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Key recommendations for strengthening the neutrality of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees

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An independent panel that reviewed the neutrality of the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, after Israel alleged that a dozen of its employees in Gaza had participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, released its report on Monday.

Here are some of its key recommendations to strengthen the neutrality of the agency, known as UNRWA.

— UNRWA, established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1949, does not have an executive board but it does have an advisory body, which must put neutrality on its agenda at all meetings and create a working group on neutrality and integrity issues.

— UNRWA faces challenges due to increased politicization of its staff and must announce procedures to deal with future allegations of neutrality breaches, and identify and implement additional ways to screen staff early in the recruitment process.

— UNRWA should reinforce its regular sharing of digital staff lists with host countries and Israel by ensuring the inclusion of additional information, including ID numbers and jobs. In response, host countries and Israel must provide UNRWA with results of their screening and “any red flags.”

— UNRWA’s international staff in Gaza is less than 1% of its total staff and there needs to be more senior international staff in the field to provide oversight on neutrality issues.

— UNRWA’s management and internal oversight reform efforts “are commendable and should be expanded,” including by creating a centralized neutrality investigation unit.

— UNRWA must implement “a zero-tolerance policy” on school textbooks used in its schools spreading antisemitic views or promoting discrimination and incitement to hatred.

— The politicization of UNRWA staff unions is “one of the most sensitive neutrality issues” and the agency should request an independent body to vet every staff union representative on their neutrality.

— It is “imperative” for UNRWA to enhance its engagement with donor nations to promote trust and strengthen their partnership.

— The international community has a responsibility to help and support UNRWA in addressing neutrality issues.

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