Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark has joined a chorus of global development and political figures defending the United Nations “lifeline” for more than two million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip enclave.
Declaring New Zealand should stick to its three-year funding agreement with the UN relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), Clark joined the pleas by the agency chief executive Philippe Lazzarini — who condemned the US action to suspend funding as “collective punishment” — and Secretary-General António Guterres.
New Zealand is due to fund the agency $1 million this year.
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Protesters at an Auckland solidarity rally for Palestine demanding an immediate unconditional ceasefire also condemned the countries suspending UNRWA funding amid reports of serious flooding of Gaza refugee camps.
Suspension of funding by 9 countries to @UNRWA amounts to further collective punishment of besieged #Gaza population. #UNRWA is largest UN humanitarian & development service provider there. Staff accused of crimes have been dismissed. Do donors want relief operation to collapse? https://t.co/xU5jAfqm7T
— Helen Clark (@HelenClarkNZ) January 27, 2024
Other political leaders to voice concerns as eight countries joined the US in announcing they were suspending their funding for UNRWA include Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf and former leader of the UK Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn.
Two countries — Ireland and Norway — declared they they would continue funding the agency and Lazzarini said: “It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff.”
Cuts one day after ICJ ruling
The cuts to funding were announced by the US a day after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had ordered Israel to take steps to prevent genocidal acts and to punish those who committed such acts in its war on Gaza, and to immediately facilitate aid to the victims of the war.
Israel had alleged that about a dozen of the agency’s 13,000 employees had been involved in the deadly Hamas raid on southern Israel on October 7.
UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in #Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival.
93% of displaced families in southern governorates of📍#Gaza have reported inadequate food consumption.
People are desperate, hunger stalks everyone. pic.twitter.com/WLr0JYNRb2
— UNRWA (@UNRWA) January 27, 2024
The eight other countries that have joined the US in suspending funding are Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland.
“Serious as allegations around a tiny percentage of now former UNRWA staff may be, this isn’t the time to suspend funding to UN’s largest relief and development agency in Gaza,” said Clark, who is also the former head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in a post on social media.
Secretary-General Guterres said in a statement that the UN had taken “swift actions” following the “serious allegations” against UNRWA staff members, terminating most of the suspects and activating an investigation.
“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,” he said.
“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.
‘Ready to cooperate’
“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.”
The day after @ICJ concluded that Israel is plausibly committing Genocide in Gaza, some states decided to defund UNRWA, collectively punishing millions of Palestinians at the most critical time, and most likely violating their obligations under the Genocide Convention. https://t.co/fl32DrDeFs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) January 27, 2024
Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, said that states cutting funding to UNRWA could be “violating their obligations under the Genocide Convention”.
“The day after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded that Israel is plausibly committing genocide in Gaza, some states decided to defund UNRWA,” Albanese said in a post on social media.
Albanese also described the decision taken by several UNWRA donors as “collectively punishing millions of Palestinians at the most critical time”.
Noting the irony, lawyer and social media content producer Rosy Pirani said in a post on Instagram: “The US stopped funding UNHRA over an unverified claim that some of its employees may have been involved in 10/7, but continues to fund Israel despite actual evidence [before the ICJ] that it is committing genocide.”
Meanwhile, the largest hospital in besieged Khan Younis city remained crippled and faced collapse as Israel’s offensive continued nearby. Doctors described it as a “dangerous situation”.
Footage showed people in the crowded facility being treated on blood-smeared floors as frantic loved ones shouted and jostled. Cats scavenged on a mound of medical waste.