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Second Rebuttal to the NORAD Report

Despite its brevity, possible methodological short-comings, lack of independence, this report should be welcomed. It specifically confirms and identifies two cases of sexual misconduct on the part of NCA staff. It also confirms the possibility of other cases of misconduct, if not by NCA staff then by staff of other NGOs. The report states that the investigators found no evidence to support the claims of rape. This does not mean that such evidence does not exist; it emphasises or suggests, rather, deficient methodology and possible partiality. Nevertheless, it explicitly acknowledges that the existing NCA staff behaviour guidelines are insufficient, and recommends their review and revision as an urgent imperative. This clearly seems to accept, albeit tacitly, that there have been other cases of sexual abuse of Akha women and girls. Whether such conduct can be categorized as rape or not, and whether the abusers were NCA staff or from other organizations, the report makes it clear that there is an issue which needs to be addressed urgently. The question, therefore, now concerns whether NORAD and the NCA will accept this report and how, if at all, it will act upon its recommendations.

More generally, the report also highlights a major ethical dilemma confronting organisations such as the NCA and other NGOs. The issue concerns the extent to which the NCA and similar organisations should insist on their staff observing high behavioural standards and values they represent. There can be no doubt that taking Akha girls or women as sexual partners is an abuse of position which would be condemned, at very least, as unprofessional and misconduct in many western countries. It is hard to believe that the Norwegian Church would condone or endorse such behaviour, or would wish those working in its name to be associated with such behaviour.

The report leaves a number of issues open and raises some further questions concerning its methodological soundness.

1. The NORAD investigation was concerned specifically to investigate allegations about NCA and its staff. It suggests that the Akha do not readily distinguish NCA staff from other foreigners or staff of other NGO’s. In finding the allegations of rape against NCA staff unsubstantiated, it nevertheless allows the possibility of abuse by staff of other NGOs. Clearly, the matter has not been fully investigated and any future investigation needs to have a wider focus. That focus should centre on the Akha themselves.

2. The NORAD report purports to have been carried out by independent investigators. Dr Chris Lyttleton from Australia, one of the investigators has previously consulted for NCA. While this may provide useful insights into how NCA operates and useful contacts, it throws doubt on the independence of the process, particularly given the inconclusive findings. The other investigator was a child rights expert from Norway. Her nationality similarly detracts from the appearance of independence. The report is largely silent upon the qualifications and experience of both investigators.

There are several other methodology issues.
a. neither investigator spoke Akha;

b. there is no description of how they were introduced to the interviewees or whether the interviewees were able to access independent counsel concerning their rights and security;

c. other than concealing the identity of interviewees, there is no information about how their security was protected;

d. there is no information about how the villages or interviewees were selected;

e. we do not know what records of interviews exist. The only transcript attached to the report seems to indicate clear evidence of abuse, that the interview was videoed, and that the cameraman was more on the ball at times than the interviewer.

f. the investigators rejected the assistance of other Akha activists who might have been able to support the interviewees and direct investigators to witnesses with more relevant information.

These methodology matters detract from the value of the report. They leave open the possibility that more explicit evidence substantiating allegations of abuse could have been found if more rigourous research standards had been followed. In turn, this questions the competence of the investigators, or their partiality.

Copyright 1991 - 2006 The Akha Heritage Foundation