For one year (May 2008 – May 2009) i worked as an architect, and UNRWA employee, in the reconstruction process of Palestinian refugees camp of Nahr el-Bared, after its destruction by the Lebanese Army in 2007. This process was marred by several controversies, and aside the controversial construction of few buildings, the camp is still awaiting its reconstruction.
On April 22, 2009, i received a “final” warning letter concerning my attitude and performance. By the way, it was the first warning letter i ever receive. Anyway, in one week i wrote a report contesting this warning letter. The project manager (Charlie Higgins) ordered any inquiry concerning my report, to end it abruptly after two weeks, and terminating my contract (i.e. i was sacked), and without any reference to the findings of the inquiry . I filed a complaint at the Lebanese Ministry of Labour, to find out that UNRWA has a “Labour Imunity” in Lebanon. I sent an email to the UNRWA Commissionner-General, Karen Koning AbuZays. She advised me (via a written letter) to file an Appeal, and that is what i did. While UNRWA regulations states that an issue should be reached in 3 months, it has been 3 years and with no sight of any progress. Well to be fair, at the time i filed the Appeal, the UNRWA changed its regulations so a Tribunal take in charge these appeals instead of a certain committee. In these 3 years, i received couple of letters from UNRWA, the last one (couple of months ago) asking for my email, the one before (one year ago) to inform me of the appointment of the tribunal’s registar.
The funny thing is that they always assumed that I’m in Lebanon. Unfortunately for them, i might leave this country in few months.
Anyway, on the third anniversary of my sacking, i thought of publishing information related to this case. Today, I’ll post the email i sent to Koning AbuZayd, and in the coming days, I’ll post the report and other documents.
E-mail sent to Karen Koning AbuZayd (UNRWA Commissionner-General), June 27, 2009:
From: hisham ashkar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, May 27, 2009 at 10:37 PM
Subject: RE employment termination of UNRWA employee
Dear Mrs. Karen Koning AbuZayd,
My name is Hisham Ashkar, and I am an UNRWA employee, a design architect in the design and planning sub-unit, at NMU-Tripoli, Lebanon, tasked with designing the new buildings in the reconstruction process of Nahr el-Bared camp.
According to paragraph 7.5.1 of the Limited Duration Contract (LDC) that I signed,
In the event of any dispute arising out of any aspect of the contract, conditions of service or any other matter relating to the individual’s service with UNRWA, attempts must be made to settle the dispute internally in a conciliatory manner between the parties concerned. The individual also has full rights to seek redress through the established UNRWA appeals process”
I’m sending you this letter, in hope an internal solution for my issue will be found, within the spirit of the above article. Following is a general briefing outlining my case, for your consideration.
On the 22ndof April I received a Final Warning Letter, concerning my attitude and performance, signed by the project manager of NMU, Mr. Charlie Higgins,
Subsequently I informed Mr. Higgins about my belief that I am targeted by the head of design and planning sub-unit, Mr. Aditya Kumar, and my objection that my “attitude and performance” shall be evaluated by him.
On the 29th of April, I presented a well documented report to Mr. Higgins summarizing my working relationship with Mr. Kumar and my alleged refusal to accept the methodology employed, and contesting the decision to charge my evaluation to the same party I suffer a grievance from. The sequence of events described in the report clarifies my initial belief Mr. Kumar is targeting me, for reasons other than my “attitude and performance”.
A senior UNRWA manager from outside NMU was requested to conduct a review of my case (1), I met with him and revealed more information and documents on how the design and planning sub-unit is ran, on the flagrant incompetence of the people who run it, on their continuous cheating attempts towards UNRWA and the Lebanese government and on their lack of responsibility especially towards the residents of Nahr el-Bared camp.
On the 25th of May, I received a letter “terminating my appointment” with UNRWA based on Mr. Kumar’s Review Panel, which I contested in the first place, and without any reference to the recommendations of the senior UNRWA manager or if he already made them or not.
Dear Mrs. Koning AbuZayd, all I’m asking for is to postpone the termination of my contract until the senior UNRWA manager make his recommendations of my case, in case the issues I raised and my objections are valid, I retain my right to continue working till the end of my contract (31-08-2009), based on chapter X from the UNRWA Area Staff Regulations.
I’m keen to resolve this issue internally, otherwise, I will find myself forced to resort to any and all legal means possible to protect my rights, from what I consider an arbitrary termination of contract.
Please find attached the letter terminating my appointment with UNRWA signed by Mr. Salvatore Lombardo.
Please notify upon reception of this email.
With all due respect,
Design Architect, NMU, Lebanon
From: HIGGINS, Charles
Sent: Tue 5/12/2009 4:43 PM
To: ASHKAR, Hisham
Cc: ABDELAL, Mohamed (NLA-NBC); SARR, Ebrima; CINQUINI, Pamela; KUMAR, Aditya
Subject: FW: Final Warning Letter
Thanks for pointing this out.
I am aware that your discussions with Adi have continued, and I have asked him to give you a brief evaluation of your performance since receiving the warning letter.
In addition to this, and further to your submission of a dossier about issues you have with the management of the Design Unit, we requested an senior UNRWA manager from outside NMU to conduct a review of your case, in order to make recommendations to Management.