“UNRWA is a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region” (António Guterres)

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini from Switzerland, gave a speech to the UN Security Council on 17 April 2024 that will leave no one unmoved. He described the unimaginable suffering of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip under the merciless siege by the Israeli army. He exposes the “insidious campaign” against UNRWA “aimed at driving them out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. He calls on the UN member states to continue to support UNRWA’s work politically and financially. And it recalls that UNRWA’s temporary mandate, adopted by the United Nations in 1949, is indispensable until “the international community is genuinely committed to a political solution [to the Palestinian conflict].”1
  The Federal Council and some of our parliamentarians are currently in danger of being impressed by the “insidious campaign” against UNRWA. They are advised to take note of Philippe Lazzarini’s appeal and the following expert report with the necessary respect.

Independent expert report
confirms best possible compliance
with neutral principles by UNRWA

On 22 April 2024, the “Independent Review Panel on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)” presented its final report, which refuted the Israeli government’s accusations that UNRWA is closely linked to Hamas.2 The chair of the panel, former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, declared in New York that UNRWA has a “better developed system than other UN organisations [...] to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principle of neutrality”. She added: “I would again strongly encourage the international community to stand by the agency so that it can fulfil its mandate and meet the challenges when they arise.”3 Israel has not yet provided any evidence of the alleged involvement of UNRWA staff in the Hamas attack of 7 October 2023.
  Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, ‘accepts the recommendations contained in Ms Colonna’s report […]. For the future, the Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to actively support UNRWA, as it is a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region.”4

Federal Council postpones decision
on Swiss contributions to UNRWA

Following the aforementioned allegations against UNRWA, the Federal Council had not yet transferred the Swiss contributions planned for 2024. On 24 April 2024, it now announced: “The Federal Council will decide on the payment to UNRWA at a later date. It has taken note of the fact that the report on the external review of UNRWA led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was published on 22 April. The Federal Council will now study this in detail. It will then make a decision on UNRWA on the basis of an overall assessment.”5 It is to be hoped that the Federal Council will not wait too long before doing so – the suffering people need our help now!

Switzerland’s failure
in the UN Security Council

Long-time Swiss diplomat Paul Widmer warned against Switzerland joining the UN Security Council a long time ago: “But the Security Council is a governing body. If it takes its task seriously, it must take sides in conflicts. But that is the opposite of what is required of a neutral state. It must stay out of military conflicts. It does not take sides. That is why Switzerland does not belong to the Security Council.”6
  This foresight of a neutral-minded Swiss was recently confirmed. On 18 April 2024, 12 out of 15 members of the Security Council voted in favour of Palestine’s application for full UN membership. Switzerland was not among them. Instead, it abstained from voting alongside the United Kingdom. In doing so, it implicitly supported the veto of the USA, which overturned the application and thus prevented the UN General Assembly from deciding on Palestine’s admission. In the latter, democratically organised body (each country has one vote), the tormented people, whose right to life has been disregarded, would have been sure of overwhelming approval. According to the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden-Württemberg (lpb) (State Agency for Civic Education), 138 of the 193 UN member states now recognise the state of Palestine. “Germany and other EU states, however, do not,” says lpb, “but they maintain diplomatic relations with Palestinian representatives.”7 Here too, Switzerland is complying with EU/US guidelines – wouldn’t it be better for it to join the majority of nations?

Outrageous “justification”
for the Federal Council’s abstention

“Switzerland is of the opinion that it would be better to admit Palestine as a full member of the UN at a time when such a step will fit into the logic of an emerging peace.”8 However, Switzerland’s duty and obligation as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions and once neutral mediator would be not to wait until the day after tomorrow for an “emerging peace”, but to do something about it immediately.  •

1 Statement by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA to the UN Security Council in New York on 17 April 2024. https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/independent-review-unrwa-adherence-humanitarian-principle-neutrality
2 https://www.unrwa.org/resources/reports/independent-review-mechanisms-and-procedures-ensure-adherence-unrwa-humanitarian#block-menu-block-10

3 https://media.un.org/unifeed/en/asset/d319/d3199621
4 https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/statement-attributable-spokesperson-secretary-general
5 Federal Council media release of 24 April 2024
6 Widmer, Paul. “Switzerland does not belong to the UN Security Council”. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 1 July 2015

7 https://www.lpb-bw.de/geschichte-palaestinas#c22309
8 Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA. “Application for full membership of Palestine in the United Nations”. Media release from 18 April 2024

Statement by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA to the Security Council of 17 April 2024 (excerpts)

“UNRWA’s mandate is supported by an overwhelming majority of Member States.
  Yet, the Agency is under enormous strain. It is facing a campaign to push it out of the occupied Palestinian territory.
  In Gaza, the government of Israel seeks to end UNRWA’s activities. […]
  Worse, UNRWA premises and staff have been targeted since the beginning of the war.
  178 UNRWA personnel have been killed. More than 160 UNWRA premises, mostly used as shelters, have been damaged or destroyed, killing more than 400 people. […]
  We demand an independent investigation and accountability for the blatant disregard for the protected status of humanitarian workers, operations, and facilities under international law.
  To do otherwise would set a dangerous precedent and compromise humanitarian work around the world. […]
  Let me conclude with three appeals:
  First, I call on Council Members to act in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 302 and safeguard UNRWA’s critical role both now and within the framework of a transition.
  UNRWA has long been a custodian of the rights of Palestine Refugees.
  It can only relinquish its central role of providing critical services and protecting human rights when a political solution is realised.
  Until then, the political support of Member States must be matched by funding.
  Second, I urge you to commit to a genuine political process culminating in a solution that can bring peace to Palestinians and Israelis. […]
  Third, we must acknowledge that a political process alone will not guarantee a sustainable peace. The wounds that run deep in this region cannot be healed without cultivating empathy and rejecting the dehumanisation that is rampant, whether in political rhetoric or in the misuse of new technologies in warfare.”

Source: https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/independent-review-unrwa-adherence-humanitarian-principle-neutrality

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