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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

UN announces new deputy for Palestinian refugees agency

The appointment follows probe into UNRWA, including its boss Pierre Krahenbuhl

Christian Saunders has been named the new deputy commissioner general of UN agency for Palestinian refugees. UN
Christian Saunders has been named the new deputy commissioner general of UN agency for Palestinian refugees. UN

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, hit by allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and discrimination, is to get a new deputy commissioner general, it was announced on Thursday.

UNRWA has declined to comment in detail about an internal ethics report that earlier this week cited mismanagement and abuses of power by its most senior leaders, including commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national.

The Netherlands and Switzerland, who are both major donors to the agency, said soon afterwards that they were suspending or limiting their contributions to the agency pending the outcome of the probe.

Christian Saunders, a veteran UN official, will become acting deputy commissioner general.

Mr Saunders brings to the position over three decades of experience in humanitarian and international affairs with a strong focus on delivering results and overseeing major reforms leading to improved organisational effectiveness and efficiency,” said a statement confirming his appointment.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is “committed to acting swiftly upon receiving the full report”, a spokesman told reporters in New York on Tuesday. But the document describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, including some 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 UNRWA's methods and effectiveness, with some officials calling for its abolition, despite the political process between the Palestinian leadership and Israel being at an all-time low.

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.

In Thursday's statement on the appointment of Mr Saunders, who is British and began his UN career with UNRWA in Gaza in 1989, Mr Guterres said the work undertaken by UNRWA continues to be essential to Palestinian refugees. “He calls upon Member States and other partners to remain committed to UNRWA and its services and continue their support for the crucial work performed by the agency,” the statement added.

Mr Saunders has held senior UN roles as chief of the Procurement Service (2001-2005), and head of the Coordination and Support Service in the Office of Information and Communications Technology (2005-2009). He has also served as executive officer for the Department of Safety and Security and as director of the Office of the Under Secretary-General for Management (2013-2017), and in various capacities with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), peacekeeping missions and the United Nations Population Fund.

Updated: August 1, 2019 11:48 PM

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