At least 11 states have decided to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), following allegations that some staff were involved in the attacks perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 in southern Israel. This decision deals a severe blow to the over two million refugees in the occupied Gaza Strip, for whom UNRWA represents the only lifeline.

Amnesty International urges these states to reverse their decision and refrain from suspending funding to the Agency.

“It is deeply disconcerting – indeed, inhumane – that several governments have made decisions that will cause further suffering to more than two million Palestinians, already at risk of genocide and of a planned famine, just days after the International Court of Justice concluded that the survival of Palestinians in Gaza is at risk. Shockingly, these actions have been taken following allegations involving 12 of UNRWA’s total workforce of 30,000,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“The allegations regarding the involvement of UNRWA employees in the October 7 attacks are serious and must be subject to an independent investigation; anyone who is implicated in a sufficiently proven way must be subjected to fair trials. However, the alleged actions of certain individuals must not be used as a pretext to interrupt vital care in what could amount to a form of collective punishment,” Callamard continued.

The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, France and Finland have joined the United States, Australia and Canada in pausing funding for the agency. These countries together provided more than half of UNRWA’s total budget in 2022. The agency immediately fired nine employees following the allegations and launched an investigation.

At a time when Israel, as an occupying power, continues to openly violate its obligations towards Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, Amnesty International recalls that UNRWA has long played a crucial role, representing the only life support, through the provision of essential humanitarian aid, education and shelter. The Agency also provides much-needed aid to millions of other Palestinian refugees living in neighboring Arab countries.

Norway, Spain, Ireland, and Belgium are among the states that have announced that they will not suspend funding, recognizing the vital role that UNRWA continues to play in distributing humanitarian aid to those who desperately need it.

“It is shameful that some key states, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and France, instead of paying attention to the decision of the International Court of Justice and the finding that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is seriously at risk of further deterioration, have stopped financing the main provider of aid to civilians in Gaza,” said Agnès Callamard.

“All States have a clear duty to ensure the implementation of decisions of the International Court of Justice, including those ordering Israel to take immediate and effective measures to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, considered a crucial step to prevent genocide and further irreparable damage.”

“Some of the same governments that announced a halt to funding for UNRWA have meanwhile continued to supply weapons to the Israeli military, despite overwhelming evidence that they are being used to commit war crimes and serious human rights abuses. The rush to freeze funding for humanitarian assistance, based on allegations still under investigation while refusing to even consider suspending support for Israeli military forces, represents a clear example of double standards,” added Agnès Callamard.

“Instead of suspending vital funding for those in need, the States involved should work to stop arms transfers to Israel and Palestinian armed groups and press for an immediate and lasting ceasefire and full access to humanitarian aid, to alleviate the devastating suffering underway,” concluded Callamard.

Israel and right-wing groups have for years conducted a smear campaign against UNRWA, which plays a key role in defending Palestinians’ right to return to their lands.