Helen Clark urges UNRWA donors to immediately resume funding

Media release: Helen Clark, member of The Elders and former Prime Minister of New Zealand and head of the UN Development Programme, issued the following comment urging UNRWA donors to immediately resume funding so that humanitarian assistance continues to reach Gazans and Palestinian refugees in the Middle East:

“The Elders call on donors to resume funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) immediately in the face of an 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.   

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 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 Gazans for the crimes of Hamas. 

UNRWA has an indispensable role to play in providing life-saving support and services to over 1.6 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, support now extended to the entire 2.3 million population in Gaza, over half of them children. It 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 Gazans 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. This is also the subject of one of the provisional measures in last week’s International Court of Justice ruling. 

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. 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.”

About The Elders

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.

The Elders are Ban Ki-moon (Deputy Chair)Gro Harlem BrundtlandHelen ClarkElbegdorj TsakhiaZeid Ra’ad Al HusseinHina JilaniEllen Johnson SirleafRicardo LagosGraça Machel (Deputy Chair)Juan Manuel SantosMary Robinson (Chair) and Ernesto Zedillo.

Lakhdar BrahimiFernando Henrique Cardoso, and Jimmy Carter are Elders Emeritus.

Desmond Tutu (1931-2021) and Kofi Annan (1938-2018) were founding members of The Elders and served as Chairs from 2007 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018 respectively. Ela Bhatt (1933 – 2022) and Martti Ahtisaari (1937 – 2023) were members of The Elders from 2007 to 2016 and 2009 to 2018 respectively.

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