Independent panel appointed to investigate UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees

UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced on Monday a review of whether the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA) is “ensur[ing] neutrality” and properly responding to allegations of possible breaches. The announcement came after Israel accused UNRWA of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attacks. The accusation caused several countries, including the US, to halt funding to the agency.

Guterres named Catherine Colonna, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, as the head of the independent review group. Three “research organizations” based in Denmark, Norway and Sweden will also participate.

The independent review group will assess and make recommendations for improvements in four major areas. First, the group will “identify the mechanisms and procedures that the Agency currently has in place to ensure neutrality” and how it responds to allegations of wrongdoing. Second, the group will consider how the agency has used the procedures currently in place, “taking into account the particular operational, political and security environment in which the Agency works.” Third, the adequacy of current procedures will be reviewed. Finally, the review group will make recommendations for improvements to current procedures and suggest alternative methods if necessary.

Guterres noted that the investigation comes 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.” According to a report by UNRWA, 75 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced. Additionally, the agency claimed that 152 employees had been killed during the fighting.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X (formerly Twitter) that Israel planned on submitting evidence to the review group “highlighting UNRWA’s ties to terrorism and its harmful effects on regional stability.” Katz also called for the resignation of UNRWA Chairperson Philippe Lazzarini.

The review group is expected to begin work on February 14 and issue a final report in late April. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is conducting a parallel investigation into allegations of the involvement of 12 UNRWA personnel in the attacks on Israel.