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The Elders urge UNRWA donors to resume funding immediately

February 5, 2024 at 8:38 am

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark on September 02, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand [Fiona Goodall/Getty Images]

The former Prime Minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, has urged UNRWA donors to resume funding the agency immediately so that humanitarian aid continues to reach Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the rest of the Middle East. Clark is also a member of The Elders and drew attention to the “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,” said Clark on behalf of The Elders. “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, she added, 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 Palestinians in Gaza, where the agency has an indispensable role to play in providing life-saving support and services to over 1.6 million Palestinian refugees in the enclave, support now extended to the entire 2.3 million population, over half of them children.”

The UN agency, said Clark, 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 Palestinians in Gaza 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, she noted. This is also the subject of one of the provisional measures in the ruling of the International Court of Justice.

“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, Clark pointed out. 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.”

The Elders are independent global leaders working for peace, justice, human rights and a sustainable planet. The group was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007.

Chaired by Mary Robinson, the other members apart from Helen Clark are Ban Ki-moon (Deputy Chair), Gro Harlem Brundtland, Elbegdori Tsakhia, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, Hina Jilani, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Rocardo Lagos, Graca Michel (Deputy Chair), Juan Manuel Santos and Ernesto Zedillo. Desmond Tutu (1931-2021) and Kofi Annan (1938-2018) were founding members.

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