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Guterres appoints independent UNRWA review panel

Displaced Palestinians wait to collect food at a distribution point near a school-turned-shelter in Gaza.
© UNRWA/Ashraf Amra
Displaced Palestinians wait to collect food at a distribution point near a school-turned-shelter in Gaza.

Guterres appoints independent UNRWA review panel

UN Affairs

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday appointed an independent panel to conduct an assessment of the UN agency that assists Palestine refugees, UNRWA following accusations that several staff were involved in the 7 October attacks against Israel.  

The Independent Review Group – appointed in consultation with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini – will examine whether the agency is doing everything it can to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they arise.

It will be led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, who will work with three research organisations: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, Michelsen Institute in Norway and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

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Work will begin on 14 February and an interim report is expected to be submitted to the Secretary-General in late March. The final report, which will be made public, is expected to be completed by late April.

Parallel investigations 

The review is in response to a request made by the UNRWA Commissioner-General last month.

It will take place in parallel with an investigation currently underway by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into allegations of the involvement of 12 UNRWA personnel in the 7 October attacks. 

“The accusations come at a time when UNRWA, the largest UN organisation in the region, is working under extremely challenging conditions to deliver lifesaving assistance to the two million people in the Gaza Strip who depend on it for their survival amidst one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world,” the Secretary-General said in a statement. 

The UN warned last week that aid operations in Gaza are at risk as 16 donor countries have slashed support to the agency. 


Identify procedures, make recommendations 

The Secretary-General said the cooperation of the Israeli authorities, who made the allegations, will be critical to the investigation’s success, and his statement outlined the review group’s terms of reference.

The panel will identify the mechanisms and procedures that UNRWA currently has in place to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations or information indicating that the principle may have been breached.

It will ascertain how those mechanisms and procedures have or have not been implemented in practice and whether every practicable effort has been made to apply them to their full potential, considering the particular operational, political and security environment in which the agency works.

Another task will be assessing if those mechanisms and procedures are fit for purpose, including in relation to the management of risks and again taking into account the operational, political and security context. 

Finally, the review group will make recommendations for the improvement and strengthening, if necessary, of the mechanisms and procedures that are currently in place or for the creation of new and alternative measures that would be better fit for purpose while considering the particular operational, political and security context in which UNRWA works.