This week, two organisations released a report criticizing and questioning -once again- the Agency’s adherence to UN values and humanitarian principles including neutrality.
“UNRWA takes each allegation extremely seriously, no matter the source. Investigations are now underway. Should any misconduct be found, UNRWA will take the necessary disciplinary or administrative actions,” said Ms. Stenseth, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner General, during a briefing to the Agency’s close partners. She also reiterated the full commitment of UNRWA to upholding UN values and humanitarian principles, including neutrality. She confirmed the Agency’s zero-tolerance position towards hatred and the promotion of violence. “
This latest report parallels these organisations’ previous attempts to sensationalize, overstate and sometimes give misguided conclusions derived from what a credible academic organisation described as methodologies “marked by generalising and exaggerated conclusions based on methodological shortcomings.” This latest report follows the same pattern. It for example, does not hesitate, without any verification, to portray as current UNRWA staff, people who left the organisation more than a decade ago.
Ms. Stenseth confirmed to partners that UNRWA undertakes a range of prevention measures, and that its teams are constantly reminded of their obligations and responsibilities as UN staff. They receive regular in-person training sessions and mandatory online courses on humanitarian principles, social media use, and ethics. In addition, UNRWA undertakes regular and meticulous reviews of all textbooks and learning materials. This is despite significant financial challenges at UNRWA, including the limited number of investigators in the Agency.
In addition, the Deputy Commissioner-General provided partners with context and background -not included in the report- namely the volatility across the region, recurrent escalations and conflicts, the occupation and multiple crises that create heightened political tensions. She also briefed on the engagement of the Agency with UNESCO, the World Bank and other institutions through the “Education Expert Advisory Group”.
Ms. Stenseth concluded that this and previous similar reports have never been submitted to UNRWA for comments prior to publishing, in the way that any credible research organisation would invariably require.
- The report makes new allegations against ten of what was referred to in the report as “UNRWA staff members”, accusing them of promoting hatred and violence on social media.
- UNRWA identified that seven out of the ten mentioned individuals are current UNRWA personnel. UNRWA can confirm that none of the three former staff members were employed by the Agency at the time of posting the social media content in question.
- The report provides a list of all 133 alleged staff members both included in the current report and previous reports dating back to 2015. UNRWA has investigated all previous allegations. Where substantiated, the agency took disciplinary measures including financial penalties and demotion.
- The second part of the report makes separate allegations against 31 alleged staff members from UNRWA schools accusing them of producing, sharing, or teaching learning material incompatible with UN values and principles in UNRWA schools. Of the 22 allegations, five are repeated from a previous report, which UNRWA is already addressing.