New York City, US – A confidential internal report from the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency’s ethics office has detailed alleged abuses of authority among the organisation’s senior management team.
With input from dozens of current and former staff, the 10-page document cites “credible and corroborated reports” that members of an “inner circle” at the top of UNRWA have engaged in “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives”.
The report alleges that the “inner circle” is made up of Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, 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.
It concludes that the individuals’ alleged conduct presents “an enormous risk to the reputation of the UN” and that “their immediate removal should be carefully considered”.
Al Jazeera obtained a copy of the ethics office report from a source close to UNRWA, who said that agency employees were concerned about a seeming lack of action after it was sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres‘s office in December last year.
Al Jazeera understands that the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has opened a probe into allegations detailed in the report, while the secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, confirmed in late June that the report had been received.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“As he has shown in the past, the Secretary-General is committed to acting swiftly upon receiving the full report.”
‘Concentration of power’
The ethics report claims that members of the inner circle “have engaged in misconduct, nepotism, retaliation … and other abuses of authority”.
It alleges that, since 2015, they have steadily consolidated power, leading to “management decline”, and that the situation escalated markedly from the beginning of 2018.
The alleged escalation coincided with the fallout from the decision by the United States, historically the agency’s largest individual donor, to cut its contributions from $360m to $60m for 2018 and then cut its donations to zero in 2019, causing a funding crisis in UNRWA.
The report claims that the 2018 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”.