Dutch and Swiss suspend funding to crisis-hit UN agency for Palestinians

It comes after an internal ethics report showed abuse of authority at the highest levels of the body

A Palestinian man transports boxes of food outside an aid distribution centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the central Gaza Strip refugee camp of Bureij, on July 31, 2019.  An internal ethics report has alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees even as the organisation faced an unprecedented crisis after US funding cuts.
Lacking natural resources, the Gaza Strip suffers from a chronic shortage of water, electricity and petrol. More than two-thirds of the population depends on humanitarian aid.
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The Netherlands suspended its contribution Wednesday to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees pending the outcome of a probe into alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority by the agency' top management.

The Dutch decision comes a day after a similar move by Switzerland, which said it would suspend additional contributions.

The report by the agency's ethics department revealed a series of allegations relating to sexual misconduct, nepotism and discrimination.

s one of the agency's main European donors the Netherlands "expressed... its great concern and asked for clarification," the Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement.

Sigrid Kaag, foreign trade and development cooperation minister, "would like to hear what steps the UN plans to take based on the outcome of the investigation," it added.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said the government had already sent its annual contribution of $22.5 million (Dh82.6m) to the agency but it would not give "any additional contributions".

UNRWA, led by Swiss national Pierre Krahenbuhl, has declined to comment in detail on the internal report while the UN probe is ongoing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is "committed to acting swiftly upon receiving the full report", the global body's spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York on Tuesday.

But the document describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, including involving Mr Krahenbuhl.

It says the allegations include senior management engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives”.

The report’s revelations come at a difficult time for the agency after US President Donald Trump cancelled all American aid to the UN arm. The White House criticised the UN organisation’s methods and effectiveness at a time when the political process between the Palestinian leadership and Israel deteriorated.

The US had previously been the agency’s biggest financial backer and, many agency officials say, its best partner in delivering assistance to Palestinian refugees in the region.

Bern has since expressed mixed messages about the agency.

The foreign ministry has called it “an important multilateral partner for Switzerland”. But Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in May called UNRWA “part of the problem” in the Middle East, as it fuelled “unrealistic” hope among Palestinians of return after 70 years of exile.

Despite its current crisis, it received new pledges of $110m last month, allowing schools, hospitals and food distribution to be maintained in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia were among countries and organisations that increased their donations from last year, as did the EU, Germany, France and Britain.

UNRWA was set up in the years after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.

It provides vital schooling and medical services to about 5.4 million impoverished refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories.