Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

UN Rapporteur Faces Accusations Amid Controversy

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Francesca Albanese, the “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” for the United Nations, finds herself at the center of a growing controversy. Her alleged violations of the UN code of conduct, combined with her outspoken positions in the Israel-Hamas conflict, have coalesced into intensified scrutiny and raised new significant questions about her suitability for the role.

Despite the expectation of impartiality for UN special rapporteurs, Albanese’s statements have consistently reflected a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance. The special rapporteur, in fact, has a history of making inflammatory remarks, such as accusing the “Jewish lobby” of controlling the United States of America, comparing Israel to the Nazis, and referring to Israel as a settler-colonial enterprise.

In 2022,  a report titled “Mandate to discriminate” by UN Watch, an NGO monitoring UN activities, highlighted a significant omission in Albanese’s conflict of interest declaration signed as part of her UN application process. UN Watch alleges that she failed to disclose that her husband, Massimiliano Calì, had worked for the Ministry of Economy of the Palestinian Authority.

This week, UN Watch has brought to light further concerns about Albanese’s independence and impartiality. They claim that her recent trip to Australia, sponsored by Palestinian lobbying groups, violates Article 3 of the UN code of conduct, which mandates independent action free from external influence. The organizations involved include the Australian Friends of Palestine Association, Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Free Palestine Melbourne, and Palestinian Christians in Australia. Albanese delivered the annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture in Adelaide on November 11, accusing Israeli leaders of genocidal intent towards Gaza. During a subsequent event at the National Press Club, she faced controversy when asked by a journalist about her accusation of Israeli “dominance” and whether the term constituted a trope. Albanese, seemingly irritated by the question, invited the journalist to read the convention on racial discrimination, claiming that Israel legally operated as an “apartheid regime.”

Hillel C. Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, has formally requested UN Secretary-General António M. de Oliveira Guterres to remove Albanese from her role, citing the alleged violation of the UN code of conduct. Article 3, Neuer explains, specifically requires special rapporteurs to be free from any kind of extraneous influence and not seek or accept instructions from non-governmental organizations during their mandate.

Adding to the controversy, questions have been raised about Albanese’s professional qualifications. Italian journalist Antonino Monteleone has examined her claim to be a “lawyer”, after discrepancies emerged in her curriculum vitae. Despite her later admission of not being registered with the Bar Council in Italy, she referred to herself as a “lawyer” multiple times in her UN application and did not correct others addressing her as “counsel” in the course of official hearings and on TV.

In response to the challenges to her Bar credentials, Albanese defended herself on Facebook, explaining that she used the term ‘avvocato’ to style herself, translating it as ‘advocate’, and clarified her non-registration with the Bar Council. However, the incongruity in her self-designation as a “lawyer” in her UN application has drawn criticism from prominent figures, including Francesco Giubilei and Riccardo Puglisi. The latter, known for investigating false academic credentials, has called for Albanese’s removal from her post, in an op-ed on Il Riformista.

As the controversy deepens, the credibility of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues in the Middle East hangs in the balance, emphasizing the organization’s lack of impartiality when appointing officers in such critical geopolitical roles.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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