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UN refers Albanese probe, for alleged pro-Hamas funded trips, to colleagues who defended her

The committee investigating the special rapporteur denounced Francesca Albanese’s accusers in May from the very charges it is now reviewing.

Francesca Albanese, U.N. special rapporteur to the Palestinians, during a session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on March 26, 2024. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.
Francesca Albanese, U.N. special rapporteur to the Palestinians, during a session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on March 26, 2024. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images.

The Magna Carta entitles the accused to a “lawful judgment of his peers.” The United Nations appears to take that literally in assigning an investigation of Francesca Albanese, special rapporteur for the Palestinians, to her colleagues in the global body’s Coordination Committee for Special Procedures.

Not only will the six special rapporteurs and independent experts on the committee—all unpaid advisers to the United Nations who essentially hold the same role as Albanese—judge whether their colleague indeed traveled on the dime of pro-Hamas groups, in violation of U.N. rules, but the sextet publicly supported Albanese against the same accusations that it is now probing.

“It would be a travesty of justice for the high commissioner to pass the buck in this case, particularly because the coordination committee has already pronounced itself on this matter, in at least two statements,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based nonprofit UN Watch, told JNS.

The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services told Neuer on June 26 that it had referred the allegations against Albanese to Volker Turk, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, for “attention and appropriate action,” Neuer told JNS.

That correspondence came hours after the publication of a widely-circulated video clip of JNS asking a U.N. spokesman why Albanese and other of the global body’s entities refused or ignored requests to clarify or refute details of accusations that she traveled to Australia and New Zealand on trips funded by pro-Hamnas lobbying groups.

Turk has no jurisdiction over the matter and sent the complaint to the Coordination Committee for Special Procedures, a spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights told JNS.

‘Unfounded allegations’

The U.N. Human Rights Council appoints the special rapporteurs and “independent experts” who make up the committee and serve on a voluntary basis. All of the committee members, and Albanese, fall under the U.N. “special procedures” category and are considered to be technically independent of the global body.

By design, U.N. officials do not challenge the work and public statements of the committee, which is supposed to follow established procedures, including operating with “integrity, independence and impartiality,” in its investigation of Albanese.

On May 16, all six members of the committee issued a statement defending unnamed “U.N. human rights experts” from attacks, including “unfounded allegations of misuse of resources and claims of bias and unprofessional conduct intended to damage reputations, on social media, during U.N. meetings and even when experts are on official country visits.”

Although the committee didn’t name Albanese, it did state that “our colleagues addressing the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel face severe targeting in social media and baseless accusations that question their integrity and motivations.” Albanese’s mandate covers that region.

Officials of the U.N. special procedures unit are supposed to document their travel in the unit’s annual report; however, Albanese’s trips to Australia and New Zealand, which UN Watch estimates to have cost more than $20,000, do not appear. That, the nonprofit says, calls into question whether Albanese’s stays were official visits.

JNS sought comment repeatedly from Albanese’s office about the source or sources of funding for the trip to the two countries. Three U.N. offices—that of Secretary-General António Guterres, the Human Rights Council and special procedures—declined to respond to a JNS question on whether they could demonstrate that the global body funded Albanese’s trip to the two countries.

Several pro-Hamas groups have said that they supported the trips and one publicly claimed that it sponsored the trip. Albanese has denied the charge that pro-Hamas groups funded her travel on her social media account, and she has also said that allegations that her staff accepted honoraria outside established frameworks are untrue. She has not provided evidence publicly that disproves the allegations.

The United Nations pays for some of the expenses of those in its special procedures unit via a designated budget, and officials are permitted to fundraise from states and private donors, all of which they are supposed to include in their annual report.

Accepting payment, including for travel, and honoraria from “any governmental or non-governmental source” for “activities carried out in pursuit” of the special rapporteur’s mandate is prohibited, per the United Nations.

Total disregard for rules and regulations’

Albanese has a documented history of making antisemitic comments and justifying terrorism against the Jewish state.

The French government rebuked her for denying that Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 based on its hatred of Jews. Paris called her remarks “scandalous” and “a disgrace.” The German government said her comments were “appalling.”

Isha Dyfan, chair of the Coordination Committee and an independent expert on the human rights situation in Somalia, also wrote a Dec. 4 letter to Guterres, Turk and Václav Bálek, then-president of the Human Rights Council, about “recent personal attacks against mandate holders related to the resources available to mandate holders to discharge their mandates and how they use such resources.” 

“Lately, these attacks concerned, among others, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem,” Dyfan wrote. (That mandate is Albanese’s.)

Dyfan claimed that “several unfounded allegations made against mandate-holders show total disregard for the rules and regulations applying to mandate holders.”

She added that “information about resources received by mandate holders, directly or through OHCHR, is fully disclosed in the annual report of special procedures,” although Albanese’s trip to Australia and New Zealand does not appear in the report.

JNS sought comment from Dyfan’s office.

“It would certainly not be appropriate to violate due process by outsourcing the investigation” of Albanese “to a body that has already pronounced itself on the matter,” Neuer told JNS.

Neuer said that UN Watch submitted detailed evidence to the United Nations, which Dyfan and the committee have called unfounded and baseless.

“Because they have already pronounced themselves on the very question under investigation, the committee members are disqualified,” Neuer said. “The U.N. rapporteurs are circling the wagons. They have already declared their loyalty to defending Albanese, no matter the damning evidence of her financial improprieties.”

Neuer urged Guterres and Turk “to reverse course and not to violate basic due process.”

The UN Watch head wrote to Turk and Omar Zniber, president of the Human Rights Council, that beyond fiscal improprieties, “it has become glaringly clear that repeated incitement to antisemitism, violence and terrorism by Francesca Albanese is casting a shadow upon the reputation of the United Nations as whole, and in particular the work of its human rights system.”

Neuer attached a draft resolution to terminate Albanese’s mandate, asking for Turk and Zniber to support it, he told JNS.

UN Watch also sent the draft resolution to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and is also requesting his support, Neuer said.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson did not say what Blinken’s position is on whether Albanese ought to be terminated. The representative told JNS that the State Department “opposed the mandate of this special rapporteur, which we believe is not productive.”

“When it comes to the individual who holds that position, we can’t help but note a history of incendiary comments online and in her public statements,” the Foggy Bottom spokesperson added.

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