Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Watchdogs on the Watch: Neuer v Francesca Albanese

Francesca Albanese (Screen capture/ YouTube)

In an escalating conflict over ethical standards, U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based NGO, has filed a formal complaint against Francesca Albanese, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. The complaint, submitted to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, accuses Albanese of “gross violations of U.N. rules and professional ethics,” alleging that she accepted honorariums and payments from activist groups, a contravention of the U.N. code of conduct.

At the heart of the accusations are claims that Albanese and her staff solicited and received payments for activities related to her U.N. role. According to U.N. Watch, this includes an incident involving a parody social media account purporting to be from Rabbi Linda Goldstein, the “chief rabbi of Gaza.” Communications from Albanese’s office reportedly requested an honorarium be directed to a research institute supporting her mandate, a move seen as a breach of regulations prohibiting such financial transactions.

Further complicating matters, the complaint references Albanese’s documented history of making controversial anti-Zionist statements. She has been criticized for comments ostensibly antisemitic and for justifying terrorism against Israel. Notably, her dismissal of the antisemitic motives behind Hamas’s October 7 massacre was condemned by both the French and German governments, with Paris calling her remarks “scandalous” and Berlin deeming them “appalling.”

The U.N. Watch submission includes demands for a thorough investigation into these “serious and substantiated” allegations, particularly focusing on the financial and ethical implications. Special rapporteurs are supposed to operate independently, without remuneration from external entities, and Albanese’s role, a volunteer position, should be funded solely through a designated U.N. budget.

Albanese had already ended up in the eye of the hurricane after her trip to Australia in 2023. On November 11, she delivered the annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture hosted by the Australian Friends of Palestine Association in Adelaide. In the following days, she spoke for over an hour at the National Press Club, where she stated that Israeli political and military leaders “reveal a genocidal intent to wipe out Gaza and its inhabitants.”

The Australian Friends of Palestine Association and other pro-Palestinian groups allegedly funded this trip, which is said to have cost upwards of $20,000. During the visit, Albanese engaged in various media and fundraising events and met with supportive politicians and civil society members, raising concerns about impartiality and compliance with U.N. travel funding regulations.

A subsequent trip to New Zealand is also under scrutiny, where U.N. Watch claims Albanese participated in a meeting aimed at lobbying a major sovereign wealth fund to divest from Israel-related companies. Such activities, U.N. Watch argues, should be transparent and documented, but the trip reportedly does not appear in the U.N. disclosure forms, suggesting that the United Nations did not bear the travel expenses.

The NGO’s complaint underscores the gravity of these accusations, asserting that Albanese’s “disgraceful support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism” tarnishes the U.N.’s reputation. It calls for a decisive response from the United Nations to uphold its commitment to transparency and integrity.

In a climate where the U.N.’s credibility is often questioned, this latest controversy demands careful scrutiny and prompt action. With these allegations swirling, it seems Albanese’s role as a watchdog might need a watchdog of its own.

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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