Reports & Researches

(Witness): Suspending UNRWA funding: A collective punishment for Palestinian refugees

(Witness): Suspending UNRWA funding: A collective punishment for Palestinian refugees


On January 26,2024, the United States Department of State announced a temporary suspension of new funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) following Israeli authorities accusing some agency employees of involvement in Hamas attack on Israeli settlements on October 7. Italy, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Finland took part in this suspension.

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) asserts that UNRWA plays a crucial role as a primary organization providing humanitarian assistance and protection to refugees in Gaza Strip, operating under a humanitarian and development mandate until a fair and enduring resolution to their situation is achieved.

"Many are hungry as the clock is ticking towards a looming famine”, said Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA commissioner general. The Agency runs shelters for over 1 million people and provides food and primary healthcare even at the height of the hostilities. "It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation”, he added.

(Witness) views the suspension of funding of several countries to UNRWA as a violation of their obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. These prompt actions can further tighten the blockade on Gazans who rely heavily on international aid especially provided by UNRWA. (Witness) deems this practical step a direct approval for the genocide and raises various questions:

*How do the nations in the advisory committee of the agency view the direct targeting of agency centers and the evident escalation by the occupation? What is their perspective on safeguarding the agency's facilities being international institutions?

*How does the agency and the supporting countries respond to the Israeli occupation's actions resulting in the death of its personnel?

*How do nations react to massacres committed against civilians in UN centers by occupation forces?

"Israel will seek to stop UNRWA from operating in Gaza after the war”, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said. The foreign ministry aims to ensure "that UNRWA will not be a part of the day after,” Katz said on X. He added that he would try to gather support for the move from the United States, European Union and other major donors to the agency.

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) affirms that freezing funding for UNRWA is a deliberate practice aimed at undermining the agency's role in providing relief to the Palestinian people who have been enduring hardships since 1948. Given this action, we call for the following:

1. The UNRWA advisory committee to hold an urgent meeting to address and navigate the challenges facing the agency’s work arising from successive Israeli aggressions. This includes a thorough examination of the outcomes and measures related to the misleading claims made by the occupation.

2. The concerned countries to retreat from their decisions to freeze their funding, especially that some of them are members of the advisory committee and are well knowledgeable about UNRWA’s activities.

3. The necessity to provide legal and security protection for facilities and properties of international organizations.

4. UNRWA to open an investigation into crimes committed by the occupation inside its facilities including targeting civilians and staffers and demanding compensation.

5. UNRWA to announce an emergency state and convene an international conference to highlight Israeli attacks on its facilities and the killing of dozens at its internationally protected centers.


The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness)

January 28,2024