By Alexandre Giraud, CEO of the NGO SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL
The current media focus is a new opportunity for the humanitarian association SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, which has been present for nearly 40 years in major areas of crisis, to reaffirm its determination to prevent any act of sexual exploitation, harassment or abuse committed by humanitarian workers.
As rare as it is unacceptable, such behaviour endangers the integrity and dignity of people in vulnerable situations, and therefore betrays the mission of humanitarian organisations: to rescue and protect the weakest.
Although it is real, such behaviour is contrary to the humanitarian imperative and the principles that sustain it. Let us specify here that they are, at SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, absolutely contradictory with the very essence of our humanitarian commitment and that they are a clear violation of our Code of Conduct, to which all our humanitarian workers are signatories.
SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL strongly condemns these unacceptable acts that endanger the integrity and dignity of men and women in vulnerable situations. Victims we support on a daily basis. Let us add that these individual actions also threaten the actions of humanitarian organisations which aim to provide aid to the most fragile and do not respond to any other consideration than the needs of the affected populations.
PREVENT, ALERT, REPORT, INVESTIGATE, SANCTION
In an international context marked by increasing restrictions on humanitarian access, it is our responsibility to not let such destructive behaviour further complicate our humanitarian mission dedicated to the most vulnerable.
This scandal reminds us, at SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL but also all humanitarian organisations, of our obligations: to deploy all the tools and means necessary to prevent, alert, report, investigate, and sanction this type of unacceptable behaviour that seriously harms our actions, but above all the people we work with.
SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, like many humanitarian associations, has had a prevention and whistleblowing policy for several years now. Sanctions are systematically imposed on concerned individuals when incriminating facts are proven.
However, the best solution to avoid unacceptable incidents is to prevent them by communicating to all our teams, at all times, on all our sites, the humanitarian values that inspire us, as well as the responsibility incumbent on each of us to be irreproachable and exemplary in carrying out our mission.
PROTECTING THE MOST FRAGILE
In practice, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has deployed in all its areas of intervention (16 countries, 2,000 staff currently) tools and materials to raise awareness, inform, train, alert and in the same way protect beneficiaries, populations, our humanitarian workers and our partners.
Among these tools:
- SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL’s operational framework defines the fundamental principles of the organisation’s actions, including the two pillars “Do No Harm” and “Be Professional”.
- Reference checks are systematised in our recruitment procedures, in accordance with the provisions of the CNIL (the French National Commission on Information Technology and Freedom).
- The Code of Ethics and Conduct (CEC) must be signed by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL members who commit to respect rules of good conduct.
- The Protection against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse framework is a complementary policy of our CEC, which states in particular that sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers constitutes a serious professional misconduct, causing dismissal.
- The Professional whistleblowing allows our staff to report any particularly serious situation or behaviour, either through the traditional reporting chain or outside this framework, in complete confidentiality. It is then the CEO who receives and processes these alerts.
- Complaint mechanisms for the beneficiaries of our assistance: a telephone hotline, an e-mail address or a mailbox, depending on the area and the country, are available to the public to enable them to report any abuse, in whatever form and wherever it may come from.
These messages are disseminated: during the hiring of each national and international staff member who must carefully read them, during specific training courses, as well as in our bases on our intervention sites, where a series of institutional posters display these messages to all our employees and volunteers.
From prevention to sanctions, we will ensure that our efforts are continually strengthened.
A DUTY OF HUMANITY INCUMBENT UPON EACH OF OUR MEMBERS
Thanks to this prevention and whistleblowing system, to the awareness raising and continuous training of our staff, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL has registered, over the last four years, with its 2,000 humanitarian workers deployed in the field, nearly a hundred denunciations (97). A majority did not report a breach of our CEC (corruption, abuse of power, sexual abuse, discrimination, etc.). However, we have dealt with 18 cases of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation.
Of these 18 cases, two turned out to be calumnious accusations. 11 led to immediate contract terminations despite the absence of formal evidence, due to the strong suspicion of the organisation towards these members of personnel and the loss of confidence in them. 5 cases were identified as proven breaches of our CEC.
As a direct consequence, the concerned individuals will no longer be able to be part of our teams. In the event of reference checks, we would inform our colleagues that SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL would no longer hire them. Finally, it should be noted that if cases had arisen in the criminal law of the country of intervention, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL will have lodged a complaint with the competent authorities.
SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL publicly apologises to and supports those who have been victims of these abuses.
As a humanitarian NGO supporting since 1980 more than 4 million people every year through a dignified and vital hand-delivered aid. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL reminds us that the essence of humanitarian action is to help and protect the weakest. It is a duty of humanity incumbent upon each of our members, in their daily lives, their attitudes and actions, at headquarters and on the ground.
At a time when there have never been so many victims of political crises and natural disasters, the role of humanitarian actors has never been more vital. The acts mentioned, which are committed by individuals and not organisations, must not obscure the mission and values of NGOs and thousands of workers engaged in the most severe crises to support the most vulnerable.
Photo : Thomas Gruel / SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL