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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  February 22, 2018 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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president trump has heard emotional appeals for gun control during a televised listening session at the white house. the meeting brought together young survivors of school shootings and their family members. mr trump heard from students who said they simply wanted to feel safe at school. the un security council is being urged to consider a resolution which calls for a 30—day ceasefire in syria. the move comes as international concern grows over the syrian government bombardment of a rebel—held area on the outskirts of damascus. and this video is trending on you've been following the winter olympics, you'll know how the sport of curling has captured the imagination. so here's a few people trying it at home. they look like they're having fun! that's all from me now. stay with bbc world news. now on bbc news it's time for hardtalk welcome to hardtalk.
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i'm stephen sackur. there is something especially distressing about the revelations of sexual explication and gross misconduct inside one of the world's best known humanitarian aid organisations. oxfam is at the centre of a storm of allegations of abusive behaviour, shoddy recruitment, and management cover—up. now the entire aid sector is under scrutiny for safeguarding failures which appear to go back decades. my guest is amira malik miller. she's an experienced aid worker who experienced misconduct at first hand and is now prepared to speak out. so what went wrong, and why? amira malik miller,
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welcome to hardtalk. thank you. you now work for the swedish government — you're based in stockholm — but how expensive is your experience of aid work in the field? well, i worked in the humanitarian assistance sector for over 15 years. i've been based in liberia and west africa. i've done a lot of work in — in sudan. and i've travelled extensively. i've had a lot of experience from hq but travelled extensively, and covered some of the world's biggest humanitarian crises around the world for the past 15 years. and as you know, there is a huge amount of scrutiny on the humanitarian aid sector because of revelations — allegations of serious sexual
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misconduct, harassment, exploitative behaviour, and the revelations focused on haiti. but now we're hearing of other allegations in other places. when this story broke in few days go, were you surprised? well, i was shocked when i first saw the headlines, because i recognised the man who was on those photos. and i felt it was very unfair the way that oxfam was portrayed. because i knew that i had part one and part two of that story. and i felt it was unfair. but i wasn't shocked. i know that this is going on and so i felt that i needed to — to say something. well, many aid workers have actually found it very difficult to speak out. many have spoken anonymously. you've chosen to go public with us.
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so i think we need to go into a little bit of detail about your experience with one particular individual who, as you say, has now been named — the allegations surround him and his work with oxfam in haiti. but let's go back to, i believe, liberia. was it 2004? it was 200a. this was really my firstjob. so i was very excited and grateful. i'd been out before, previously, on trainee positions in sudan. but this was my first real job after graduating and doing a masters. i'd been working in development and human rights, but i really wanted to get into human rights — the humanitarian assistance sector. um, and i got a job with merlin, a medical humanitarian british agency. as — quite a junior position. i was grant manager and assistant to the country director. how — how old were you at the time? i was 2a at the time, i think.
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and so you go out, i guess, to monrovia, and meet your colleagues from merlin. yeah. what they generally older, and were they generally male? not all of them, but the senior management team absolutely were. but not all of them. there were other female staff, there were others in my age group, as well, but i was in the most junior position. um, i had gone out after having been briefed in london. i heard a few whispers of things happening in liberia. i made it clear during those chats that that wasn't something that i would be ok with if it happened, and if it was to do with sexual misconduct. but i went out, and was met by this individual at the airport. and i think we — we need to name him. he is a belgian national, he's called roland van hauwermeiren. right. now, it was he the director of operations in liberia at the time? no, he was the country director. myjob was partly to be his
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assistant, but also to be a grants manager. and i shared an office with him, and so i knew his schedule and so on. he picked me up from the airport, which i thought was a little bit odd. but um, but it was a nice chat and so on. but i remember clearly that he had a phone call, and took a phone call from someone that he obviously knew. i felt that they were talking about me, very quickly. and, um, there was something said about a green light. um, i didn't reflect so much on that at that particular moment, but i have since. i felt that he was checking out, seeing what kind of person i was, and would i be a problem. a problem in the sense of what? taking exception to his behaviours? possibly, yeah. because i think we need to talk about what behaviours you saw from him and other members of the merlin ngo staff
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on the ground in liberia. because this individual is, of course — has since been connected to events in haiti. right. so what i actually saw was not him. it was another member of staff. and we were all living in two different compounds, then. i was living in one called london, and most of the staff — expatriate staff were living there. he, roland van hauwermeiren, was living in another compound with one or two other staff members. but i got up one morning in the weekend, i went into the kitchen. there were other people around as well. but i went into the kitchen and found one of the senior staff members there with a — with a quite young liberian girl. don't know if she was over 16 or 18. maybe, absolutely. but what i saw there was something i was uncomfortable with, and which i deemed inappropriate. and i confronted that person right there and then. sexually inappropriate, as far as you could tell? yeah.
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there was a lot of touching and so on. i certainly felt that was inappropriate and went against our code of conduct. and that's why i confronted that men straightaway, and why i then, the following monday, wrote into head office and said "this has happened. i'm not comfortable with this. i don't think this is according to our code of conduct and so on, and i would expect you to do something". and they did. they got back to me very quickly, they checked on me, and said somebody was coming down quickly, and somebody did. i felt supported. it took about ten days to come down with a team from london hq to investigate it. at that point, well previous... did you confront your direct boss, which was mr roland van hauwermeiren. what did you say to him? i did not say anything to him at that time. there were about three or four
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men involved in this, i felt. and they all suspected that i had reported them, but they didn't know for certain. they knew that a team was coming down from london. did you believe the local girls were prostitutes, that you saw? um, i believed that there was some sort of... uh... something that was definitely an imbalance of power. i don't think there would have been there just out of wanting to be there. i think that they were expecting something. whether it was paid sex work or not, i don't have any proof of that. i certainly felt that it was inappropriate and went against the rules, our code of conduct, our security rules and so on, at that point. it was still very strict, then. in liberia, this wasjust after the civil war, of course. um, but what i wanted to say is that time it took the london team to come down, these individuals absolutely worked on me. i was under surveillance, almost. someone was almost always with me,
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and they had private chats to me, and tried to make it out that this was not something odd, that it was normal, and that they had not done anything wrong, and so on. did you feel from them a sort of sense of entitlement? that — that, you know, they were in a tough location, doing a toughjob, and consorting — i don't know if that's — i don't want in any way to sound flippant, but i don't what know the right word is — but having sexual relations with young women, on location, did it seem like that was something that they felt they were entitled to do? maybe. difficult to tell. but they did try to make it sound normal and something to expect and something that i was being silly to react against, absolutely. you were a whistleblower, in a way. i mean, did you feel intimidated that they were with these members of staff and they were clearly worried that you were blowing
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the whistle on their activities back to head office? was it intimidating? i mean, a little bit. i never felt afraid, but maybe that's because i was so young. i don't know. but i didn't. i did feel watched. but there were other people around that i could confide in that have later become so my closest friends. i did not feel that way, but i definitely felt that i had to — well, i felt that they were trying to convince me that nothing had happened, and that i was overreacting. and i knew that that's what they were doing. so ijust bid my time and waited for the investigation team. there was no huge drama, but as the result of the team coming into liberia, mr roland van hauwermeiren was removed from the location, i believe. he ended his work with merlin at that time. yeah. so what happened, obviously, other people stepped out and said that what they had seen, and — and came forward with that information, and so what happened was, unfortunately, he was — he was was let to — he could go on his own. he probably offered to resign
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and he could go quietly. the others could stay. one had to — the one that i had confronted had to give me a personal, face—to—face apology, but then could continue his contract, and go. so i guess at that point i was disappointed, and maybe started to doubt that they had done the — not that i had done the right thing, but started to think that i had overacted a little bit, and this was something... but i definitely — i think at that point did not think that they would getjobs again. interesting. because in essence, what we then confront is the degree to which mr roland van hauwermeiren was able to make a career in the international ngo world, despite having had this problem with merlin, at which point he had to leave a job under a cloud. but then we see that he appeared
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in chad working for oxfam, and in a strange quizzes, you were working for the development agency that were approached by oxfam for some funding. you saw that this belgian individual was in charge of the particular mission in chad, and you want your superiors that this was not selling that sweden should be putting their money into. and yet sweden did. £750,000. right. so what happened there is a lack of the proposal on my desk and i reacted because i saw very quickly that he was the country director. i went to my then boss, the head of the humanitarian assistance unit, who reacted immediately, and was appalled. he took me straight to the legal team, and i remember several meetings with the legal team.
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they all reacted in the way that i would expect them to. they could very seriously and were appalled and wanted to do something about it. again, i felt listens to, despite the fact that i was in a junior position and was new to the development agency. i felt that i was supported and listen to. by the reaction i got from both my boss at the time and the legal department, i felt that was reported. but i would not be surprised now if it was not. but they still decided to put money into the chad project. but here is an individual who is now establishing a reputation among some who have worked with him, and yet there is no red flag against his name.
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and so if we move on from chad and get to haiti, where this story, in recent days, has come to a head, here, again, is mr roland van hauwermeiren, who is now country director of oxfam's operations after the earthquake in 2011. they really big job and a huge amount of pressure. and again, what we now know is that oxfam were faced with a plethora of allegations of staff procuring prostitutes, parties in oxfam accommodation, other allegations concerning pornography, harassment of staff, and bullying, with its individual at the centre of it, yet again. that is unfortunate, i think these are two very different questions. is it wrong for donors to donate? in some respects, maybe, but it should be thoroughly assessed and reported, of course. but that programme could still have been a very vital programme.
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as merlyn‘s were in liberia, it was supporting half of the country's healthcare, and so i wouldn't argue for cutting funding to good critical humanitarian response programmes. that is an interesting point. i want to come back to that. in haiti, what we have is oxfam, it the end, it appears, covering up the truth about what had happened in their mission. again, i am interested to know whether all of this surprises you. whether this is what you might have expected, given your experiences in the sector? it doesn't surprise me. it exposes a very strong weakness in hr practices, absolutely. i think roland van hauwermeiren is a very interesting particular case study in that he has been able to manipulate the system for a very long time, he has obviously chosen
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to move around from different countries between organisations. he knows that it hasn't been tracked properly and so he has manipulated that. it should be said that he denies these specific allegations of using prostitutes, he says yes, i did have sexual relations but with women who were honest, dignified women. so the allegations are there and they are multiple, he has denied the point about prostitutes. but in the end, this is terribly damaging, isn't it? it is. it is damaging notjust for oxfam but the entire world of humanitarian aid. absolutely and i think that is what i think we have to recognise, he is a particular bad case that has been able to manipulate systematically. but absolutely, it exposes a problem
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that is much bigger than that and is systemwide and it goes into our failure to protect and safeguard people and staff, actually. and one of the main challenges is to improve quite weak hr practices in terms of how we recruit and how we vet staff, but also in terms of how we pass on information. and i think there is a real issue there with ngos and other organisations wanting, knowing that they will be condemned in the public and wanting to protect their image. and also, a realfear of legal action, in terms of defamation and so they give sometimes references, probably, that confirm that people had been employed in certain capacities at certain times and they don't say much more than that. but they don't give stronger... they don't put the red warning flags out. right.
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you indicated to me that you felt this was systemic and this is a much wider issue than just oxfam. i believe in recent days, the new chief has said they had 26 more reports of what individuals regard as unacceptable behaviour inside the organisation. we have had other ngos, also now, it seems, involved in unacceptable exploitative behaviours. is this the metoo moment for the aid industry? i think it is, and i hope it is. i hope it is the metoo and timesup for our sector. again, as i said, roland is a particular case and perhaps we need that to start the discussion. but from what i have found from talking to friends working in the sector and former colleagues and so many accounts over the past week, this is a real problem, it is systemic, it happens
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on all levels in this industry, as it does in other sectors as well. but we need to challenge this and it needs to come to light and this is the opportunity to do so. are there today still individuals acting with impunity in countries where women and children are extraordinarily vulnerable? absolutely there is. maybe not of the kind that this particular case has shown, but absolutely. it is a widespread and systemic issue, some call it even endemic. how depressing. i mean, for all of those people who routinely give money to aid organisations, you're telling me that actually these organisations have an endemic problem with abuse. yes, but still keeping in mind that this is the vast majority of people working in this sector, whether international or local
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staff, are not doing this. and so we need to really shine a light on this problem now, raise it and really find out what is the problem and how do we best address it? i would absolutely not argue for cutting any funding, i hope that this media coverage and donor reaction does not lead to a further distrust in the sector because it is so important that we don't undermine the response capacity that we have. there has to be consequences. the uk government is reconsidering whether it will give its £32 million a year to oxfam, priti patel said that all future funding must be subject to the aid sector, implementing the highest standards of child protection, investigating all allegations and securing prosecutions of those responsible and if they don't make the grade, they shouldn't get the aid. right.
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i think it is important to recognise that a lot has been done. this has come to light several times over the past ten years and a lot has been done. there are policies and procedures and guidelines in place, there's code of conducts. but both in terms of whistleblowing and safeguarding both staff and beneficiaries. but i think this knee—jerk reaction, that this media coverage and maybe some donor responses as well, give the public, in terms of undermining the confidence in humanitarian assistance work — which is critical for many, many people around the world — is unfortunate and i think we need to be ensured that our action is actually motivated by a real, kind of, emphasis on change and change that is needed. are you implying to me that you believe some people might be playing politics with this? those in political circles who think
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that actually giving 0.7% or whatever it is of gdp to international aid is too much and it is a mistake and it gets misused? i think there is a risk that this all ends up supporting an anti— aid agenda, absolutely. and i would say that we need to be careful not to go in that direction and instead try to see what we can really can do to address this system—wide approach. and actually, any other response to this issue would continue that kind of culture of impunity and a lack of transparency, because it kind of shows that organisations when they come out and are accountable, which they should do, they are punished for it. i have been working for donors for a long time and i think when alarm bells should be ringing is when you get zero cases, zero incidents. a final point. we have talked about
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the trust lost with donors, but what about the trust lost on the ground with the people that aid organisations are meant to help. a final thought on this. this is what the haitian minister said the other day: "these people, from the international aid groups, today they look like mercenaries." that is an extraordinarily gaming thing to hear, isn't it? after your 20 years in the aid business. it is and it is sad and i don't think it is the case for the sector as a whole. it's true for a few. i really think that this is the time to start to listen, to bring everything to light, to listen to our staff, our beneficiaries, our local organisations that are working in partnership with us. bring this to light now and make it a priority to address it throughout the sector and see what solutions we can come up to. there is a lot that has been done, a lot that has been said already. we need to just prioritise doing the last bit.
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we have to end there. amira malik miller, thank you so much for being on hardtalk. thank you for having me. thank you. a very cold spell of weather is on the way, it is just a little too early to say whether it's going to be particularly exceptional for the end of february and early march but one thing is for sure, it looks like temperatures could struggle to get above freezing, some time next week and there is snow on the way as well, just uncertain exactly how deep and where.
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but this high pressure continues to build as forecast, from scandinavia across western parts of europe. so the forecast so far is going according to plan. those easterly winds are starting to strengthen and they will keep strengthening as we go over the next few days. by the end of the night, early on thursday morning, not too cold, not at this stage. temperatures in towns and cities will be around about zero, maybe a little below. outside of town a good frost on the way. in these situations where we get an area of high pressure, there is always a bit of cloud floating around so not everybody is going to get the sunny skies but on balance it is going to be a bright day for most of us and it is starting to feel a little bit colder now. those temperatures will be struggling in the east. four degrees in norwich, briefly during the day. most of the day it will be lower than that. still relatively mild in belfast, around 8 degrees. this is thursday's forecast across europe. these are the daytime highs. minus 10 in moscow — the big freeze has hit that place. minus 2 in warsaw.
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not quite across western parts of europe. still in a relatively mild air but the wind will start to feel stronger and colder as we go towards the weekend. just a hint briefly of a southerly, maybe just around ireland and the western isles but that is pretty much it. so the temperatures will keep on dropping away by day, by a degree or so. as we go through the weekend, that high—pressure continues to strengthen and build from russia, and when high—pressure strengthens, the winds around it strengthen as well and they keep pushing in the colder air, straight out of russia. so the temperatures will keep on dropping away during the course of the weekend. i suspect even those values here are too high, it could be even as low as a couple of degrees above freezing, by sunday, in some major towns and cities. then the high—pressure gets even more intense and, yes, there are snow showers developing. you can see those blobs of white effecting almost any part of the country. so the big freeze is on the way, it is just too early to say where the coldest of the air is going to go. it could actually sink towards more southern parts of europe and into france, or it
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could go straight over us, or, as we have been talking in the last two days, it could engulf the whole of europe. so for npow, we do know that it is going to be cold next week with widespread frost, possibly by day as well, a bitter wind and snow for sure. this is newsday. i'm rico hizon in singapore. the headlines: survivors of last week's high school massacre, protest in florida and visit the white house. the head of the un demands an immediate end to fighting in the syrian enclave of eastern ghouta, calling it "hell on earth". i'm sharanjit leyl in london. also in the programme: hong kong pop star denise ho tells us she was barred from playing in malaysia because of her support for lgbt rights. and we'll find out how space research could lead to a 50% increase in some crop yields.
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