U.N. Official: ‘Disastrous’ Corruption by Aid Agencies ‘Cannot Go Unpunished’

Displaced Yemenis from Hodeida fill water containers at a make-shift camp in a village in the northern district of Abs in the country's Hajjah province, on June 23, 2019. - The Yemeni conflict has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people …
ESSA AHMED/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations (U.N.) must reprimand corrupt officials who diverted millions of dollars in donated money, food, and medicine from starving Yemenis, a top humanitarian official said this week.

On Monday, the U.N. humanitarian official also said the international body must find the perpetrators behind ethic breaches at the agency for Palestinian refugees.

Early this month, internal reports revealed that corrupt United Nations officials stole millions of dollars in donated food, medicine, fuel and money from desperate Yemenis.

Moreover, the Washington Post, citing an ethics probe obtained by Al Jazeera, reported last Friday:

The top management of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) were accused of serious abuses of power, including sexual misconduct, nepotism, bullying, and retaliation.

Ursula Mueller, the top humanitarian affairs official at the U.N., described the misbehavior as “disastrous.”

The National quoted her as adding:

It cannot go unpunished. We really need to look at the people that are committing these very devastating activities. These people need to face consequences. It cannot be brushed aside.

Mueller vowed to investigate all claims of corruption, saying:

Any taint of fraud or corruption is a disaster. We have fraud prevention mechanisms in place, and when we hear about irregularities we make every effort to follow up.

The Washington Post noted that the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services is investigating the allegations against the Palestinian refugees’ agency, adding:

This is not the first time that it has been called on to look into the agency. The Swiss, Dutch and Belgian governments have all suspended payments to UNRWA while the investigation is ongoing. Danny Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, has formally called on the international community to completely defund UNRWA.

The allegations, if true, violate U.N. standards and represent a significant breach of responsibility and trust. But beyond the immediate crisis, UNRWA has deeper structural flaws.

Corrupt U.N. Officials in Yemen:

On August 5, the Associated Press (AP) reported that corrupt U.N. workers had joined forces with combatants from all sides in Yemen, including Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

U.N. officials capitalized on the billions of dollars donated to Yemen.

The aid came amid the ongoing civil war — raging since March 2015. For years, the U.N. has been asking for financial assistance for Yemen, considered to be home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

U.N. officials noted this year that more than 20 million people are “food insecure” in Yemen, including ten million who find themselves “one step away from famine.”

Nevertheless, AP found:

More than a dozen U.N. aid workers deployed to deal with the wartime humanitarian crisis have been accused of joining with combatants on all sides to enrich themselves from the billions of dollars in donated aid flowing into the country, according to individuals with knowledge of internal U.N. investigations and confidential documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

The AP obtained U.N. investigative documents, and interviewed eight aid workers and former government officials.

The upshot: WHO internal auditors are investigating allegations that unqualified people were placed in high-paying jobs, millions of dollars were deposited in staffers’ personal bank accounts, dozens of suspicious contracts were approved without the proper paperwork, and tons of donated medicine and fuel went missing.

A second probe by another U.N. agency, UNICEF, focuses on a staffer who allowed a Houthi rebel leader to travel in agency vehicles, shielding him from potential airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. The individuals who spoke to AP about the investigations did so on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The scandals have raised questions about the U.N.’s objectivity — whether the international body can investigate its agencies without bias.

American taxpayers are the top financial contributors to the United Nations, providing more than $14 billion per year. The U.S. funds about 22 percent of U.N. budget.

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