Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Programme, said:
“The Elders call on donors to resume funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) immediately in the face of an ever-worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
The claims that UNRWA staff were involved in the horrific attacks on Israel on 7 October are serious, and it is right that UNRWA has taken immediate action to address them.
We support both the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services’ investigation into these allegations and UNRWA’s independent review of its framework for staff adherence to humanitarian principles.
Donors should back these investigations and not prejudge their outcomes by suspending desperately needed funding. Defunding UNRWA and its vital services only adds to the collective punishment of all Gazans for the crimes of Hamas.
UNRWA has an indispensable role to play in providing life-saving support and services to over 1.6 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, support now extended to the entire 2.3 million population in Gaza, over half of them children. It also provides vital assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants elsewhere in the Middle East. In Gaza, it is discharging its mandate with courage and professionalism under near-impossible conditions. No other organisation can meet the humanitarian needs of Gazans at the scale UNRWA can.
The UN Security Council has passed two resolutions – 2712 and 2720 – focused on restoring basic services and accelerating humanitarian assistance in Gaza. This is also the subject of one of the provisional measures in last week’s International Court of Justice ruling.
Implementation of these legally binding decisions is not possible without UNRWA. We reject Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to close it down.
Donors who have suspended life-saving aid must reflect on the risks of the conditions of life in Gaza deteriorating further. As well as more short-term suffering and death, the longer-term risks include large-scale displacement from Gaza, and fuelling further violence and extremism. It would also exacerbate the grave security risks across the region, where UNRWA’s services to Palestinian refugees are essential to political stability as well as to their beneficiaries.
UNRWA is not responsible for the failure to resolve the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its work, mandated by the UN General Assembly, remains essential until there is a political solution for Palestinian refugees and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At this moment of crisis, major UNRWA donors, including the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden and Japan, must reverse their premature rush to judgement, and resume full funding while awaiting the outcome of investigations.”
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