Open letter to European chanceries following UNRWA funding cuts

As part of its advocacy work, EuroMed Rights sent a letter to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Middle East/North Africa desks of all EU countries that recently announced their suspension of UNRWA funds. The contacted countries were Finland, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Austria and Romania. The content of the letter is published below:

Dear Minister,

We, EuroMed Rights, writing this letter in light of your country recent announcement that any funding to UNRWA will be suspended due to allegations that 12 of its employees were involved in the October 7 attacks.

More than 110 days after the unlawful killing and kidnapping of Israeli citizens, Israel’s indiscriminate retaliation against Gaza continues unrestrained, claiming horrifying and disproportionally high numbers of casualties amongst the Palestinian civil population in Gaza and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli government has in parallel established a siege in Gaza, illegally cutting access to food, water, fuel and medicine to the civilians in the territory. It has also employed other unlawful means and methods that amount to unlawful collective punishment.  On 28 January, Gaza’s Ministry of Health reported that over 26.400 Palestinians have been killed and 65.000 others injured.

Amidst this humanitarian crisis, UNRWA represents the only source of relief to the majority of Gaza’s population, the larger part refugees. Over 80% of Gazans have been internally displaced since the beginning of the war, with over 570.000 Palestinians under severe risk of starvation. Fort this reason, we receive with great concern the news that your country has decided to unilaterally suspend fundings to UNRWA.

The allegation of at least 12 employees from UNRWA may have been involved in the October 7 attacks, are indeed troubling. EuroMed Rights condemns all human rights violations and International Humanitarian Law violations, including the targeting of civilians and the taking of hostages. The recent allegations highlight the importance of supporting international accountability mechanisms through the International Criminal Court (ICC), so that all potential war criminals face justice.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to point out that, as soon as such allegations arose, UNRWA conducted an internal probe and terminated the contracts of the 12 accused employees, acting with haste to ensure none of its employees are involved with such acts. Furthermore, the 12 suspects represent a minuscule proportion of its over 30.000 employees, of which 13.000 are currently in Gaza. Such immediate decision to suspend funds to the agency would constitute an act of collective punishment both to UNRWA and to the Palestinians in distress it serves. We echo VP/HR Borrell’s remarks that “If you cut the funding to UNRWA, you are punishing the whole Palestinian people. There is no alternative to UNRWA, as the United Nations has clearly said, if you want to keep these people alive.”

On January 26, coinciding with Israel’s delivery of the alleged incriminating evidence to UNRWA, the International Court of Justice ruled that there is a plausible claim that the crime of genocide may be perpetrated in Gaza by the Israeli government by, between other means, “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. The deliberate starvation of Gaza constitutes one these inflicted conditions, and by removing the only source of relief to Gazans, western countries risk being complicit to the accusation of genocide, as stated by UN Special rapporteur to Palestine, Francesca Albanese.

Given these circumstances, EuroMed Rights urges your government to:

  • Resume and extend UNRWA’s funding considering the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
  • Support of international accountability mechanisms, such as the International Criminal Court, to ensure that individuals suspected of committing international war crimes are held accountable and brought to justice.
  • Comply with the recent International Court of Justice Provisional measures granted on South Africa’s submission on potential crimes of genocide committed against Gaza, and implement all measures to ensure that genocidal acts do not take place in Gaza, including inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

We remain at your disposal to complement the above-listed points.

Yours sincerely,

EuroMed Rights