NZ to make UNRWA payment after Gaza controversy, says Peters

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The independent report commissioned by the UN into the UNRWA agency concluded it needed to improve its neutrality
The independent report commissioned by the UN into the UNRWA agency concluded it needed to improve its neutrality, vetting and transparency, but Israel had failed to back up the claims which led many countries to halt their funding. Image: UNRWA

RNZ News

New Zealand will make its annual payment of $1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as scheduled.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has confirmed the news in a tweet.

“This follows careful consideration of the UN’s response — including through external and internal investigations — to serious allegations against certain UNRWA staff being involved in the 7 October terrorist attacks on Israel,” he said.

“It also reflects assurances received from the UN Secretary-General about remedial work underway to enhance UNRWA’s neutrality.”

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon in January confirmed New Zealand would hold off on making the usual June payment until Peters was satisfied over accusations against the agency’s staff.

UNRWA is the UN’s largest aid agency operating in Gaza, but in January Israel levelled allegations that a dozen of UNRWA’s staff had been involved in the October 7 attack by Hamas fighters into southern Israel.

The attack left about 1139 people dead and about 250 Israeli soldiers and civilians were reported to have been taken hostage.

Never suspended
Speaking from Fiji on the final day of his trip to the Pacific, Luxon said New Zealand had never suspended its payments as other countries had.

“Our funding is made once a year. It was due by the end of June. As I said at the time, they were serious allegations. The UN investigated then, the deputy prime minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters also got assurances from the UN Secretary-General.

“We’re reassured that it’s a good investment and it’s entirely appropriate that we now make that payment.”

Winston Peters
NZ Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters . . . “This follows careful consideration of the UN’s response.” Image: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

The independent report commissioned by the UN into the agency concluded it needed to improve its neutrality, vetting and transparency, but Israel had failed to back up the claims which led many countries to halt their funding.

UNRWA fired the 10 employees accused by Israel who were still alive. The agency is one of the largest UN operations and employs about 30,000 people.

Secretary-General António Guterres said any UN employee found to have been involved in acts of terror would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

Luxon said he was “absolutely” satisfied due diligence had been done on the matter, and New Zealand was “very comfortable” making the payments.

$17m in other aid
“Remember also that we’ve made $17 million worth of additional investments in aid to organisations like the World Food Programme, International Red Cross and others.

“This is just part of our humanitarian assistance package, we’ve woken up this morning to more images of catastrophic impact of civilians in Gaza, why we’ve been calling consistently for some time a cessation of hostilities there.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry estimates at least 36,580 people have been killed in Gaza since the attack in October.

Most recently an Israeli air strike on a UN school in central Gaza, which was packed with hundreds of displaced people, killed more than 40 people.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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