UN investigates UNRWA

The UN has launched an investigation into alleged mismanagement and abuse of authority at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

A report detailing serious ethical abuse involving senior officials of the agency, including Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, was sent to UN Secretary-General António Guterres in December. UN investigators visited UNRWA offices in Jerusalem and Amman to gather information regarding the allegations, it has been reported.

The alleged behaviour includes: “Inappropriate sexual acts, nepotism, reprisals, discrimination and other abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate differences of opinion”. The report also alleged that, starting from 2015, a year after Krähenbühl was appointed, “people were promoted by how close they were, [and they] acted vengefully against members of the organisation and exploited their power in many ways”.

According to the UN, a senior official named in the report has since left UNRWA due to “inappropriate behaviour” in connection with the investigations, while another resigned for “personal” reasons.

Krähenbühl said in a statement: “If the UN investigation finds room for corrections in the organisation, I will not hesitate to execute them, although all claims that I or the management of the organisation don’t relate to our roles with the seriousness demanded are baseless and mistaken. It is on us to examine the findings of the report when it comes out, and not to rely on rumours. The accusations are false and fabricated.”

A report in the Jerusalem Post said: “The economic crisis in the organisation following the cessation of US aid was also used as an excuse for centralising power in the hands of the commissioner-general and those close to him. The report mentions that due to this behaviour, an environment of low morale developed in the organization, alongside fears of revenge, bullying and secret-keeping that led to the collapse of the regular management of UNRWA. Despite the cessation of US aid, Krähenbühl conducted many trips to Gulf states where he enjoyed many months of traveling for business.”

The total budget for UNRWA is $1.2bn. In 2018 the UK donated $92m to UNRWA’s budget. In September 2018 the US stopped all its funding to UNRWA, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation,” creating a shortfall of approximately $200m.