Why do some people find charities offensive

When helpers go to their heads

BERLIN / NAIROBI. Anyone who goes to a disaster area as an employee of an aid organization sometimes involuntarily finds themselves in a position of power. Not everyone is morally up to the situation, as recent cases of sexual exploitation at organizations like Oxfam and MSF show.

"Wherever there is a power imbalance, for example because people urgently need help, it is very important that there are clear rules of conduct," says Simone Pott, spokeswoman for Welthungerhilfe in Germany. Welthungerhilfe therefore has a "transparent complaint management system" and an "anonymous whistleblower system" that anyone can use to contact the organization - local employees as well as aid recipients. Managers are obliged to report every complaint to the head office.

Complaint management

Pott describes the latest allegations against employees of other aid organizations as a "severe blow in terms of reputation and trust". Similar incidents have not yet become known to Welthungerhilfe. The organization has now taken the scandal as an opportunity "to check once again whether our mechanisms are really sufficient".

In the past few days, several former aid workers have turned to the media to report sexual exploitation by aid workers in previous crisis situations. The prostitution allegation against Oxfam did not surprise her, wrote Julie Bindel in the "Independent". In 1999 she experienced how brothels were built in Kosovo, which were mainly frequented by employees of aid and UN organizations.

Shaista Aziz, who had worked for Oxfam, among others, told the Guardian of a “culture where bullying was widespread, women were often gutted and racism was commonplace, and it wasn't just at Oxfam, it happened in many organizations from this area for which I worked ". She explained, "Every time I clearly addressed a problem, it was said that I was the problem."

In the past, such scandals have repeatedly occurred in Africa in emergencies and crises. In 2002, for example, serious allegations of abuse rocked the humanitarian sector in West Africa. At that time, it came to light that aid workers and UN blue helmet soldiers had sexually abused refugee children on a large scale in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

In an investigation report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), children accused almost 70 employees of more than 40 organizations, including the UNHCR and Save the Children, of asking for sex in return for food, money and grants. The majority of the accused helpers were local employees. But there were also allegations against soldiers in the UN peacekeeping operation.

Rules for UN employees

The scandal made waves. As a consequence, the United Nations under the then Secretary General Kofi Annan created new rules for all UN employees. "The involvement of humanitarian workers in sexual exploitation and abuse is a grave violation of our responsibility not to cause harm and to protect people affected by crises," said the UN emergency agency. But that didn't stop the problem.

In recent years there have been repeated allegations against blue helmets - of all people, who are supposed to protect an often traumatized population. During the 13 year long mission in Haiti, blue helmet soldiers are said to have raped, abused or sexually exploited Haitians again and again. While the UN is assuming 75 cases between 2008 and 2015, human rights activist Mark Snyder has collected evidence of almost 600 offenses.

In addition to the scandal in Haiti, UN soldiers were also accused of sexual abuse in the crisis-torn states of the Congo and the Central African Republic. Blue helmets are said to have raped girls, among other things. There were also allegations of sexual abuse against members of a French peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic. A case against some soldiers was recently dropped in France because of a lack of evidence.

From 2008 to 2013, according to a UN report, there were 480 allegations of sexual abuse against soldiers or UN employees, especially during the missions in Haiti, Congo, Sudan and South Sudan. A UN report from last year lists 145 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse for 2016.

When he took office a year ago, UN Secretary General António Guterres announced that he would end sexual abuse within the UN with a "zero tolerance policy". But when it comes to such allegations against blue helmets, prosecution is often difficult. Because it is not the UN that is responsible for offenses committed in UN peace missions, but rather the soldiers' countries of origin. (dpa)