Report: UNRWA Rigged ‘Independent’ Probe To Whitewash Its Pervasive Terror Ties 

GENEVA, April 18, 2024 — Ahead of Monday’s release of findings by an UNRWA-initiated probe into how the agency ensures neutrality and responds to allegations of staff support for terrorism, the NGO watchdog group United Nations Watch today published a report exposing the tainted mandate and extreme bias of the Independent Review Group.

Today’s report, UNRWA’s Rigged “Independent” Review, reveals how UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, who announced on January 17th that he was launching the review, tainted the inquiry from the start by publicly dismissing allegations of terror ties as a “smear campaign.”

UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer today expressed non-confidence in the Colonna probe. “For the past decade,” said Neuer, “we sent repeated warnings to UNRWA about widespread promotion and encouragement of terrorism among their 30,000 staff, which we estimated runs into thousands of teachers and other employees.”

“Repeatedly, UNRWA’s response was not to take the allegations seriously, but instead to attack us. The agency systemically failed to stop promotion of terrorism by their employees, many of whom belong to Hamas. We sent all of the evidence to the Colonna probe, but based on their tainted mandate and composition—and based on their interim determination—it’s clear they intend to ignore the evidence, to whitewash UNRWA’s documented and widespread ties to terrorism, and all of this to provide false justifiations for donor states to  reinstate funding.”

UN Watch’s report shows how the probe was never designed to objectively investigate UNRWA’s handling of thousands of staff who promote terrorism online or at rallies, but rather, in the words of UNRWA’s former spokesman Chris Gunness, to “provide the donors with further cover, if that’s what they need within their own internal constituencies, to resume funding for UNRWA.” Former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, head of the probe, said from the start that her probe was designed for donors to “regain confidence” in UNRWA. The UN spokesman confirmed that the report’s aim was to “reassure donors.”

The possibility that the probe might find that UNRWA systemically fails to address widespread promotion of terrorism among its staff, or the fact that UNRWA union chiefs belong to Hamas, was never considered.

The report shows why UNRWA selected Colonna and her investigative team of three research institutes: all are on record as ardent advocates of funding UNRWA. Under UN standards for investigations and reviews, this legally renders them disqualified from impartially investigating UNRWA’s alleged complicity with terrorist organizations.

Findings in the report include:

• Ms. Colonna’s previous role overseeing France’s significant financial and political support for UNRWA means that her impartiality in evaluating the agency is compromised. Her leadership of the Review Group constitutes a violation of the legal principles and UN standards of conduct relating to conflict of interest and the requirement for impartiality in UN audits, investigations, and reviews.

• France is UNRWA’s fourth-largest donor and a commission member overseeing UNRWA’s work. Any adverse finding about system-wide failures at UNRWA would therefore implicate herself and other French officials who failed to exercise their fiduciary oversight duties. There is a clear conflict of interest, and Colonna’s leadership of the group violates the U.N.’s own standards of conduct for investigators.

• In addition, the three institutes staffing the Colonna Group were selected by UNRWA because of their history of embracing UNRWA’s narrative and talking points, strongly advocating funding for the agency, and dismissing evidence of pervasive incitement to terrorism among UNRWA staff.

• For example, in 2022, the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) of Norway, one of the three institutes in the Review Group, published a major report about UNRWA which completely dismissed allegations of UNRWA teachers promoting terrorism—documented in UN Watch reports that show screenshots of UNRWA teachers on social media calling to slaughter Jews—as “unfounded claims.”

• CMI’s lead expert on UNRWA, Kjersti Berg, suddenly deleted her Twitter account yesterday after UN Watch exposed how her life’s work is devoted to denying UNRWA’s documented terror ties.

• The head of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, another member of the Review Group, has for years publicly advocated funding UNRWA and dismissing allegations of the agency’s terror ties. He and his colleagues have also portrayed Israel as uniquely evil, accusing the Jewish state of committing “apartheid” and “genocide.”

• The Danish Institute for Human Rights, the third member of the Review Group, has demonstrated a sharp pro-UNRWA and anti-Israel bias in the pronouncements of its board members and senior staff.

About United Nations Watch

United Nations Watch is a Swiss non-governmental organization that monitors the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter. Based in Geneva for more than three decades, United Nations Watch was founded in 1993 by civil rights activist Morris B. Abram, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

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