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UNHCR Fundraiser Van Praag's Departure Presaged by Irregularities, Staff Complaints

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED 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.

   In the letter, Staff Council chairperson Guy Avognon recites the adverse finding of the agency's Inspector General of Van Praag's administration of Private Sector Fundraising, as well as favoritism toward a small number of employees, friends 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 Private Sector Fund Raising Unit, of which Mr. Van Praag is the acting Head. The inspection identified a number of serious problems and shortcomings and made a 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 could not find qualified staff in Africa, Johnstone claimed that he had never said it, deriding Inner City Press as merely online media. Dissatisfaction with UNHCR leadership has only grown since then.  Whether the abrupt departure of Van Praag can change anything is not clear.

UNHCR's Johnstone, Nicholas Van Praag not shown on map

 The complaints 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 personal friends of Mr. Van Praag. The Staff Council has been in contact with the Office of the Mediator, the Joint Medical Service and the Staff Welfare Office. They have all confirmed that they have received similar complaints about Mr. Van Praag's conduct and the adverse effects that it is having on his staff, in terms of their welfare and health. They also confirmed that these complaints were brought to your attention and to that of the Deputy High Commissioner."

   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 uncerimoniously towed back out to sea? What is UNHCR doing?

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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