The U.N. won’t reform until its employees lose diplomatic immunity

In certain countries and territories, U.N. corruption claims more lives than its interventions save.

By Michael Rubin, Middle East Forum

The rot surrounding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East keeps accumulating.

Not only did the UNRWA allow Hamas command posts under local hospitals and the UNRWA’s own headquarters, but UNRWA employees hid weaponry in their homes and then reportedly participated in the Oct. 7 kidnappings in Israel.

Some employees held Israeli civilians hostage in the aftermath of the mass kidnapping.

Israel alleges that 10% of UNRWA employees are Hamas members, a figure that, if anything, seems low.

Nevertheless, the U.N. response has been to obfuscate, bluster, and deny evidence.

It is impossible to ignore the implication of hundreds of miles of Hamas tunnels built with diverted supplies under the nose of UNRWA employees.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres deflects.

While the U.N. says it has fired some UNRWA employees about whom Israel provided evidence, the fact that the UNRWA has not handed over employees complicit in kidnapping to face justice in Israel shows it is more interested in covering up the scandal.

Read  Israel strikes Hamas facility located inside UNRWA complex

The UNRWA scandal reflects decades of corruption, mismanagement, and incompetent leadership at the helm of both the agency and the United Nations, but the likelihood that it will be the U.N.’s last scandal is nil.

Recent history suggests the U.N. simply does not learn as scandals repeat.

There was a pro forma attempt to investigate the Oil-for-Food scandal, though then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan successfully diluted the inquiry into the multibillion-dollar kickback scheme because it touched too many in power, including Annan himself.

Peacekeeper scandals repeat.

U.N. employees in several different peacekeeping missions across Africa coerced sex in exchange for food and aid, sometimes even victimizing children.

The U.N. continues to ignore a UNRWA-like scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo with members of the Pakistan contingent radicalizing and providing aid to the Allied Democratic Forces, the local Islamic State.

In 2010, U.N. peacekeepers dumped sewage into a river in Haiti, sparking a cholera outbreak that killed nearly 10,000 in a country that, until then, was cholera-free.

The U.N. stonewalled to avoid paying compensation to the victims.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is also prone to scandal.

Twice, after riots at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, the UNHCR cut off food assistance and water access to its population, including women and children, until residents of the camp rebuilt destroyed structures.

Collective punishment is a crime by any interpretation of the law, but U.N. officials engaged in it with impunity.

As U.N. scandals accumulate, it is foolish to believe that Guterres has any more interest in policing his organization than any of his predecessors.

In certain countries and territories, U.N. corruption claims more lives than its interventions save.

Back to Gaza: Western donors have responded to the participation of U.N. employees in the massacre of Jews by pausing some funding, even if only temporarily.

Any shortfall of funding grabs the attention of U.N. agencies whose employees fly business class and who enjoy a lifestyle akin to 19th-century colonial officers.

But suave public relations, effective lobbying to whitewash corruption, and crying wolf about humanitarian hardship often lead to the quick restoration of funding.

Perhaps a better approach, then, would be to strip U.N. officials of the immunities they enjoy in the countries where they serve.

If Nepalese peacekeepers or the U.N. bureaucrats who supervised them had realized they could face negligent homicide charges for killing 10,000 Haitians, perhaps they would have thought twice about dumping sewage in a river Haitians relied on for drinking water in the first place.

Likewise, U.N. officials in Kenya would think twice about collective punishment against Somali refugees if they faced charges in the Hague for gross violations of international law.

Even Guterres might have acted proactively against UNRWA corruption had its supervisors risked charges of accessory to murder for their underlings moonlighting as Hamas combatants with U.N. property.

Conventions granted U.N. workers diplomatic immunity to prevent retaliation by rogue regimes.

However, as U.N. workers go rogue, perhaps it is time to reconsider the diplomatic privileges they enjoy.

If nongovernmental workers live without immunity, U.N. bureaucrats can as well.