Amnesty chief calls UNRWA funding cuts ‘heartless’, ‘sickening’

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson . . . a pledge to a Palestinian solidarity rally in Auckland yesterday to pressure the New Zealand government in Parliament this week to renew calls for an immediate ceasefire in the war on Gaza. Image: David Robie/APR

Asia Pacific Report

Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, has called the funding cuts to the UN’s Palestinian humanitarian relief agency a “heartless decision” by some of the world’s richest countries “to punish the most vulnerable population on earth because of the alleged crimes of 12 people”.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, she added: “Right after the ICJ [International Court of Justice] ruling finding risk of genocide. Sickening.”

While nine Western nations, including the US, rushed to suspend UNRWA’s funding after allegations that members from the agency participated in the October 7 attack, the same countries have failed to formally revise their ties to Israel despite mounting reports of genocidal abuse by Israeli forces.

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that “cutting off funding” to UNRWA at what he called a “critical moment” would only “hurt the people of Gaza who desperately need support”.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the plight of some 1.9 million displaced Palestinians in Gaza with the main UN agency delivering humanitarian aid losing its major financial backing.

“Scenes of forcibly displaced people are a disgrace to humanity,” it said in a statement.

“Over half a million Palestinians in Khan Younis were instructed by the occupying forces to evacuate their homes, including hospitals and health centres, in a cruel expansion and deepening of forced displacement from southern regions.”

UNRWA employs about 13,000 people and provides humanitarian aid, education, health and social services to 5.9 eligible Palestinian refugees living in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The UNRWA donors funding breakdown
The UNRWA donors funding breakdown in 2022. Graphic: Al Jazeera

The UN agency received almost US$1.2 billion in pledged in 2020, with the US being the biggest donor providing $343.9 million. The fifth-largest donor, Norway, provided $34.2 million and is continuing is funding in spite of the action by the US and its allies.

Hani Mahmoud, reporting for Al Jazeera from Rafah, southern Gaza, said the entire city of Khan Younis continued to be pounded by Israeli bombardment.

“Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate and are going through security checkpoints with facial recognition technology,” he said.

“Women and children are separated from the men. A large number of people have been detained and dehumanised during the process.

Video showed people “trying to flee the horror” on different routes away from the bombing they were targeted by tank and artillery shells and small-arms fire, and also Israeli attack drones that hovered low over the city.

There were reports of many people killed.

“Intense fighting is now taking place in the southeastern part of Khan Younis at the edges of Rafah city,” he said.

Meanwhile, a “Return to Gaza Conference” in Jerusalem — attended by Israeli cabinet ministers and members of the parliamentary Knesset — has laid out a plan for the re-establishment of 15 Israeli settlements and the addition of six new ones, on where recently destroyed Palestinian communities stood.

An Israeli humanitarian lawyer, Itay Epshtain, said the fact that Israeli officials would convene a high level meeting to plan what he called an act of aggression — the acquisition of occupied territory and its colonisation — was an early indication of intent to breach the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice last Friday.

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