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France's former foreign minister Catherine Colonna

Photo: Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA

France's former Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna is to lead the investigation into the allegations against employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Secretary General António Guterres announced this in a letter from the UN. Colonna should head an independent review group.

The United Nations statement says: "The Secretary-General, in consultation with the Commissioner General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, has established an independent review group to assess whether the agency is doing everything in its power to ensure neutrality and to "To respond to allegations of serious violations when they are raised." Colonna will work with three research institutions: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway and the Danish Institute for Human Rights. The work should begin on February 14th and Colonna would then submit a report to Guterres at the end of March. A final public report is planned for the end of April.

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Guterres announced rapid consequences

The investigations were launched after Israel made allegations against 12 UNRWA employees. They are said to have been directly or indirectly involved in the terrorist acts carried out by the Islamist Hamas and other extremist groups in Israel on October 7, 2023. After the allegations became known, Guterres announced rapid consequences. "Any UN employee who is involved in acts of terrorism will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution," he said last week, according to a United Nations statement. Guterres went on to say that he was appalled by the allegations. Nine of the twelve accused were immediately identified and released. One employee was declared dead and the identities of the other two are currently being clarified. The suspects should also be prosecuted and “the despicable alleged actions of these employees” should have consequences.

Because of the allegations, UNRWA has come under massive pressure. Several Western countries had temporarily stopped their payments to the UN aid agency, including the two largest donors, the USA and Germany.