Desmond Tutu is confronting death. Picture: REUTERS
Desmond Tutu is confronting death. Picture: REUTERS

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu stepped down as an ambassador for Oxfam on Thursday, citing disappointment at the British aid agency’s embroilment in several sex scandals.

Employees of Oxfam International, which groups about 20 national and regional branches in 90 countries, have been accused of raping women in South Sudan, committing sexual abuse in Liberia and hiring prostitutes in Haiti and Chad. The charity is under threat of losing its British government funding.

The 86-year-old Nobel Peace laureate pulled out of public life in 2010 due to his advancing years but had continued to represent Oxfam even in retirement.

"The archbishop is deeply disappointed by allegations of immorality and possible criminality involving humanitarian workers linked to the charity," a statement from his office said.

Tutu was also saddened that the allegations would tarnish the good work achieved by many thousands of people working for Oxfam, it said.

In the alleged Haiti incident, Oxfam said an internal investigation in 2011 confirmed sexual misconduct had occurred and apologised.

Meanwhile, the former Oxfam director at the heart of the Haiti scandal said on Thursday he made mistakes when working in Haiti but denied paying for sex with prostitutes or abusing minors.

In his first response to allegations over his conduct, Roland van Hauwermeiren said in an open letter to a broadcaster in his native Belgium he did not want to cast himself as a victim but feared that Oxfam, other aid workers and those they help would suffer from false accusations.

In the four-page letter, seen by Reuters, he accused an unnamed former employee of being the source of reports that have shaken the global humanitarian community and prompted Britain and the EU to review funding for Oxfam.

"I am not a saint. I am a man of flesh and blood and I have made mistakes (not easy to admit) and I am DEEPLY ASHAMED," the 68-year-old former soldier wrote in Dutch to broadcaster VTM.

He said he resigned from his post running the Oxfam operation after the 2010 Haiti earthquake because he had failed to exercise sufficient control over staff accused of sexual misconduct. But he denied any wrongdoing himself — he never organised "sex parties" or visited brothels in the country.

He acknowledged having had a brief sexual relationship at his Oxfam house with a local woman whom he met as a result of giving her younger sister milk powder and diapers for her child.

He denied giving the woman money but said the liaison "fuelled rumours" and had left his leadership and Oxfam "compromised".

Reuters was not able to verify that account.


The letter also dealt with allegations about his conduct in earlier operations: In Liberia in 2004, he acknowledged, he was fired after attending a party where two prostitutes were present although he said he had only "danced and flirted" with them.

He said rumours of aid staff paying for sex in Chad in 2006 were "complete nonsense".

Complaining of "slander", he said he believed reports were based on allegations by a man he had fired in Liberia for drunkenness and abusing staff. He did not name this person.

"I feel I have done wrong, but not in the way that some media are reporting," Van Hauwermeiren wrote, adding: "These allegations are destroying me and I no longer dare to appear in public or speak to my family and children."

Earlier, he spoke to reporters from De Standaard newspaper who had called at his flat near the Belgian coast. He told them his account would make the media "blush with shame".