UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General António Guterres established an independent body on Monday to scrutinise allegations regarding neutrality of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Guterres, in consultation with UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini, has assigned the leadership of this crucial review to Catherine Colonna, a former foreign affairs minister of France.

The panel will collaborate with three reputable research organizations — the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

In a statement released in New York, the UN chief emphasised the importance of this review, stating, “The Review Group’s mandate is to assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”

Lazzarini echoed his support, stating, “I look forward to the conclusion and recommendations of the report, which will be made public.”

Colonna’s team will commence their work on Feb 14, with an interim report expected by late March and a final report to be completed by late April. The results of the investigation will be made public, underscoring the commitment to transparency in addressing the allegations.

Lazzarini had previously requested this external review, reflecting the agency’s dedication to accountability. The terms of reference for the Review Group are comprehensive, covering mechanisms and procedures in place, their implementation in practice, and their adequacy in the context of operational, political, and security challenges.

The Secretary-General noted the challenging circumstances in which UNRWA operates, stating, “These accusations come at a time when UNRWA is working under extremely challenging conditions to deliver life-saving assistance to the 2 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 independent external review runs in parallel with an ongoing investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into allegations involving 12 UNRWA personnel in the Oct 7 attacks.

Lazzarini said the independent external review will show the United Nations’ comprehensive approach to address the complexities of the situation.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2024

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