Report: “Neutrality Principle” Penalties Pursue UNRWA Personnel in Jordan

[Translation of Arabic language article.]
Palestinian Refugees Portal
Friday 14 July 2017

The “neutrality principle” is a sword on the necks of UNRWA employees.

Jordan (Palestinian Refugees Portal) – The Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has levied penalties against several teachers and employees in its areas of operation in Jordan. The penalties ranged from a warning to suspension from work for one month due to their violation of the so-called “neutrality principle”, which UNRWA follows and requires its personnel to observe. This principle is controversial because it is unclear and has multiple interpretations; it also diminishes the rights of the Agency’s employees, which underscores the need for this principle and its implementation mechanism to be explained by the UNRWA management.
Based on this principle, UNRWA personnel are prohibited from participating in any political activity that contradicts or negatively reflects on the independence and neutrality that is required from them as employees. This includes affiliation with political parties or membership in a political committee, and exposes UNRWA employees who naturally deal with the Palestinian issue to potential accusations, which may lead to potential penalties.
UNRWA is now also pursuing its personnel on websites and social networks, even in terms of the simplest activities, such as liking a certain publication or webpage or posting content. Their activities on the Internet is monitored and they are held accountable for it as part of the so-called “neutrality principle”. According to UNRWA, even personal use of social media must obey the Agency’s rules and regulations.
In its training material concerning the use of social networks and the principle of neutrality, UNRWA indicated that due to the nature of websites and social networks, which make it easy to post and chat online, such activities should be regarded as public and overt, and will be seen by UNRWA as such. The Agency also indicated that personal communications on social networks should comply with the principle of neutrality, independence, and objectivity at work.
The [Jordanian] Senate’s Palestine Committee has met with the manager of the UNRWA operations office in Jordan, David Roger, and the director general of the Department of Palestinian Affairs, Yassin Awad. During the meeting, it demanded that the penalties be cancelled and that the term “neutrality”, which the Agency had started to implement, be redefined. The Committee also warned UNRWA not to infringe upon its employees’ rights and livelihood.
According to Roger, “the Agency’s personnel participated in many courses, where the meaning of neutrality was defined. The levied penalties have not caused anyone to lose their jobs. Roger added that he did not make the decisions and they don’t fall under his authority”.
Attempting to clarify this matter, the Palestinian Refugees Portal contacted UNRWA’s media office in Jordan. They refused to comment and said that “this is an internal matter of the Agency, which should not be disclosed”. The Palestinian Refugees Portal also met with many UNRWA employees to discuss the matter, and hear their points of view, but since they are not allowed to speak to the media, we had to disguise their names out of fear they would be harmed.
SD is an UNRWA teacher. He told the Palestinian Refugees Portal that “the neutrality law is oppressive. How can anyone observe neutrality, having been expelled from his land and fought against”. He also clarified that “the decisions were taken before the employees were informed of what they were prohibited from doing; the neutrality law contradicts UN Resolution 194, which guarantees the right of return and compensation to the refugees”.
UNRWA teacher RA said that “neutrality is intended to put a gag on the mouths of the Agency’s employees. This law imposes on them silence in fear for their income and their children’s survival”. He added that “this law violates human rights laws, in particular the freedom of opinion and expression”.
HA is an UNRWA employee. She says that “because we work for the Agency, they prevent us from expressing or sharing political opinions”. She also explained that the Agency distributed brochures to its employees and that it administers courses to introduce the concept of neutrality and the rules of using social networks.
In its statement, the Executive Committee of UNRWA Teachers / Jordan Workers’ Union expressed its disappointment and disapproval of the decisions that had been made, and mentioned that 21 people had been penalized. The Committee demanded that a clear definition of the neutrality principle be found, so as to explain what is allowed and what is forbidden. They also said that “the topic of neutrality does not apply just to UNRWA employees in Jordan, but rather has a bearing on more than 30,000 employees in the Agency’s areas of operation in Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan”.
The Committee indicated that these penalties had been levied before the Agency’s personnel received any education and training. It called upon the Commissioner General to revoke the decision. They also urged the governments of all the hosting countries to discuss the topic with the Agency’s management because this concerns all of the Agency’s personnel in its areas of operation.
National and public activists follow with great fear and interest the consequences of what they describe as dictatorial procedures against the employees. In an announcement about neutrality, as well as the levied penalties and their effect, they said: “the oppressive neutrality law is used as a sword put upon the necks of UNRWA personnel, which makes them choose one of two options: either give up on – and abandon the national constants, or fight for their workplace and livelihood”.
The activists also demanded that the observance of the neutrality principle be discontinued altogether, including any consequential penalties. They said that lessening the penalties was not enough, indicating that this principle represents a blatant violation of the UN-approved human rights principles, and therefore everyone should oppose it and act to revoke it.
Training booklet for managers and inspectors on social media and neutrality: here.

UN Watch