Joint statement: Defunding UNRWA in Gaza is an act of depravity and enables a genocide
Khan Younis Training Centre food parcels packaging

Joint statement: Defunding UNRWA in Gaza is an act of depravity and enables a genocide

Date: 30 January 2024
Campaigns: General

We are appalled.

As organisations that have historically worked on issues of health justice and access to medicines for millions of people around the world, for decades, focusing on HIV/AIDS, TB, cancer, and COVID, we share the urgent concern and outrage of aid organizations (NGOs) that the sudden decision by global north donor countries, including Canada, Australia, UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Austria, and Romania, to suspend funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) ‘’comes amid a rapidly worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza’’.

UNRWA is the main aid provider for millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the region. This decision represents an act of collective punishment targeting Palestinian civilians and will certainly lead to even more death and suffering.

The defunding decision represents a new level of depravity in the approach of several global north countries in the face of evidence of repeated war crimes, and worse, comes just days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on 26 January 2024 that it is plausible to claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza (among others). That interim ruling should have caused member states to assess and remedy their potential complicity in genocide. Instead, by defunding UNRWA, these countries have exacerbated their complicity.

In taking the decision to pause funding to UNRWA at this CRITICAL time when a real risk of hunger, disease, starvation, and famine looms in Gaza, these countries and donors are enabling a worsening humanitarian disaster and a genocide that cruelly depends on aid deprivation. They are not standing on the right side of history or for humanity – and their double standards must now be called out by more of us in the global health community – they are not acting in our name!

There are legitimate alternatives to pausing UNRWA funding. We note how multiple donors including Norway, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand have stated that they will maintain their contributions while UNRWA undertakes a formal investigation of the allegations against it.

Countries which have failed to implement alternatives should be prepared to be held accountable for their complicity in what risks being the total destruction of the aid and health system in Gaza, and the ethnic cleansing it is precipitating.

While we hope that this defunding conduct will be reported to the ICJ we also call on:

  • All governments to immediately resume and increase funding for the critical work of UNRWA, to uphold their duties towards the Palestinian people and scale up humanitarian assistance for civilians in dire need in Gaza and the region;
  • Patient advocacy groups to write to their respective ministers, parliaments, representatives, and lawmakers to demand funding reinstatement –to help avert an even greater humanitarian crisis;
  • The global health community to make donations, however small or big, for the work of UNRWA. Donation details can be found here:

Issued by

  1. Health Justice Initiative – South Africa
  2. Peoples Health Movement – South Africa
  3. Global Justice Now – UK
  4. African Alliance – Africa
  5. Just Treatment – UK
  6. Health GAP – USA
  7. Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) – South Africa
  8. ABIA (BrazilianInterdisciplinary AIDS Association)
  9. Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK) -USA
  10. ITPC Global
  11. SECTION 27–South Africa

Image credit / © UNRWA Photo by Hussein Owda