UNHCR Fundraiser Van Praag's
Departure Presaged by Irregularities, Staff Complaints
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of
Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
NATIONS, January 29 -- The
UN refugee agency's director of external relations and fundraiser Nicholas
Van Praag has abruptly left UNHCR, which has refused to provide any
explanation. "An official confirmed,
however, that he had already vacated his office at UNHCR's headquarters
in Geneva." Inner
City Press has obtained a copy of the staff's complaint
directed in November 2008 to UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio
Gutteres, and publishes it here.
letter, Staff Council chairperson Guy Avognon recites the adverse
the agency's Inspector General of Van Praag's administration of Private
Fundraising, as well as favoritism toward a small number of employees,
who Van Praag brought in.
Avognon notes that "between 15 November and 22
December 2006, the
Inspector General's Office carried out an ad hoc inspection of the
Sector Fund Raising Unit, of which Mr. Van Praag is the acting Head.
inspection identified a number of serious problems and shortcomings and
series of 12 recommendations to address them (INS/06112, March 2007).
Since then, Mr. Van Praag
has failed to submit an implementation report to the IGO (see 'Report
on activities of the
Inspector General's Office,' NAC.9611057, 21 July 2008) as is required."
Previously, Guterres and his Deputy Larry Johnstone
have turned a deaf
ear to staff complaints. After Inner
City Press interviewed Johnstone and quoted his comment that UNHCR
find qualified staff in Africa, Johnstone claimed that he had never
deriding Inner City Press as merely online media. Dissatisfaction with
leadership has only grown since then.
Whether the abrupt departure of Van Praag can change
anything is not
UNHCR's Johnstone, Nicholas Van Praag not shown on map
against Van Praag, who before his three years at UNHCR spent 17 years
at the World Bank, were widespread, and ignored by senior leadership.
The letter complains "of systematic
discriminatory treatment and harassment and, on the other
hand, about the privileged treatment of a small number of staff
recently hired by the Director
under controversial circumstances, some of whom are reported to be
friends of Mr. Van Praag. The Staff Council has been in contact with
of the Mediator, the Joint Medical Service and the Staff Welfare
have all confirmed that they have received similar complaints about Mr.
Praag's conduct and the adverse effects that it is having on his staff,
terms of their welfare and health. They also confirmed that these
were brought to your attention and to that of the Deputy High
In an "if-asked" handed to Inner City Press at the UN's noon briefing
on January 29, UNHCR says it has visited 12 teenage Rohingya boys and
"plans to discuss the team's findings with the Thai government and
jointly decide on next steps." But while UNHCR brags that it has
finally managed to visit some of the
Myanmar refugees in custody in Thailand, what about those
back out to sea? What is UNHCR doing?
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