It looks like New Zealand could be joining a growing number of governments around the world who are putting a halt to their donations to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
According to the Israel Institute of New Zealand, staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) have said that New Zealand will not be making any further payments to UNRWA until the UN investigation into it is completed.
Allegations of misconduct, corruption, links to terror groups, a perpetuation of the Israel/Palestinian conflict and antisemitism have long surrounded UNRWA.
More recently, UNRWA’s top level of management – including its Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl – has been accused of serious abuses of power for personal gain. These include sexual misconduct, nepotism, bullying, and retaliation.
The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (UN OIOS) is investigating and the Swiss, Dutch and Belgium governments have suspended their payments to UNRWA. UN Watch has called for the resignation of Krähenbühl and for donors to demand accountability of the agency.
However, until now, New Zealand’s response to the current scandal has been non-committal.
Initially, Foreign Minister Winston Peters simply said that he and MFAT officials are aware of recent media reports of allegations of ethical issues and mismanagement within UNRWA.
“We expect UNRWA to cooperate fully with any investigation and to report back on the investigation’s findings and recommendations.”
This prompted the Israel Institute to take a closer look at New Zealand’s support for UNRWA over the years as, over the past decade, New Zealand taxpayers have contributed over NZ$10 million with a further commitment to a further $3 million over the next few years.
Under the Official Information Act, the Israel Institute received MFAT documents which showed that staff did not discuss any controversies relating to UNRWA in briefings to ministers and that some meetings where concerns were raised did not have any minutes taken.
The documents also show that MFAT staff appeared to take the word of UNRWA officials on relevant issues, and/or the need for reform of the agency, without challenge or any attempt at independent research.
Based on this, the Israel Institute drafted a report – which can be read here.
It includes examples of UNRWA staff promoting terror and being affiliated with terror groups; gross incitement in school textbooks; and UNRWA’s perpetuation of a “right of return” that has led many to believe that the agency is a part of the problem.
Israel Institute director Dr David Cumin said that it is concerning that MFAT officials were apparently aware of serious issues within UNRWA but never communicated them to Ministers.
“It is also concerning they made no notes from meetings where issues were raised. I don’t understand why MFAT would want to hide serious issues from Ministers and the public.”
The report also recommends that New Zealand should suspend funding to UNRWA and stop voting for the UNGA resolutions in support of UNRWA.
That would be until UNRWA shows a demonstrable commitment to ending corruption; removing inciteful material from schools and appropriately disciplining staff that encourage violence; and conforming to the broader UN definition of a refugee.
After receiving the Israel Institute’s report, MFAT staff told them that:
“The Ministry will review the findings of the UN OIOS report once the investigation is complete and provide advice to the New Zealand Government.
“New Zealand will not make any further payments to UNRWA until we have reviewed the report’s findings and assessed UNRWA’s response to any recommendations.”
Cumin said it is the first time New Zealand has suspended donations to the UN agency and that it is pleasing that New Zealand has followed the lead of other democracies.
“It is great that New Zealand has suspended funding to UNRWA based on the recent allegations of corruption and abuse,” he said.
“We hope there will be an ongoing evaluation of sending Kiwi tax money to an organisation that has also been shown to incite violence and perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly with their unique definition of a ‘refugee’ and promoting a ‘right of return’.
“UNRWA is an obstacle to peace and it is time to reconsider our ongoing, unconditional support to UNRWA and ensure our taxpayer money is being used for good.”
Read the Israel Institute’s report – New Zealand suspends funding to UNRWA – here.
Read the Israel Institute’s earlier report about New Zealand’s support for UNRWA here.