Washington – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to launch an independent investigation into the troubling actions of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which administers social services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In three separate incidents during the current crisis in Gaza, Hamas rockets were discovered on UNRWA premises and were reportedly returned to Hamas. UNRWA officials have also made repeated statements that were condemnatory of Israel. UNRWA has a history of ties to Hamas — most recently, in September 2012, Hamas–affiliated candidates won 25 out of 27 seats on UNRWA’s workers union board.
The United States is the largest single donor to UNRWA and has contributed approximately $5 billion to the organization since 1950. In 2013, the U.S. made a $294 million contribution to UNRWA.
“When leaders and organizations of the United Nations blur the clear distinction between a nation-state defending itself and a terrorist organization attempting to murder civilians, Americans take note. When an organization funded in part by the U.S. suggests that the two are morally equivalent, U.S. taxpayers take note,” said Senator Cardin. “Israel is undertaking extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas cynically uses other Palestinians as human shields and deliberately attempts to kill Israeli civilians. U.N. resources and personnel cannot be complicit in Hamas’ violent terrorist actions.”
“I am demanding a credible and independent assessment of UNRWA’s actions during this crisis,” Senator Kirk said. “Given UNRWA’s ties to terrorism in the past, U.S. taxpayers deserve immediate answers and full transparency regarding their intentions and actions. The State Department must make clear to the U.N. that it needs to take all necessary steps to prevent Hamas from using taxpayer-funded property to launch terror attacks against our allies.”
“As the U.N.’s leading source of funding, American taxpayers will not tolerate the use of U.N. facilities by terrorists to stage attacks against our allies,” Senator Rubio said. “We know Hamas has been using civilians as human shields and stores its weapons and fighters in civilian buildings, but for the U.N. to stand idly by while Hamas attacks Israel from its facilities is an outrage. This is the latest example of why the U.S. needs to bring greater transparency and accountability to the U.N. by pursuing reform of its programs and institutions.”
The text of the letter is below:
August 5, 2014
The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
We write to express our profound concern with the troubling role the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA) has played during the ongoing crisis in Gaza, including multiple instances of weapons found at UNRWA schools as well one-sided statements from UNRWA leadership that unjustly condemn Israel. For instance, on July 14, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl stated that Israeli security forces are acting “contrary to international humanitarian law” and also called Israel’s Gaza blockade “illegal.”
As you know, UNRWA admitted on July 17th, July 22nd, and July 30th that it found rockets belonging to Hamas on its property. We commend UNRWA’s quick condemnation of these incidents, but are concerned with the ultimate fate of these rockets, which UNRWA claimed to have turned over to the “local authorities” or have gone missing. We fear that this means these rockets may have found their way back into Hamas’ hands.
We urge the State Department to launch an independent investigation into these incidents and to call on the United Nations leadership to hold UNRWA accountable, including by reprimanding or dismissing the UNRWA staff responsible as appropriate, as well as asking the U.N. to ensure that these incidents never take place again.
In the course of your investigation, we ask you to examine the fate of these rockets, what measures the U.N. took to secure UNRWA property, and how the U.S. intends to work with the U.N. to make sure incidents like these are never repeated.
As you know, the United States is the largest donor to UNRWA and has contributed almost $5 billion to the organization since 1950. The United States taxpayers deserve to know if UNRWA is fulfilling its mission or taking sides in this tragic conflict.
We look forward to your reply.