UN investigating charges of ethical misconduct at UNRWA
The United Nations is investigating allegations of ethical misconduct by senior staff members at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
“An investigation is ongoing” and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is “committed to acting swiftly upon receiving the full report,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York on Monday.
He spoke in the aftermath of an Al-Jazeera article, which said it had received a copy of a 10-page internal UNRWA report that it allegedly fingered UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, Deputy Commissioner-General Sandra Mitchell, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan and Senior Adviser to the Commissioner-General Maria Mohammedi, and called for their removal. Mitchell and Shahwan left UNRWA in July.
It accused them of nepotism and alleged that they had crated an atmosphere eof fear, bullying and intimidation, indicating that the problems became more acute in 2018.
The report further alleged that Krahenbuhl exploited his power to promote associates and neglecting his role in favor of extensive travel around the world, according to Al-Jazeera.
In spite of UNRWA’s financial crisis, Krahenbuhl conducted many trips to Gulf states where he enjoyed many months of traveling for business. Mohammadi traveled together with the commissioner-general and, according to the report, their relationship was more than just professional.
Haq lauded Krahenbuhl, who is the most visible face of UNRWA, stating that he has been doing excellent work. “We are saying that without prejudice to the results of the investigation.”
In a statement to Al-Jazeera, Krahenbuhl dismissed the allegations, stating: “If the current investigation – once it is completed – were to present findings that require corrective measures or other management actions, I will not and we will not hesitate to take them.” he said in a statement to Al Jazeera.
US Special envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted that “We’re extremely concerned about [the] UNRWA allegations. We urge a full [and] transparent investigation by the UN.”
He added, “UNRWA’s model is broken/unsustainable [and] based on an endless expanding [number] of beneficiaries. Palestinians residing in refugee camps deserve much better.”
The Al-Jazeera report comes as UNRWA is in the midst of a financial crisis, brought on in part of by the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to halt its annual funding of $360 million. The Trump administration has repeatedly called on the UN to shut UNRWA down, arguing that it has failed to service the Palestinian people and that its criteria for who is considered a Palestinian refugee are a stumbling bloc to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The UN General Assembly is set this year to renew UNRWA’s mandate. UNRWA services 5.4 million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and east Jerusalem.