Saturday, December 05, 2020

UNRWA chief resigns amid misconduct investigation

By K. Künzl - November 12, 2019
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [UNRWA]

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the resignation of United Nations Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) chief, Pierre Krahenbuhl, on 6 November, effective immediately.

The aid agency's commissioner-general stepped down amid investigations into accusations of misconduct and “management issues”.

Accusations were first revealed by a confidential internal agency ethics report in July, accusing Krahenbuhl and his “inner circle” of “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives”.

Following the start of investigations, the UN announced that Krahenbuhl would be placed on administrative leave.

“The report alleged the 'inner circle’ was made up of Deputy Commissioner-General Sandra Mitchell - who resigned from her post in late July - Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan - who left the agency in early July - and Senior Adviser to the Commissioner-General Maria Mohammedi,” Al Jazeera reported

Members were accused of allegedly engaging “in misconduct, nepotism, retaliation ... and other abuses of authority".  

The agency fell under heightened scrutiny after the US cut funding in 2018 as UNWRA’s largest individual donor.

The report claimed that the funding crisis, "served as an excuse for an extreme concentration of decision making power in members of the 'clique' and in particular, the [former] chief of staff; increased disregard for agency rules and established procedures, with exceptionalism becoming the norm; and continued excessive travel of the commissioner-general".

The report also claimed that recent developments changed the work culture into an environment, "characterised by low morale, fear of retaliation ... distrust, secrecy, bullying, intimidation, and marginalisation ... and management that is highly dysfunctional, with a significant breakdown of the regular accountability structure". 

It concluded by calling for immediate removal of 'inner circle’ staff members for fear that accusations would taint the reputation of the UNRWA. 

Documents surrounding the allegations mainly detail the relationship between the swiss national, Krahenbuhl, and his senior advisor Mohammedi, claiming that it went “beyond professional” and created a toxic work environment.

Mohammedi has yet to step down from her position and has labelled the accusations about her conduct as "false" and "ill-intentioned".

The UNRWA was founded a year after the Nakba or 'catastrophe’ of 1948 left 700,000 Palestinians displaced from their land during the creation of the state of Israel. It provides vital schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.

Following the release of the report Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland also suspended their funding to UNRWA.

The agency announced in a statement on Wednesday following the resignation that it would take necessary efforts to correct areas that needed strengthening in the coming months.

The UN chief, Antonio Guterres, appealed to donors to not suspend funding so that the agency is able to continue “to carry out its unique and vital role in serving over 5.5 million Palestine refugees".

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