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For Arabic translation, click here. A reaction by RTS is posted immediately below the blog post. 

Update: On 10 January 2021, several hours after I posted the blog entry below, OrientXXI informed me that it had "unpublished" the article by Baudouin Loos, mentioned below, and would decide the next day "what to do next". The article is now back on line - in both English and French - under the same link, below. It mentions that "Additions have been made to this article for more precision, on 11 January 2021". It also contains a "note" the second time my name is mentioned, on the last page, responding to one of the key points in my blog post, below, that Baudoin Loos' article as well as the Swiss tv documentary ignore the incriminating judgment of the UNRWA Dispute Tribunal of 10 November 2020. 

The note reads as follows:: "The tribunal accuses Mr Krähenbühl, which he disputes, of having tried to bribe a UNRWA staff member, which is “contrary to the fundamental values of the UN”. However, apart from the fact that this case was not included in Lex Takkenberg’s initial accusations, let alone in the UN investigation report on those accusations, it should be noted that the latter proceedings resulted in the Swiss diplomat being accused of very serious offences without having seen fit to hear him elaborate on his version of the facts. It rejects entirely the conclusions as formulated against him." Mr. Krähenbühl had left UNRWA at the time of the proceedings and accordingly was not a party in the dispute at hand. However, Mr. Krähenbühls actions vis-a-vis the appellant came under close scrutiny, based on the available evidence, in the judgment and led the tribunal to award the appellant two years salary in addition to referring Mr. Krähenbühl "for accountability" to the current UNRWA Commissioner-General. The fact that Mr. Krähenbühl challenges the findings of the tribunal is no valid reason for OrientXXI and RTS to exclude this important development from their reporting. The revised version of Mr. Loos' article continues to contain a number of errors which I will separately bring to the attention of the OrientXXI editor. The remaining text, below, has been slightly edited as prompted by the revised OrientXXI article.

The article Palestine. Machinations against a Swiss diplomat from UNRWA by Baudouin Loos, published by OrientXXI on 8 January 2021and updated on 11 January 2021, accuses me of having made, in my former capacity as Chief of UNRWA’s Ethics Office,* serious allegations amounting to a “bombshell”, against Pierre Krähenbühl, former Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. It states that the UNRWA Ethics Office report that I had referred to the UN Secretary-General "contained no evidence" and "simply peddled a number of accusations gleaned from inside the agency". It further states that it "manifestly failed [to] survive scrutiny" by the internal misconduct investigation carried out by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Serices (OIOS). Mr. Loos’ primary source for the article seems to have been a Swiss RTS documentary about Krähenbühl’s tenure with UNRWA, aired on 17 December 2020.

Unfortunately, rather than an objective account in which Mr. Krähenbühl was publicly held to account for his clearly proven abuse of power, RTS (and OrientXXI indirectly) provided him with a one-sided opportunity to portray himself as a victim of an alleged American-Israeli plot to liquidate UNRWA. 

Moreover, an incriminating ruling by an independent tribunal made public by the UN in November last year, well before the film was aired, which made reference to an apparent abuse of power by Mr. Krähénbuhl, in attempting to bribe a whistle-blowing UN staff member, was deliberately ignored by the RTS producer. In a conversation with one of those interviewed in the documentary shortly after it was aired, the principal filmmaker admitted to having been aware of this judgment prior to the finalization of the documentary. She nevertheless chose to ignore this vital evidence. In doing so, RTS has misrepresented a well-documented case of abuse of power and deprived its viewers of the chance to know the truth about one of the most senior Swiss nationals in the UN system.

So let’s concentrate on the established facts. What we know is that according to a Note to Correspondents, issued on 6 November 2019 by the UN Spokesperson’s office, the “preliminary findings” of the investigation report into the allegations against Mr. Krähenbühl by OIOS  “exclude fraud or misappropriation of operational funds by the Commissioner-General. There are, however, managerial issues that need to be addressed.”

Furthermore, according to the same Note, the Secretary-General had decided to place Mr. Krähenbühl “on administrative leave while those issues are further clarified so that a final determination can be made, and an appropriate action can be taken.” With my long experience in the UN, I know that placement of someone on administrative leave pending an investigation and/or disciplinary process is a particularly harsh measure that is only taken in cases involving serious “prima facie evidence”. This is an indication that what Mr. Loos states in his article, that Mr. Krähenbühl “was cleared of all the doubts hanging over him, apart from a few minor lapses” is simply not correct. The "minor lapses" include the appointment of the spouse of the former Deputy Commissioner-General and the promotion of a senior staff member against the unanimous recommendation of an interview panel, both involving an egregious use of the former Commissioner-General's position of power that has been well-documented.

Apparently in an attempt to foreclose being held to account, Mr. Krähenbühl resigned from his position within 24 hours of having been informed of his placement on administrative leave and receiving the investigation report (shared with him for due process reasons). By doing so, Mr. Krähenbühl was able to cut short the ongoing disciplinary process, preventing any formal adverse findings against him as well as further disclosure of the findings of the investigation. OIOS investigation reports are never published, primarily to protect ‘subjects’ of investigations, in this case Mr. Krähenbühl.

The mismanagement and abuse of authority that was at the centre of the above-mentioned Ethics Office report to the Secretary-General had become widely known both inside and outside the agency, and many colleagues at the time feared that it was only a matter of time for the issue to hit the media. Eventually it did, and in the leadup to the prizewinning Al Jazeera feature on the matter in the summer of 2019, Mr. Krähenbühl himself removed a number of those implicated in the report, including his former Deputy, Sandra Mitchell, and his former Chief of Staff, Hakam Shahwan. The latter was separated over an “unacceptable email” in which he attempted to discredit me as principal author of the 2018 Ethics Office report to the Secretary General.

In a legal challenge to one such terminations, the UNRWA Dispute Tribunal, in a judgment rendered on 10 November 2020 and available on UNRWA's website, held that Mr. Krähenbühl’s apparent attempt to bribe the staff member in question to leave the agency quietly, constituted “a blatant violation of the UN’s core values” and for this reason referred him “to the [current] Commissioner-General for possible action to enforce accountability”, effectively barring the former Commissioner-General from future employment with the UN system.** This damning ruling was not referred to in the Swiss documentary nor in Mr. Loos’ article, in spite of the fact that on 21 December 2020 Ms. Anne-Frédérique Widmann, the principal producer of the documentary, admitted to Professor Riccardo Bocco of the Graduate Institute in Geneva, that she was aware of the ruling in advance of its finalization. In a letter to RTS of 8 January 2021, Professor Bocco and I invited RTS to explain this lapse in journalistic standards publicly.

Both RTS and Orient XXI also fail to mention that, as a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Executive Office to Member States in May 2020 made clear, Maria Mohammedi, Mr. Krähenbühl’s Special Advisor at UNRWA, was forced to leave the agency mid-2020, and forced to give back money which she had unduly claimed. Again, the Swiss viewing public have a right to know why this was ignored.

Returning to the assertion that I provided merely "accusations" - but "no evidence" - in the 2018 Ethics Office report to the Secretary-General, and to the implication in the Swiss documentary that it may have been prompted by personal reasons, I reject this unreservedly. Like many colleagues, I was initially very much impressed by Mr. Krähenbühl and particularly by his eloquence in advocating for Palestinian refugees and their rights. Through my role at the time, as a confidential resource for staff and others, I gradually discovered that behind the facade the situation was different. In the more than three decades I worked with UNRWA, I have not experienced a more dysfunctional and abusive work environment at the very top of the organization than in those last couple of years before my retirement at the end of 2019. Towards the end of 2018, the situation had become so bad that I consulted UNRWA’s independent Advisory Committee on Internal Oversight, and with its encouragement I subsequently reported the concerns that some 25  current and former directors and other senior UNRWA staff had confidentially shared with me to the Secretary-GeneraI, along with the evidence in my possession. I felt duty bound, as Chief of the agency’s Ethics Office, to try to put a stop to a situation that risked seriously harming UNRWA’s public standing and ultimately the Palestinian refugees who rely on its services.

Because Mr. Krähenbühl resigned and left the UN, further investigations were called off by the United Nations senior management and thus Mr Krähenbühl also effectively ended the disciplinary process against him. So we will perhaps never know the full facts of the case. However, enough facts were established to force his resignation and to make sure that he is unlikely ever again to work for the United Nations.


* I worked with UNRWA from January 1989 until November 2019 in a range of progressively more responsible (senior) management positions, including (Deputy) Field Director in Gaza and Syria, agency-wide Director of Operations, General Counsel and, most recently, as the agency’s first Chief of its Ethics Office (2009-2019). The new edition of my book Palestinian Refugees in International Law, co-authored with Francesca Albanese, was published by Oxford University Press in 2020.
** UNRWA Dispute Tribunal, Judgment of 10 November 2020, No. UNRWA/DT/2020/066. The paragraph in question reads as follows: “164. In the present case, it is apparent that the former CG offered the Applicant the option of resigning and receiving a positive recommendation instead of being terminated. If substantiated, such a practice is a blatant violation of the UN’s core values. If a staff member has committed serious misconduct, he/she must be separated from the Agency in accordance with the Agency’s regulatory framework. Under no circumstances should this staff member be provided with a positive recommendation, thus allowing him/her to pursue his/her international career withing the United Nations system. The Tribunal is cognizant of a Commissioner-General’s discretionary powers in disciplinary matters. However, this discretion must be exercised within the interests of the Agency and the larger United Nations system and within the regulatory framework. Consequently, the Tribunal refers Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, the former CG, to the Commissioner-General for possible action to enforce accountability. The Applicant’s request for the referral of other staff members is dismissed, as the rescinded decision was taken by the former CG.”
Response by RTS, 3 February 2021


La production de Temps Présent a pris connaissance des allégations que vous portez contre son émission du 17.12.2020, allégations que vous nous avez transmises dans une correspondance personnelle à laquelle nous avons répondu avec soin par courrier, mais que vous avez choisi de répéter publiquement dans un blog. Pour rappel, le mandat de ce reportage était d’informer le public sur les conditions et le contexte dans lequel Monsieur Pierre Krähenbühl a été contraint de démissionner le 6 novembre 2019 et non d’épiloguer sans fin sur les reproches que vous continuez de lui adresser. Il ne s’agissait en aucun cas de se substituer aux enquêteurs de l’ONU, mais de rapporter les faits qui ont mené à cette démission. Les conclusions du rapport que nous avons rapportées fidèlement absolvent Monsieur Krähenbühl des accusations les plus graves portées dans votre propre rapport, à l’exception de questions administratives mineures qui sont d’ailleurs également rapportées dans notre reportage. Vous semblez aujourd’hui reprocher à notre reportage d'avoir pêché par omission en ne mentionnant pas une affaire qui n'est dénoncée ni dans votre propre rapport, ni dans le rapport final de OIOS, ni dans l’interview que vous nous avez accordée et dont le jugement est tombé plus d’un an après le départ de Monsieur Krähenbühl. Vous alléguez fallacieusement que nous aurions passé sous silence une soi-disant « tentative de corruption » par Monsieur Krähenbühl, dont on peine à comprendre la substance. Comme nous peinons à comprendre comment il aurait été possible pour Temps Présent d'inclure une charge, qui n'était contenue dans aucun des rapports précédents, sur laquelle l’ONU n’a pas enquêté et sur laquelle, de surcroît, PK n'a pas eu l'occasion de se défendre. Sur le fond, nous estimons donc que ce reportage rapporte fidèlement les faits qui ont provoqué la démission de Monsieur Krähenbühl et qu’il a permis à nos téléspectateurs de se faire leur opinion informée sur les conditions de ce départ.


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