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27 March 2024

Pre-action letter issued challenging the UK’s suspension of funding to UN Relief Agency for Palestinians

4 mins

Bindmans has sent a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on behalf of a British man of Palestinian heritage whose family are in Gaza and reliant on humanitarian aid provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The letter challenges the Secretary of State’s ongoing decision since 27 January 2024 to temporarily pause any future funding to UNRWA in response to Israel’s allegations that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October 2023 attacks against Israel.

Even before the devastating terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel on 7 October 2023, the humanitarian situation in Gaza was desperate. The consequences of the Israeli State’s political and military reaction to the attacks have been catastrophic. Indeed the risk to life and humanitarian wellbeing to those in Gaza is so great that it was accepted as plausibly constituting genocide by the International Court of Justice [1] . The situation has only deteriorated since.

According to Bond, the UK network for over 350 NGOs and humanitarian agencies: “UNRWA is the main provider of humanitarian assistance to millions of displaced Palestinians already in desperate need and at risk of famine, as well as millions of people across the Middle East. No other local or international organisation has the same level of reach or can provide the same level of support [2].”

According to the International Rescue Committee: “The plain reality is that UNRWA’s humanitarian role in this crisis is indispensable and cannot remotely be replaced by any other aid organisation… Other aid agencies cannot replicate UNRWA’s central role in the humanitarian response in Gaza, and amidst the current crisis many will struggle to even maintain their current operations without UNRWA’s partnership and support [3].”

In response to Israel’s allegations Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General, announced on 26 January 2024 that he had terminated the appointments of the 12 members of staff subject of the allegations and launched an investigation [4].

Despite these measures, and despite UNRWA’s critical role in Gaza, the UK and numerous other UN Member States, including the USA, withdrew funding to UNRWA the following day.

The suspension of funding has had a profound impact on UNRWA’s operational capabilities in Gaza. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, warned on 4 February 2024 that the suspended funds amounted to almost half of the agency’s expected income in 2024, putting its very existence at risk [5].

The EU, Sweden and Canada have since reinstated funding to UNRWA. In doing so, Sweden pointed out that “UNRWA’s contribution to the lives of Palestine refugees remains indispensable and its role in maintaining stability in this extremely complex and challenging region is undisputed [6].” Canada emphasized that “UNRWA plays a vital role in Gaza, providing humanitarian assistance to more than 2 million people, in addition to its crucial activities supporting 4 million people in the rest of the region. Other organisations also rely on UNRWA’s experience and infrastructure to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza [7].”

Despite this the UK has declined to reinstate funding pending the UN investigation and the independent review.

Alice Hardy, Partner at Bindmans with conduct of the case, said:

The UK government’s strategy for international development sets out four priorities, including to: ‘provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering’. Given the catastrophic situation in Gaza, including an impending, man-made famine [8] , the ongoing decision to cease funding to UNRWA is not only morally wrong but flies in the face of that strategy. The 12 members of staff against whom allegations were made have been suspended and two investigations were immediately initiated. Canada, Sweden and the EU are satisfied with the measures that have been taken. The immense suffering of the Gazan people makes it imperative to reinstate funding to UNRWA as quickly as possible.

The Applicant is represented by Alice Hardy, Shirin Marker and Lily Seaborne of Bindmans and Julianne Morrison of Monckton Chambers.

For further details, see here:  Redacted Pre-Action Protocol Letter

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