After Claims of Sexual Abuse, Oxfam Suspends 2 Workers in Africa

Oxfam has suspended two staff members over accusations of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years, the British charity said on Friday, months after commissioning a broader investigation into abuse claims in the central African nation.

The suspensions were the latest troubles for Oxfam, whose funding from the British government was halted for nearly three years after a sexual exploitation scandal in Haiti in early 2018. The charity was allowed to apply again for that assistance only a few weeks ago.

“We have suspended two members of Oxfam staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of an ongoing external investigation, which we set up last November, into allegations of abuses of power, including bullying and sexual misconduct,” the charity said in a statement on Friday.

The accusations against Oxfam and other aid workers in Congo come amid a broader examination of accusations of sexual abuse by humanitarian aid workers and United Nations peacekeepers working with some of the world’s most vulnerable people in war zones and humanitarian emergencies.

The New Humanitarian, a nonprofit news organization based in Geneva, about the conduct of aid workers in Congo during the Ebola crisis from 2018 to 2020. It cited accusations from more than 50 women who said they had been sexually abused by workers at several leading charities, including Oxfam.

The accusations focus on multiple incidents in eastern Congo at a time when several international aid groups were working in the region. The report mentioned staff members of several other aid groups and agencies.

Oxfam said in its statement that it was “acutely aware of our duty to survivors, including in supporting them to speak out safely,” and added, “We are working hard to conclude the investigation fairly, safely and effectively.” 

In February 2018, the Haitian government suspended the British branch of Oxfam from working in the country after an investigation found that there had been sexual misconduct by employees and that aid workers had abused their power and paid women for sex.

A cholera outbreak that later killed thousands of Haitians was traced to United Nations peacekeeping troops sent in after the quake. And in recent years staff members of U.N. peacekeeping missions and some of its aid agencies have been accused of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic, Congo and Haiti.

The issues have forced a re-examining of safeguarding measures within the organization. Last month, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, released an annual report on the global body’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse.

That report acknowledged the most recent accusations implicating United Nations workers involved in the Ebola response, and said that an independent commission and other bodies were “investigating these wrongs.”

“I am deeply concerned that such egregious allegations continue to implicate United Nations personnel and pledge that we will redouble and spare no efforts to address the underlying factors that harm those whom we seek to assist,” Mr. Guterres said in the report.

The U.N. report also noted that the coronavirus pandemic had “deepened existing inequalities and exposed those in vulnerable situations to increased risks of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

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Sanctions Are Reimposed on Israeli Billionaire Granted Relief Under Trump

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration moved on Monday to reimpose financial sanctions on an Israeli mining executive who had turned to a team of lobbyists to have the measures eased during President Donald J. Trump’s final days in office.

The reversal came after a chorus of complaints from human rights advocates, members of Congress and activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the businessman, Dan Gertler, secured access to mining rights for decades through what the Treasury Department during the Trump administration called a series of corrupt deals that had shortchanged Congo of more than $1.3 billion in revenue from the sale of minerals.

In mid-January, shortly before Mr. Trump left office, Mr. Gertler secretly secured a one-year Treasury Department license that unfroze money he had deposited in financial institutions in the United States. The license also effectively ended a prohibition on Mr. Gertler doing business through the international banking system. The Trump administration had imposed those sanctions in 2017.

The Biden administration is now moving to reimpose those conditions, although Mr. Gertler is likely to have already moved at least some of the previously frozen money out of the United States.

Alan M. Dershowitz, a lawyer and lobbyist who helped represent Mr. Gertler in the push for the rollback of the sanctions, said he was disappointed with the Biden administration’s action.

“This decision was done unilaterally without an opportunity for Mr. Gertler to present evidence that he has been complying with all the requirements and conducting himself properly,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “We are now in the process of considering all of our options.”

Mr. Gertler has been doing business in Congo for more than two decades, securing a series of contracts to export diamonds, gold, oil, cobalt and other minerals. The Treasury Department said in 2018 that he had “amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining.”

more than a dozen that had called on the Biden administration to revoke the license. “Dan Gertler’s corrupt partnership with former President Joseph Kabila cost the D.R.C. dearly in terms of lost resources, lost services and, ultimately, lost lives.”

In 2019, Mr. Gertler hired Mr. Dershowitz, who has served as a lawyer to Mr. Trump, as well as Louis Freeh, a former F.B.I. director, to work as a lobbyist to try to push Treasury to revoke the sanctions.

Mr. Gertler was issued the license after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin directed the acting head of the agency’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to take the step, even though several Trump-era State Department officials in charge of United States relations with Africa told The New York Times that they had been unaware that such a move was about to be taken and that they opposed it.

After the issuance of the license became public, associates of Mr. Gertler said that part of the reason he had been granted special treatment was that he had played some undisclosed role in helping U.S. national security interests. Treasury officials and representatives for Mr. Gertler would not describe the specific nature of the assistance.

The same office at Treasury that had granted the license for Mr. Gertler in January revoked it on Monday, yet another sign of how unusual this series of events has been.

Activists in Congo who have been working for years to try to ensure that the wealth produced by mining minerals in the nation — which is one of the poorest in the world, even though it has some of the world’s most important mineral reserves — said they hoped the action would mean continued progress to combat corrupt deals that shortchanged people there.

“This will give the government here a reason to push a little bit harder on holding Dan Gertler and his associates accountable,” said Fred Bauma, a member of The Struggle for Change, a human rights group in Congo. “It is a good message from the new administration in the United States.”

Democrats in Congress who had called for Treasury to reverse the action also praised the move.

“If well-connected international billionaires like Gertler think there is a chance they can get away with their corrupt actions, then they will not be deterred from doing them,” Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

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