Karen Koning AbuZayd has been a champion for humanitarian and development causes for over 30 years, serving with the United Nations following a decade of teaching in universities in Uganda and Sudan. She worked for UNHCR for 19 years in Sudan, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, the United States and in Geneva, where she headed the South Africa, Kenya and Somali programmes and was Chef de Cabinet to High Commissioner Ogata.

She served Palestine refugees for the first decade of the new millennium from UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza , first as assistant secretary general and deputy commissioner general from 2000-2005 and then as 2005-2010 as under secretary general and commissioner general through 2010. Since 2011, she has been a commissioner on the United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

AbuZayd holds an M.A. degree in Islamic studies from McGill University and was awarded an honorary doctorate and medal for public service from DePauw University, her undergraduate alma mater, which friends and observers have noted translates to a perfect name for her: “nourishing mother.”


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