In response to the emergence of serious allegations of child safeguarding incidents in four SOS Children’s Villages Member Associations, the Independent Child Safeguarding Review (ICSR) was commissioned in 2016 by the SOS Children’s Villages International Senate. In 2020, the “Wiersholm Report” was commissioned by eight SOS Children’s Villages Member Associations to assess allegations of child safeguarding as well as misuse of funds and governance failings, including those arising from the Speak Out Loud Platform. Both the final report of the ICSR and the Wiersholm Report were produced in early 2021.
In May 2021, the International Senate decided to establish a global Independent Special Commission (ISC) to examine the alleged failings, including child abuse, corruption, and other breaches of regulations.
Justice Willy Mutunga (chair), Justice Gita Mittal, Mr. Andras Vamos-Goldman and Ms. Mona Ali Khalil were appointed as the ISC members on 1 October 2021 and started their work immediately. The ISC is assisted by a support team including the Coordinator of the Commission, Chief of Investigations and Secretary of the Commission.
The following Terms of Reference describe the ISC’s mandate, objective and guiding principles; its scope of activities and methods of work; as well as its reporting framework.
The ISC is mandated by the International Senate of SOS Children’s Villages to:
1. Assess, map and prioritize allegations and concerns raised, and initiate further investigations as deemed necessary;
2. Based on the findings of the investigations, confirm whether or not misconduct has occurred, or whether or not the concerns are justified;
3. Assess in a broader sense the allegations and concerns regarding the areas of child safeguarding, safeguarding in general, usage of funds, compliance, management and governance and other areas it deems important, and recommend the appropriate measures to the International Senate.
The ISC will work independently and with all efficiency to fulfill its mandate as articulated by the International Senate in order to: establish facts; consider the degree to which any abuses, failures and other wrongdoing have been redressed; identify where and what further remedial measures are required, including the possibility of recommending referral of certain allegations to the appropriate national law enforcement authorities and to report and make recommendations within the scope of the ISC’s mandate and objective in a timeframe as responsive as possible to the needs of those affected by the alleged abuses, failures and other wrongdoing.
1. The ISC will be guided by the principles of “Do No Harm” and the “Best Interest of the Child” in all aspects of its mandate.
2. The ISC will investigate alleged abuses, failures and other wrongdoing independently and impartially, with the utmost adherence to the integrity and fundamental fairness of the process; the dignity and safety of survivors, institutional and other whistleblowers, and other persons; the due process rights of all involved, and the interests of justice.
3. In carrying out its activities, the ISC will be guided by the Statutes of SOS Children’s Villages applicable national, regional and international laws including the criminal laws of the relevant jurisdictions as well as international standards and best practices.
4. The ISC will ensure gender and other intersecting inequalities and marginalizations are mainstreamed throughout its activities, responsive to local cultural contexts.
5. The ISC will adopt a survivor-centric approach including engagement with psychosocial support where appropriate and will seek to amplify the voices of children and other survivors.
SCOPE OF ACTIVITIES
1. The ISC can investigate alleged abuses, failures and other wrongdoing no matter where they arise or against whom they are alleged within the scope of the work of SOS CVI, or any SOS Regional Office or National Member Associations, if they fall within the following categories: safeguarding failures, child abuse, and gender-based violence; economic misconduct or other failures including the misuse or misappropriation of funds; failures to support whistleblowers and protect them against retaliation; and other mismanagement or governance failings. The ISC will consider:
a) Allegations cited in the ICSR and WR;
b) Allegations received by the SOS Children’s Villages International;
c) Allegations received by SOS Children’s Villages Member Associations; and
d) Allegations submitted directly to, or identified by, the ISC.
2. The ISC can review corrective or remedial measures taken by the SOS CVI or Member Associations, including: the extent to which any previously alleged abuses, failures and other wrongdoing have been redressed; the effectiveness of such corrective or remedial measures; and any further corrective or remedial measures which the ISC deems necessary to recommend. This will include reviewing the internal oversight and investigation functions, as well as the investigative activities of the SOS CVI, and Member Associations for compliance with international standards and best practices.
3. The ISC investigation can include inquiries into, and engagement with, the following entities:
a) SOS Children’s Villages International (the General Secretariat);
b) SOS Children’s Villages International Senate;
c) SOS Children’s Villages Member Associations;
d) Staff of SOS CVI and of Member Associations; and
e) Other stakeholders and third parties in keeping with the objective of the ISC.
METHODS OF WORK
1. The ISC will establish protocols and standard operating procedures for the conduct of investigations, including interviewing survivors, witnesses, whistleblowers, and those who are alleged to have committed abuses or other wrongdoings or to have been responsible for failings.
2. The ISC will take measures to ensure confidentiality and security of information and to protect the identities of survivors and other persons who provide information as well as those who are alleged to have committed abuses or other wrongdoings or to have been responsible for failings subject to its obligations under national, regional and international laws.
3. The ISC will focus on allegations of child abuse, gender-based violence including sexual exploitation and abuse, safeguarding failures, and other violations involving physical harm as well as any significant economic misconduct or other serious failures. The ISC will prioritize allegations based on objective criteria (including gravity, frequency, intersecting wrongdoing, indication of a wider pattern and the public interest).
4. The ISC will adopt clear, consistent and objective evidentiary standards as well as required degrees of corroboration (including accounting for the special and internationally recognised nature of child abuse and gender-based violence).
5. The ISC will seek to support the SOS Safeguarding Action Plan and existing internal oversight and investigation functions subject to the independence of the ISC’s mandate and the ISC’s assessment of the existing SOS investigations according to international standards and best practices. This would include assessing whether they are the competent and appropriate party to undertake the investigation and proposing further measures, where appropriate, including reassignment of the investigation to the ISC.
6. The ISC intends to use the most appropriate professional and cultural expertise available in its investigations in order to ensure the credibility of the information collected as well as to safeguard the rights of all persons and other parties concerned in carrying out its mandate.
1. The ISC reports will set out its mandate; establishment and composition as well as its objective, principles and methods of work.
2. The ISC reports will focus on its findings including the established facts of each case; the results of its verification and corroboration activities; its conclusions regarding the allegation(s) and the proposed measures or other actions to be taken in consequence.
3. The ISC reports will also set out recommendations, including internal measures and any other actions to be taken by SOS CVI to prevent and respond to future violations, pursue justice and accountability and provide support for survivors (including psychosocial support where appropriate).