Amid corruption in UNRWA, Switzerland suspends payments

The Swiss Federal Dept of Foreign Affairs clarified that it has already transferred $22.5 million to UNRWA for 2019, so the suspension of financial support would be for 2020, as it attaches special importance to good governance for international organizations.



Switzerland suspended payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) until completion of a UN investigation into ethical misconduct among senior officials in the organization, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday.

The Swiss clarified that it has already provided UNRWA with its pledged $22.5 million for 2019 and that the suspension would only impact money slated for 2020. News of the suspension comes as UNRWA is struggling to maintain its $1.2 billion budget in light of the US decision in 2018 to cut its annual $360 million contribution.

The Swiss Foreign Department said it contacted the UNRWA as soon it heard of rumors regarding the UN investigation. The foreign department attaches special importance on good governance of international organizations, it added.

Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – UN Video screenshot

UNRWA Commission Pierre Krahenbuhl confirmed to donors on Monday that the organization was under investigation, explaining that no conclusion has been reached.

Krahenbuhl assured the donors of UNRWA’s cooperation with the investigation. The Swiss Federal Department said it was in contact with other donors to decide on what appropriate measures should be taken.

The UN publicly acknowledged the investigation on Monday and Tuesday, which being conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “committed to acting swiftly upon receiving the full report,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

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 allegedly targeted 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.

Screen Shot UNRWA figgures for Palestinian refugees. As the numbers of those actually being assisted declines, the total continues to grow, and the budget demanded grows in kind.

Haq spoke in support of UNRWA, which services 5.4 million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and east Jerusalem.

“We will be looking to make sure that all of the countries that have been generous in donating to UNRWA will be able to continue to support that,” he said. “Clearly this is an agency, whose work is critical to the lives and the health and the education of millions of Palestinians across the region. They have been a vital source of stability” for both Palestinians and the region as a whole.

According to Al Jazeera, the ethics report accused top UNRWA officials of nepotism and alleged that they had created an atmosphere of 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 neglected 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. In a statement to Al Jazeera, Krahenbuhl dismissed the allegations.

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.”

Israel Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon tweeted, “The allegations of corruption at the highest levels of UNRWA is revealing, if not surprising. For decades, the organization and its leadership have sold lies to perpetuate the Palestinians’ refugee status. UNRWA is nothing more than an anti-Israel org. Time to hold it accountable.”

The UN General Assembly is set to renew UNRWA’s mandate this year.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.


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