UN to punish staffers involved in ‘terror,’ urges UNRWA funding

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres vowed Sunday to hold accountable “any U.N. employee involved in acts of terror” following allegations that some staffers of the refugee agency were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. However, Guterres implored governments to continue supporting the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after nine countries paused funding.

“Any U.N. employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Guterres said in a statement. “The Secretariat is ready to cooperate with any competent authority able to prosecute individuals, following the Secretariat’s normal procedures for such cooperation.”

Simultaneously, he stated, “The tens of thousands of men and women working for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

In his first direct comments on the issue, the U.N. chief provided details about the UNRWA staffers implicated in the “abhorrent alleged acts.” Of the 12 implicated, he said, nine had been terminated, one was confirmed dead, and the identities of the other two were being clarified.

Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland on Saturday joined the United States, Australia, and Canada in pausing funding to the aid agency, a critical source of support for people in Gaza, following Israel’s allegations.

“While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said.

Adopting a sharper tone, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said, “It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement, and political crises in the region.” In a statement, he urged countries to reconsider funding suspensions. “The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support, as does regional stability,” Lazzarini said.