Joint Letter on U.S. Funding to UNRWA

Joint Letter on U.S. Funding to UNRWA
[Editor’s text bolding]

January 24, 2018
The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State
The Honorable James N. Mattis , Secretary of Defense
The Honorable Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, National Security Advisor National Security Council

Dear Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, Ambassador Haley and General McMaster,

As leaders of organizations deeply involved in programs and advocacy surrounding international humanitarian response, we write to object in the strongest of terms to the decision to withhold $65 million of the planned United States contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

We are deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Whether it is emergency food aid, access to primary healthcare, access to primary education, or other critical support to vulnerable populations, there is no question that these cuts, if maintained, will have dire consequences.

We are particularly alarmed that this decision impacting humanitarian aid to civilians is not based on any assessment of need, but rather designed both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them. This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance.

In 1984, in justifying its decision to provide humanitarian aid to famine-affected Ethiopia, the Reagan Administration declared that “a hungry child knows no politics,” and, indeed, this sentiment has guided U.S. policy makers for decades.

This sentiment is, for example, reflected in the international Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative, an inter-governmental donor forum and network that the United States helped to establish during the Administration of George W. Bush. That Initiative includes best practices that the Bush administration and subsequent administrations have endorsed, including the propositions that “humanitarian action should be guided by … the centrality of saving human lives and alleviating suffering wherever it is found,” and that humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations should be “solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between or within affected population.”

To be sure, application of these objectives by U.S. administrations has been imperfect, but all U.S. administrations have aspired to them, and it is deeply troubling to witness such a casual disregard of principles that have been crucial to U.S. policy deliberations over many decades. We hope sincerely that you will reconsider this unfortunate decision, which we believe undermines critically important values as well as U.S. leadership around the world.

Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
J Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Sean Callahan, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services
Joel Charny, Director, Norwegian Refugee Council USA
Sarah Costa, Executive Director, Women’s Refugee Commission
Halil Demir, Executive Director, Zakat Foundation of America
Mark Hetfield, President & CEO, HIAS
Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
Mohamed S. Idris, Executive Director, American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa
Neal Keny-Guyer, Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps
Anwar Ahmad Khan, President, Islamic Relief US
Abby Maxman, President and CEO, Oxfam America
Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service
Giulia McPherson, Interim Executive Director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Carolyn Miles, President and CEO, Save the Children
David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee
Eskinder Negash, Acting Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Michelle Nunn, President and CEO, CARE USA
Eric Schwart, President, Refugees International
David A. Weiss, President & CEO, Global Communities
Samuel A. Worthington, Chief Executive Officer , InterAction