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UN chief appoints interim UNRWA head amid probe

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres attends the 2019 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg, Russia on June 6, 2019. [Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency]

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today appointed an interim head of the UN’s Palestine agency amid a review of misconduct allegations within senior levels of the department, Anadolu Agency reports.

Guterres appointed the UN’s supply chain chief, Christian Saunders, as acting UNRWA director to “ensure operational continuity,” the UN said in a statement.

Saunders began his career in the UN at UNRWA in 1989.

Guterres urged member states and other UNRWA contributors to “continue their support for the crucial work performed by the Agency” after Netherlands and Switzerland suspended their contributions after an internal ethics review found misconduct within the agency, most seriously within the agency’s senior team including its commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl.

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Al Jazeera published the report’s findings on Monday.

It suggests UNRWA’s inner circle, including Krahenbuhl, Deputy Commissioner-General Sandra Mitchell – who left her post in late July, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan – who departed in early July and Senior Adviser to the Commissioner-General, Maria Mohammedi, be considered for removal from the agency.

The report asserts they “have engaged in misconduct, nepotism, retaliation” as well as “other abuses of authority.”

Established in 1949, UNRWA is engaged in relief and human development works supporting nearly six million registered Palestinian refugees.

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