal and something

to expect and something that I was

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being silly to react against.

Absolutely.

You were a whistleblower

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in a way. Did you feel intimidated

that they were with these members of

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staff and they were clearly worried

that you were blowing the whistle on

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their activities back to head

office? Was that intimidating?

A

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little bit. I never felt afraid, but

is because I was so young. I don't

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know. But I didn't. I felt watched.

But there were other people around

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that I could confide in that have

later become so because -- that have

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later become so my closest friends.

I did not feel that way, but I

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definitely felt that I had to -

well, I felt that they were trained

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to convince me that nothing had

happened, and that I was

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overreacting. -- they were trying to

convince me. So where to buy time

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and waited for the investigation

team.

There was no huge drama, but

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as the result of the team coming in

to Liberia, Mr Roland van

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Hauwermeiren was removed from the

location, I believe. I think he

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ended his work with Merlin at that

time.

Yes. And then other people

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stepped out and said that what they

had seen and came forward with that

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information, and so what happened

was, unfortunately, he was - he

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could go on his own. He probably

offered to resign and could go

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quietly. The others could stay. One

had to - the wonder they confronted

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had to give me a personal,

face-to-face apology, but then could

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continue his contract and go on. So

I guess at that point I was

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disappointed, and maybe starting to

doubt that they had done the - not

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that I had done the right thing, but

started to think that I had

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overacted a little bit, and this was

something... But at that point did

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not think that they would get jobs

again. Interesting. Because in

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essence, the degree to which Mr

Roland van Hauwermeiren was able to

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make a career in the international

NGOs world, despite having had this

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problem with Merlin, at which point

he had to leave a job under a cloud.

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-- NGO. But then we see that he

appeared in Chad working for Oxfam,

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and in a strange quizzes, you were

working for the development agency

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that were approached by Oxfam for

some funding. You saw that this

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Belgian individual was in charge of

the particular mission in Chad, and

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you want your superiors that this

was not selling that Sweden should

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be putting their money into. And yet

Sweden did.

£750,000. Right. So what

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happened there is a lack of the

proposal on my desk and I reacted

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because I saw very quickly that he

was the country director. I went to

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my then boss, the head of the

humanitarian assistance unit, who

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reacted immediately, and was

appalled. He took me straight to the

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legal team, and I remember several

meetings with the legal team.

They

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all reacted in the way that I would

expect them to. They could very

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seriously and were appalled and

wanted to do something about it.

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Again, I felt listens to, despite

the fact that I was in a junior

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position and was new to the

development agency. I felt that I

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was supported and listen to. By the

reaction I got from both of my --

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both my boss at the time and the

legal department, I felt that was

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reported. But I would not be

surprised now if it was not.

But

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they still divided to put money into

the Chad project. -- Pistol decided.

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But here is an individual who is now

establishing a reputation among some

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who have worked with him, and yet

there is no red flag against his

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name. And so if we move on from Chad

and get to Haiti, where this story,

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in recent days, has come to a head,

here, again, is Mr Roland van

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Hauwermeiren, who is now country

director of Oxfam's operations after

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the earthquake in 2011. They really

big job and a huge amount of

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pressure. And again, what we now

know is that Oxfam were faced with a

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plethora of allegations of staff

procuring prostitutes, parties in

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Oxfam accommodation, other

allegations concerning pornography,

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harassment of staff, and bullying,

with its individual at the centre of

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it, yet again.

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That is unfortunate, there are two

different questions. Is it wrong for

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donors to donate? In some respects,

maybe, but it should be thoroughly

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assessed and reported, of course.

But that programme could still have

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been a very vital programme. As

Merlyn's were in Liberia, it was

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supporting half of the country 's

healthcare and so I wouldn't argue

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for cutting funding to good critical

humanitarian response programme.

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That is an interesting point.

In

Haiti, what we have is Oxfam, it the

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end, it appears, covering up the

truth about what had happened in

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their mission to stop it again, I am

interested to know whether all of

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this surprises you. Whether this is

what you might have expected, given

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your experiences in the sector?

It

doesn't surprise me. I suppose there

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is a very strong weakness in HR

practices, absolutely. I think

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Roland Van Hauwermeiren is a very

interesting particular case study in

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that he has been able to manipulate

the system for a very long time, he

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has obviously chosen to move around

from different countries between

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organisations. He knows that it

hasn't been tracked properly and he

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has manipulated that.

It should be

said that he denies these specific

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allegations of using prostitutes, he

says yes, I did have sexual

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relations but with women who were

honest, dignified women. Said the

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allegations are there and they are

multiple, he has denied the point

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about prostitutes. But in the end,

this is terribly damaging, isn't it?

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It is damaging not just for Oxfam

but the entire world of humanitarian

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aid.

Absolutely and that is what I

think we have to recognise, he is a

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particular bad case that has been

able to manipulate systematically

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but absolutely, it exposes a problem

that is much bigger than that and is

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systemwide and it goes into our

failure to protect and safeguard

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people and staff, actually. And one

of the main challenges is to improve

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quite weak HR practices in terms of

how we recruit and how we vet staff

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and also in terms of how we pass on

information. And I think there is a

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real issue there with NGOs, and

other organisations wanting and

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knowing that they will be condemned

in the public and wanting to protect

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their image. Also, a real fear of

legal action in terms of defamation

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and so they give sometimes

references, probably, that confirm

0:17:520:17:58

that people had been employed in

certain capacities at certain times

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and it has a much more than that.

But they don't give stronger...

They

0:18:010:18:07

don't put the red warning flags out.

You indicated to me that you felt

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this was systemic and this is a much

wider issue then Oxfam. I believed

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in recent days, then you chief has

said they had put his six more

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reports of what individuals regard

as unacceptable behaviour inside the

0:18:230:18:28

organisation. We have had other

NGOs, also now, it seems, involved

0:18:280:18:32

in unacceptable exploitative de Gea

is. Is this the MeToo moment for the

0:18:320:18:43

aid industry?

I think it is, and I

hope it is for our sector. Again, as

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I said, Rowland is a particular case

and perhaps we need that to start

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the discussion. But from what I have

heard from talking to friends

0:18:570:19:01

working in the sector and former

colleagues and so many accounts over

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the past week, this is a real

problem, it is systemic at it

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happens on all levels in this

industry, as it does in other

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sectors as well. But we need to

challenge this and it needs to come

0:19:180:19:22

to light and this is the opportunity

to do that.

Are there today still

0:19:220:19:28

individuals acting with impunity in

countries where women and children

0:19:280:19:32

are extraordinarily vulnerable?

Absolutely there is. Maybe not of

0:19:320:19:38

the kind that this particular case

has shown, but absolutely. It is a

0:19:380:19:44

widespread and systemic issue, some

call it even endemic.

How

0:19:440:19:49

depressing. For all of those people

who routinely give money to aid

0:19:490:19:57

organisations, you're telling me

that actually these organisations

0:19:570:19:59

have an endemic problem with abuse.

Yes, but still keeping in mind that

0:19:590:20:07

this is the vast majority of people

working in this sector, whether

0:20:070:20:11

international or local staff, are

not doing this. And so we eat to

0:20:110:20:16

really shine a light on this problem

now, raise it and really find out

0:20:160:20:20

what is the problem and how do we

best address it? I would absolutely

0:20:200:20:26

not argue for cutting any funding, I

hope that this media coverage and

0:20:260:20:30

donor reaction does not lead to a

further distrust within the sector

0:20:300:20:36

because it is so important that we

don't undermine the response

0:20:360:20:39

capacity that we have.

There has to

be consequences. The UK government

0:20:390:20:44

is reconsidering whether it will

give its £32 million per year to

0:20:440:20:49

Oxfam, Ricky Patel said that all

future funding must be subject to

0:20:490:20:54

the aid sector, in commenting the

highest standards of child

0:20:540:20:58

protection, investigating all

allegations and securing

0:20:580:21:00

prosecutions of those responsible

and if they don't make the grade,

0:21:000:21:03

they shouldn't get the aid.

I think

it is important to recognise that a

0:21:030:21:08

lot has been done. This has come to

light several times over the past

0:21:080:21:13

ten years and a lot has been done.

There are policies and procedures

0:21:130:21:18

and guidelines in place, there is

code of conduct. But both in terms

0:21:180:21:25

of whistleblowing and safeguarding

both staff and beneficiaries. I

0:21:250:21:31

think this knee-jerk reaction, that

this media coverage and maybe some

0:21:310:21:36

donor responses as well give the

public, in terms of undermining the

0:21:360:21:42

confidence in humanitarian

assistance work, which is critical

0:21:420:21:44

for many many people around the

world, is unfortunate and I think we

0:21:440:21:49

need to be ensured that our action

is actually motivated why a real,

0:21:490:21:57

kind of, emphasis and change and

change that is needed.

Are you

0:21:570:22:04

implying to me that you believe some

people might be playing politics

0:22:040:22:07

with this? Those in political

circles who think that actually

0:22:070:22:12

giving 0%% or whatever it is of GDP

to international aid is too much and

0:22:120:22:18

it is a mistake and it gets misused?

I think there is a risk that this

0:22:180:22:25

all adds up supporting an anti- aid

agenda, absolutely. I would say that

0:22:250:22:29

we need to be careful not to go in

that direction and instead try to

0:22:290:22:35

see what we can really do to address

this systemwide approach. And

0:22:350:22:40

actually, any other response to this

issue would continue that kind of

0:22:400:22:45

culture of impunity and a lack of

transparency because it kind of

0:22:450:22:52

shows that organisations when they

come out and are accountable, which

0:22:520:22:55

they should do, they are punished

for it. I have been working for acid

0:22:550:23:01

donor for a long time and I think

when alarm bells should be ringing

0:23:010:23:04

is when you get zero cases, zero

incidents.

A final point. We are

0:23:040:23:09

talked about the trust lost with

donors, but what about the trust

0:23:090:23:14

lost on the ground with the people

that aid organisations are meant to

0:23:140:23:20

help. A final thought on this. This

is what the Haitian Minister said

0:23:200:23:25

the other day: These people, from

the international aid groups, today

0:23:250:23:28

they look like mercenary is. That is

an extraordinarily gaming thing to

0:23:280:23:35

hear, isn't it? After 20 years in

the age business.

It is and it is

0:23:350:23:40

sad and I don't think it is the case

for the sector as a whole. I really

0:23:400:23:45

think that this is the time to start

to listen, to bring everything to

0:23:450:23:48

light, to listen to our staff, our

beneficiaries, our local

0:23:480:23:52

organisations that are working in

partnership with us. Bring it to

0:23:520:23:56

light now and make it a priority to

address it throughout the sector and

0:23:560:24:02

see what solutions we can come up

to. There is a lot that has been

0:24:020:24:07

done, a lot that has been said

already. We need to just prioritise

0:24:070:24:11

giving the last bit.

We have to end

it there. Amira Malik Miller, thank

0:24:110:24:17

you so much for being on HARDtalk.

Thank you to having the.

Thank you.

0:24:170:24:24

-- thank you for having me.

0:24:240:24:26

With the entire aid sector under scrutiny for safeguarding failures following allegations of abusive behaviour and management cover-ups at Oxfam, Stephen Sackur speaks to Amira Malik Miller, an experienced aid worker who witnessed misconduct at first hand and is prepared to speak out. What went wrong, and why?