Independent review finds UNRWA follows neutrality principles

Digital Originals

FILE – Palestinian children who fled with their parents from their houses in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, gather in the backyard of an UNRWA school, in Sidon, Lebanon, Sept. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)

An independent report has found that the UN relief agency for Palestinians has established procedures that comply with principles of humanitarian neutrality, and that it has a more developed approach than other similar entities.
Israel alleges that 12 staff members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) participated in the October 7 Hamas attacks, and that 10 percent of the agency’s 32,000 employees have ties to Hamas.
Following the accusations, 16 member states suspended or paused funding to UNRWA, amounting to a loss of around $450 million — at a time when Gaza is facing a humanitarian crisis.
Since then, 10 countries have resumed funding that will cover operations through June. Many countries have also requested more information on the agency’s neutrality policies.
The UN appointed an independent group in February to investigate the allegations, led by former French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna working with three research organizations in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports a separate U.N. investigation will examine the Israeli allegations against the 12 UNRWA staff.


Analysts conducted meetings with more than 200 people, including UNRWA staff in Gaza. Direct contacts were made with 47 countries and organizations, and field visits took place at UNRWA headquarters and facilities in Amman, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.
The report said Gaza faced particular complexities with the ruling entity designated as a terrorist organization by major donor nations and the magnitude of its operations on the ground.
The review found UNRWA “has established a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles, with emphasis on the principle of neutrality…”
The report also said UNRWA “possesses a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar UN or NGO entities.”
The independent review did find some instances of staff publicly expressing political views, host-country textbooks with problematic content being used in some UNRWA schools, and politicized staff unions making threats against UNRWA management and causing operational disruptions.
The report also said that Israel has not informed UNRWA of any concerns with its staff lists since 2011. But then the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs told UNRWA that it was not until March 2024 that it had received staff lists that included identification numbers.
“On the basis of the March 2024 list, which contained staff ID numbers, Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations. However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this,” the report reads.
The report also finds that all UNRWA beneficiaries, contractors, vendors, non-state donors, or any other individual or organization affiliated with UNRWA are screened each year using the UN and the World Bank sanctions lists of 8 million records.
“No matches have been documented to date,” the report states.
The United States, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania have not resumed funding to UNRWA.
Formerly the agency’s biggest donor at $300-$400 million a year, the U.S. initially paused funding. However in March, congressional leaders made a deal with the White House to fund a massive bill covering military, the State Department, and other programs that included a ban on funding UNRWA until March 2025, Reuters reported.