It has emerged that officials at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), have engaged in “nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives,” according to the Guardian. This came to light through a ten page confidential internal report obtained by the media and paints a worrying picture of the UN agency; its alleged actions have compromised the credibility of staff and the interests of human beings it was supposedly created to protect. The report cited information from some 25 current and past UNRWA directors and staff, and outlined an inner circle comprising Krahenbuhl, his deputy Sandra Mitchell, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan and senior adviser Maria Mohammedi. This inner circle is said to have bypassed regular decision-making processes, as well as avoided consulting with field and program directors and other senior staff. Al Jazeera has confirmed that the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has since opened an investigation into allegations detailed in the report.
The report centred around the actions of Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, who has held the position since March 2014. The report states that not long after taking the position Krahenbuhl expressed interest in hiring an individual by the name of Maria Mohammedi, who later became a Senior External Relations Projects Officer, the duos relationship was described as going “beyond the professional,” and created a “toxic environment.” Regarding the allegations, Krahenbuhl unreservedly denied the negative depiction of UNRWA officials, stating that “Any suggestion therefore that we are not taking our responsibilities seriously is unfounded and highly misleading. We should be judged on the findings of the independent investigation not on allegations, rumours or fabrications.” Mohammedi, the other central figure in this affair told Al Jazeera that she had “never seen the ethics report and rejected the accusations about her conduct as false and ill-intentioned.” The very same report was sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres months ago, which was acknowledged by the secretary-general’s spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, who said that “An investigation of the allegations contained in the report you mention is ongoing. Until this investigation is completed, the Secretary-General is not in a position to make any further comments on this matter.”
In 1948, after the war that led to the creation of Israel, the UNRWA was established to assist the more than 700,000 Palestinians that were forced to flee their homes, currently more than five million rely on the UNRWA for healthcare, schooling and social services. This is not the only crisis the UNRWA has had to endure in recent times, as reported by the Guardian, the UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States, cut 300 million American dollars in annual donations late last year, stating that the agency was “irredeemably flawed.” Some have said that this decision was politically motivated, a claim that does not seem so far-fetched when you consider the foreign policy implemented by the Trump administration in the Middle East, consistently favouring policy that is detrimental to Palestinians, including recognizing Israel’s claim to the contested city of Jerusalem.
The UNRWA operates in perhaps the most complex and politicized environment in the world and assists millions of people in need, incidents such as the findings published in the ethics report only hinder the effective functioning of the agency. The report confirms criticisms of the United Nations and weakens the public perception, the human beings the UN is expected to be assisting should always be in the forefront.
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