by: Kate Norman
Thursday, 7 November 2019 | The head of the United Nations (UN) Palestinian refugee agency resigned Wednesday amid an internal investigation that revealed “management issues” and corrupt practices.
Senior officials from the UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) were accused of engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority…for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives, jeopardizing the credibility and interests of the agency,” according to findings of the investigation
The UN spokesperson confirmed that Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl resigned his post yesterday effective immediately. The Swiss-born former head of the UNRWA was accused of mismanagement that included creating a senior adviser position for a woman with whom his relationship “went beyond the professional,” according to a leaked report. Krähenbühl also allegedly abused his position to get travel approval for her to accompany him while flying several business class trips around the world—during the height of the agency’s financial crisis.
UN officials and other concerned parties are taking care to separate the corruption scandal from the agency itself and its functions, as its mandate is up for renewal in December. The UNRWA was established in 1949, and every three years the UN General Assembly votes to renew its mandate.
The inner workings of the agency reportedly went downhill in 2018 after the United States, which funded nearly one-third of UNRWA, cut its funding after the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas refused to stop paying stipends to terrorists and their families in the PA’s “Pay-to-Slay” program. The loss of US funding plunged the agency into a financial crisis. That crisis, according to the UN report, allowed for Krähenbühl and other senior officials to operate outside of the checks and balances of power.
The UN investigation into the agency was conducted last December, but no action was taken until the confidential report detailing the findings was leaked to Al Jazeera in July. Details were exposed of the corrupt practices of Krähenbühl and his “inner circle.” Two of the three top officials accused of corruption resigned from their positions—after vehemently denying any wrongdoing and dismissing the accusations as rumors attempted to discredit them.
The report said the conduct of the senior agency officials is risking the reputation of the entire international body. Depending on who you ask, however, UNRWA’s reputation was already shoddy at best.
The UNRWA was established shortly after the State of Israel in order to provide jobs and relief for Palestinians who were then defined as refugees. Millions of Palestinians live in what are called refugee camps, but the camps have developed so much over the past several decades that they resemble suburbs and cities more than the traditional mental images that the term “refugee camp” conjures.
Seventy-one years later, those Palestinians—and their grandchildren—are still defined as refugees, a status that no other people group has held for this long. While agencies like UNRWA argue their prolonged refugee status provides Palestinians with benefits, critics argue that it prevents their full integration into surrounding nations and thus perpetuates the conflict.
Despite the fact that Switzerland had long funded UNRWA, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis criticized the agency, calling it “part of the problem” after visiting Jordan in 2018, the Algemeiner reported. “It provides ammunition to continue the conflict. For as long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they want to return to their homeland.”
After the details of the investigation came to light in July, three other nations suspended their funding: Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. UNRWA posted on its website that it has been forced to cut back its services due to lack of sufficient funding.
The findings that have come to light about the agency official’s corruption shows that the agency is “part of the problem, and not part of the solution,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement. “The agency perpetuates the refugee issue in a political manner, and in doing so distances any possibility for a future resolution.”
Posted on November 7, 2019
Source: (Bridges for Peace, November 7, 2019)
Photo Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré/flickr.com
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