Swiss suspend funding to UN Palestinian agency over misconduct claims | News | DW | 30.07.2019
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Swiss suspend funding to UN Palestinian agency over misconduct claims

The Swiss government said it was to temporarily stop payments after an ethics report revealed alleged mismanagement and abuse of authority at the highest levels. UNRWA provides vital schooling and medical services.

The Swiss foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it would suspend funding of the UN's Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), after the agency's own ethics department reported allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and discrimination.

In correspondence with DW, ministry representatives said UNRWA was a "hugely important partner for Switzerland."

Swiss ministry representatives said 22.3 million Swiss francs ($22.5 million, €20.2 million) had been paid to the organization this year, but that it was "suspending any additional contributions" to UNRWA until the UN wide investigation reached a verdict.

UNRWA is headed by a Swiss national, Pierre Krähenbühl. The agency has declined to comment in detail on the internal report while the UN investigation continues.

Krähenbühl has led UNRWA since 2014, and "unreservedly" dismissed the allegations, saying he was prepared to cooperate with the UN investigation. 

UNRWA has been based in Gaza since it was set up in the late 1940s.

UNRWA has been based in Gaza since it was set up in the late 1940s.

Agency for schooling, medical services

UNRWA was set up 60 years ago, after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or made to flee their homelands during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel. It provides vital schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories. The agency currently has a $1.2 billion annual budget to support more than five million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank.

The ethics report, copies of which have been seen by news agencies, details "credible and corroborated" allegations covering a number of ethical issues and "sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority."

In 2018 the US government decreased and then cut off funding to UNRWA. It had received $360 million each year from the US, and has struggled to recoup the funding gap over the last year. 

Among other allegations in the report are suggestions that senior officials bypassed decision-making processes, which constituted an "extremely grave and significant reputational, operational and security risk to the agency."

Former senior workers at UNRWA said Krahenbuhl isolated them increasingly after they had raised concerns with him.  

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jns/jm (AFP, AP)

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