Safeguarding the Humanitarian Mission of UNRWA: A Plea for Responsible Funding Amidst Allegations

By Negin Khatib /GICJ

The recent suspension of funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by certain countries has raised significant concerns about the potential risks and consequences for the Palestinian people. This decision, spurred by allegations against a limited group of staff, overlooks the organization's exclusively humanitarian mission and threatens the critical services it provides to over 2 million people in Gaza. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the International Court of Justice's recent directive instructing Israel to ensure the provision of essential services, aiming to prevent genocide in Gaza.

The suspension of funds, triggered by allegations against a limited group of staff, has faced criticism for failing to recognize UNRWA's swift actions in terminating contracts and initiating an independent investigation led by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Nations are urged to acknowledge the organization's commitment to accountability and due process in addressing any wrongdoing within its ranks.

UNRWA's indispensable role as a crucial humanitarian agency in Gaza supporting over 2 million people becomes even more crucial as the region grapples with the imminent threat of famine. The risks posed by the funding crisis to the rights and well-being of Palestinians are clear, and responsible funding is essential to address the growing humanitarian crisis.

Despite ongoing investigations and interrogations concerning specific staff, countries have chosen to suspend their funding to UNRWA, imperiling vital humanitarian efforts, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Nations are vehemently urged to reconsider this suspension of funds, emphasizing that UNRWA is the sole source of shelter and aid for Palestinians in these dire circumstances. The organization plays a critical role in providing essential services, including education, healthcare, and social services, to vulnerable populations who have already endured immense hardship.

There is no justification for suspending funding, as investigations into individual cases can be conducted independently alongside the continued provision of essential humanitarian support. The importance of addressing any wrongdoing within UNRWA is acknowledged, but withholding funds jeopardizes the lives and well-being of Palestinian refugees who depend on these services for their basic survival.

In the face of the funding crisis, nations are urged to look beyond the allegations against specific staff and consider the broader impact of their decisions on the millions of Palestinians who rely on UNRWA for essential support. The suspension of funds not only jeopardizes UNRWA's ability to carry out its humanitarian mission but also sets a dangerous precedent that may hinder the prevention of larger-scale humanitarian crises and potential acts of genocide. It is imperative that nations follow the line set by Norway and prioritize the well-being of vulnerable populations by ensuring the continuity of funding to UNRWA. Responsible and sustained international support is crucial to mitigating the impact of the ongoing crisis and safeguarding the lives and dignity of Palestinian refugees.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued an Order on 26 January 2024 regarding the provisional measures requested by South Africa in its case against the State of Israel relating to the latter’s its obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide regarding Palestinians in Gaza (Genocide Convention). The ICJ, with overwhelming support, has mandated that Israel take all necessary measures to prevent acts that may contribute to genocide, combat incitement to genocide, promptly address adverse living conditions in Gaza, safeguard evidence related to alleged acts of genocide, and submit a comprehensive report within one month outlining the measures taken. This unequivocal directive underscores the international community's commitment to preventing genocide and promoting accountability for actions in conflict zones.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls for the international community to further support UNRWA in its mission to urgently deliver assistance to the millions of Palestinians currently facing famine, sickness and pressing threats to their basic rights at the hands of the occupying power. It is imperative that more funding be granted to aid them in their plight. This is a matter of obligation on the part of all states to prevent the ongoing genocide. 

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