Unpublished UN report names 15 major aid groups in ‘sex-for-food’ scandal
London — British MPs investigating sexual abuse in the international charitable sector are scrutinising an unpublished UN report from 2001 naming 15 major aid organisations implicated in a "sex-for-food" scandal, The Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The charities were listed in a probe by UN and Save the Children officials, who collected testimony from children in West Africa that aid workers had traded food for sex, according to the newspaper.
The Times obtained a copy of the 84-page report which is now also in the hands of legislators.
The UN released a summary of the investigation in 2002 but the full report naming the agencies was never made public. It has now been passed to the British parliament’s international development committee, the newspaper said.
MPs are probing the aid sector following revelations earlier in 2018 of a prostitution scandal in Haiti involving staff from British charity Oxfam.
The report had found dozens of workers for more than 40 nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) — including 15 international organisations — were "alleged to be in sexually exploitative relationships with refugee children", according to The Times.
The list of implicated personnel were from UN agencies and other organisations in the sector, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), it reported.
The IRC "released local workers whose involvement was confirmed" and initiated reforms "addressing and preventing sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse", it said in a statement.
The NRC had taken the report "very seriously" and followed up with its own probe "resulting in the firing of one national staff member in Sierra Leone", it said.
The investigating researchers found aid workers in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were "among the prime sexual exploiters of refugee children", trading food, oil, access to education and plastic sheeting for sex.
They reported that the allegations could not be fully verified and required further investigation.
"The number of allegations documented, however, is a critical indicator of the scale of the problem," the researchers reportedly warned.
Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2001-05, at the time rejected the possibility of child sexual abuse by members of his own staff as "gossip".
However the UNHCR wrote to all the organisations referenced in the report, detailing the unproven allegations, and sent investigators from UN headquarters.
They identified 43 separate abuse accusations in the region, which had led it to initiate "specific preventive and remedial actions", The Times reported.
However, of 67 people who were referred to UNHCR officials in "confidential lists", fewer than 10 were dismissed and none was prosecuted, the paper added.