Demonstrators stage a protest during a hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability of House Foreign Affairs Committee at the U.S. Capitol on January 30, 2024 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing titled "UNRWA Exposed: Examining the Agency's Mission and Failures.ö Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images North America / LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

In a significant humanitarian appeal, Amnesty International has urged Finland and other nations to reconsider their decisions to suspend funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), labeling the move as a harsh blow to over two million refugees in the besieged Gaza Strip. The suspension comes in the wake of allegations involving UNRWA staff in attacks orchestrated by Hamas on October 7, 2023, leading to an immediate termination of nine employees and the initiation of a comprehensive investigation by the agency.

These countries, including Finland, collectively contribute to more than half of UNRWA's budget for the year 2022, putting essential humanitarian aid at risk.

"Cutting off funding is cruel, especially just days after an international court recognized the imminent dangers to the survival of Palestinians in Gaza, facing the real risks of genocide and famine. It's inhumane to take such actions based on allegations against twelve employees out of 30,000," expressed Frank Johansson, Director of Amnesty International Finland.

Instead of heeding the international court's warning about the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, pivotal states have halted financial support to the primary aid provider for Gaza's civilians. "All states have a duty to ensure the court's required measures are implemented," Johansson adds, emphasizing the urgency of the situation.

While the allegations against UNRWA staff and their purported involvement in the October 7 attacks by Hamas are serious and warrant independent investigation and fair trials for those implicated, Amnesty argues that the actions of a few should not justify the cessation of vital humanitarian aid, which could amount to collective punishment.

As Israel continues to violate its obligations towards Palestinian refugees in Gaza and other occupied territories, UNRWA has been a lifeline, offering irreplaceable humanitarian assistance, education, and protection. Yet, some of the governments that have suspended funding continue to arm Israeli forces despite clear evidence of these weapons being used in war crimes and severe human rights violations.

"The freeze on humanitarian funding based on allegations still under investigation, while refusing even to consider halting support for the Israeli military, demonstrates stark double standards," Johansson points out.

He advocates for an end to arms exports to Israel and armed Palestinian groups, urging for an immediate ceasefire and ensuring humanitarian aid access to Gaza, rather than cutting off crucial funding to those in need.

Countries like the UK, Germany, France, the USA, Australia, and Canada have also suspended their support, contrasting with Norway, Spain, Ireland, and Belgium, which have chosen not to freeze their contributions. This divergence highlights a critical moment for international solidarity and the imperative to prioritize humanitarian needs over political disputes.