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UN chief Antonio Guterres asks countries to reverse UNRWA funding suspension

Just Earth News | @justearthnews | 28 Jan 2024, 10:34 pm Print

UN chief Antonio Guterres asks countries to reverse UNRWA funding suspension Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo Courtesy: UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has appealed to the countries that suspended funding to the UN agency assisting Palestine refugees (UNRWA) to reconsider their decisions, to ensure continuity of its vital humanitarian operations.

In a statement on Sunday (January 28, 2024), the UN chief said that the Organization is promptly responding to the extremely serious allegations that several UNRWA personnel were involved in the 7 October terror attacks in southern Israel.

An investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative body in the UN system, was immediately activated.

“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Guterres said.

“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,” he added.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini had previously announced on 17 January a full, independent review of the agency.

Out of the 12 individuals implicated, nine were immediately identified and terminated by the UNRWA head. One is confirmed dead, and the identities of the remaining two are being clarified. 

UN says vital humanitarian efforts at risk

Over two million civilians in the Gaza Strip depend on lifesaving aid provided by UNRWA.

The Agency operates shelters for over one million people and has been providing food and healthcare since the start of the conflict.

However, its current funding is insufficient to meet all requirements to support them in February.

Acknowledging the concerns of the countries that halted funds and expressing his own horror at the accusations, Guterres strongly appealed to the governments that suspended 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,” he said.

“The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

US, UK, several other nations halt funding to UNRWA

Several nations, including the UK and the US, have halted donations to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees amid accusations by Israel that several UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 attack by Hamas members.

In a statement, the US State Department said: "The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.  The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them."

"UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support.  Their work has saved lives, and it is important that UNRWA address these allegations and take any appropriate corrective measures, including reviewing its existing policies and procedures," the statement said.

The UK  Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office spokesperson said its government is appalled by allegations levelled against UNRWA.

"The UK is temporarily pausing any future funding of UNRWA whilst we review these concerning allegations," the statement said.