UN experts: Relief agency UNRWA targeted politically over partiality claims, funding must resume

OHCHR

UN experts expressed disappointment today that some States have yet to reinstate funding weeks after an independent review showed a lack of evidence for partiality claims against the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“The independent review ordered by the UN Secretary-General, following an increase of allegations since the onset of the military assault on Gaza in October 2023, has shown that the claim that significant numbers of UNRWA employees have ties with ‘terrorist organisations’ remains unsubstantiated,” the experts said.

They welcomed the review’s conclusions that UNRWA has a very developed approach to neutrality, with effective control mechanisms to address neutrality concerns.

“This indicates that UNRWA has yet again been targeted politically at critical moments-raising serious questions about accountability for the damage inflicted both on UNRWA and on the Palestinians in Gaza that the agency serves,” said the experts, recalling that other UN humanitarian and human rights bodies and mechanisms, including independent experts, have been subject to verbal and other attacks on their integrity and impartiality in the past several months.

The experts said decisions by various States to pause funds for UNRWA, following fallacious allegations that several staff were involved in the 7 October attacks in Israel, have already severely curtailed the agency’s operations in Gaza. No other entity has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need.

“We back the European Union’s call for those international donors holding out to resume funding to UNRWA,” they said. States should fully reinstate funding without delay.

“We recognise UNRWA’s determination to implement its mandate under unprecedented and enormous risks,” the experts said. “189 UNRWA staff have been killed in Israeli bombardments since 7 October 2023-the highest number of UN staff killed in any conflict since the UN’s founding in 1945.”

Multiple UNRWA facilities have been targeted, besieged and demolished by the Israeli military, in apparent violation of the principle of the inviolability of UN premises, the experts said. “At this existential time for millions of Palestinians in Gaza, who are enduring famine coupled with unfathomable humanitarian conditions, UN operations and facilities must be protected.”

Experts warn that 1.7 million people are internally displaced, mostly women and 600,000 children in the Rafah area alone, and they need food assistance, shelter, healthcare, education, water, sanitation and hygiene.

“It is imperative that once funding to UNRWA is reinstated to the fullest, UNRWA be fully recognised and protected both as a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly, epitomising among others the permanent responsibility of the United Nations toward the Question of Palestine, and for its pivotal role in many areas of life of Palestinian refugees,” the experts said.

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