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To: Rishi Sunak, David Cameron, UK Government & the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
Immediately reinstate all UK Government funding of the UNRWA
On Friday 26th January the UNRWA announced that allegations had been made that 12 of its employees had taken part in the events of 7th October 2023.
By 29th January 2024, at least 10 countries, including the United Kingdom, had suspended their funding of the UNRWA, the United Nations agency which is currently providing humanitarian aid on the ground in Gaza.
The established facts are:
• It has been alleged that 12 employees of UNRWA took part in the events of 7th October 2023.
• None of the employees has yet been prosecuted or found guilty of any such crimes.
• The evidence on which these allegations have been made has been supplied in a 'dossier' by Israel, based on information reported by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Security Agency (Shin Bet).
• UNRWA has already dismissed 9 of the individuals, 1 is confirmed dead, and the identity of 2 others is being clarified.
The suspension of funding to UNRWA by the UK (and other countries) is an unjustified and grossly disproportionate response to these allegations.
UNRWA employs some 30,000 people, of which some 13,000 are employed in Gaza itself. This means that the 12 individuals being accused make up only 0.04% of the total number of UNRWA employees, and a mere 0.09% of those employed by UNRWA in Gaza.
The suspension of UNRWA funding at this time immediately threatens the ability of UNRWA to provide the vital humanitarian aid that millions of Gazans so desperately depend on. Not only that, it also threatens the existence of UNRWA itself as an organisation.
Taking such action at this time can only deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, by undermining the supply of food, water, medicines and other aid, when 2.3 million Gazans are faced with the prospect of starvation, famine and epidemics of disease.
Such action is widely perceived as a form of Collective Punishment of the whole population of Gaza, for the alleged crimes of a small number of individuals. Acts of Collective Punishment of civilian populations are prohibited and considered to be War Crimes under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).
Not only that, but taken at this time, the UK Government’s decision to suspend its finding of UNRWA will considerably worsen the plight of the people of Gaza, precisely when the ICJ ruled on Friday 26th January 2024, that Israel must:
• Take immediate and effective measures to address adverse conditions to life in the Gaza Strip, and
• Take all measures to prevent the commission of Genocide in Gaza.
In light of these ICJ rulings, this action of the UK Government in suspending its funding of UNRWA is widely perceived as a measure which is aiding and abetting the commission of the crime of Genocide in Gaza by Israel.
It is critical that UNRWA remains able to provide vital humanitarian aid to Gaza at the level needed to preserve the lives of the people of Gaza at this time, therefore:
The United Kingdom (UK) Government must immediately reinstate all UK funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Why is this important?
In response to the suspension of UNRWA funding, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, stated:
“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation. The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative authority in the UN system, has already been seized of this very serious matter.
“UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival. Many are hungry as the clock is ticking towards a looming famine. The Agency runs shelters for over 1 million people and provides food and primary healthcare even at the height of the hostilities.
“In its ruling yesterday, the International Court of Justice ordered that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”. These measures are aimed at preventing irreparable damage to the rights of Palestinians.
“The only way that this can be done is through cooperation with international partners, especially UNRWA as the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza. Some 3,000 core staff out of 13,000 in Gaza continue to report to work, giving their communities a lifeline which can collapse anytime now due to lack of funding.”
“I urge countries who have suspended their funding to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response. The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability". (1)
The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, also responded by stating:
“The United Nations is taking swift action following the extremely serious allegations against several UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) staff members. An investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was immediately activated.
“Of the 12 people implicated, nine were immediately identified and terminated by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini; one is confirmed dead, and the identity of the two others is being clarified.
“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution. The Secretariat is ready to cooperate with a competent authority able to prosecute the individuals in line with the Secretariat’s normal procedures for such cooperation.
“Meanwhile, 2 million civilians in Gaza depend on critical aid from UNRWA for daily survival but UNRWA’s current funding will not allow it to meet all requirements to support them in February. While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations - I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations.
“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences. But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.” (2)
(1) Statement from Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner General, 27th January 2024:
(2) Statement from Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, 28th January 2024:
UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.
UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.
UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.
See also the ICRC website on the Fourth Geneva Convention: