Departing UNRWA head claims he is ‘victim of dirty politics’

Pierre Krähenbühl intimated that he had been unfairly ousted from office. © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

The departing Swiss head of a United Nations agency for assisting Palestinian refugees says he is the victim of a political attack. Pierre Krähenbühl denies reports that he fast-tracked a female member of staff with whom he was romantically involved.

This content was published on November 7, 2019 - 10:01

Krähenbühl told Swiss public broadcaster, RTSExternal link, that he resigned as Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine RefugeesExternal link (UNRWA) under unbearable political pressure.

"I am resigning because of hyper-politicisation of the UNRWA. I have never seen such violent attacks in my 28-year humanitarian career. I am resigning to bring more serenity to UNRWA,” he told RTS.

He referred specifically to undue pressure from a United States official in May, but he hinted that this was part of a concerted effort to undermine the UNRWA.

Krähenbühl claimed that an ongoing UN investigation into alleged mismanagement and abuse of power at the agency had cleared him of allegations surrounding the female employee. “The investigation has not uncovered any cases of corruption, fraud or mismanagement. And the allegation of favouritism towards, or liaison with, an employee was deemed non-existent,” he said.

On Wednesday, the UNRWA statedExternal link that Krähenbühl had stepped down as a result of an ongoing review of “management-related matters” that had already identified “a number of areas which required strengthening” and had “commenced corrective action”.

The UN Secretary General appointed Christian Saunders as officer-in-charge for the interim period. Saunders previously served as the agency's acting deputy commissioner general. 

Role of foreign minister

The UNRWA provides education, health, housing and relief services to more than five million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

The agency came under fire from Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis last year. Krähenbühl would not comment specifically on these remarks, but he said: “If the 280,000 pupils in Gaza are deprived of school following the dissolution of the UNRWA, where will they go to school? In Hamas schools. Is that what Mr Cassis wants?”

On Wednesday the Swiss foreign ministry issued a statementExternal link saying it would continue to withhold payments to the UNRWA until the investigation is completed – which is expected by the end of this month.

“UNRWA is an important actor for stability and security in the Middle East and contributes to improving the prospects for Palestinian refugees,” it added.

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know:

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?