Legal challenge launched against UK government over UNRWA funding suspension

Palestinians receive bags of flour at the UNRWA distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2024

Legal challenge launched against UK government over UNRWA funding suspension

  • Bindman’s complaint alleges that the government’s decision may violate its international obligations

LONDON: A UK law firm is challenging the British government’s decision to halt funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the firm said on Wednesday.

London-based Bindmans LLP has sent a pre-action letter to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on behalf of a British-Palestinian man wanting to protect his family members, who are UNRWA-registered refugees.

The man’s parents, who live in the Jabalia refugee camp in Northern Gaza, rely entirely on the aid provided by UNRWA. They, like many others, are experiencing severe food, water and basic necessity shortages.

Bindman’s complaint alleges that the government’s decision may violate its international obligations, potentially implicating it in Israel’s apparent violations of the Genocide Convention and Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

It is also argued that the decision contradicts the FCDO’s Strategy for International Development and its International Humanitarian Framework.

Recent expert analyzes have indicated that a famine in the region is imminent, with more than one million Palestinians facing extreme hunger.

This comes after eight UN special rapporteurs highlighted the dire food and water crisis in Gaza, declaring that “every single person in Gaza is hungry, a quarter of the population is starving and struggling to find food and drinkable water, and famine is imminent.”

The UK decided to halt funding on Jan. 27 after Israeli officials accused 12 UNRWA staff members, from a total number of 30,000, of participating in the Oct. 7 attacks against Israel, without providing evidence.

International agencies, including US intelligence services, have questioned Israel’s unsubstantiated claims.

Earlier in February, UNRWA said that some employees released into Gaza from Israeli detention reported having been pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that the agency has Hamas links and that staff took part in attacks.

The assertions are contained in a report reviewed by Reuters, which detailed allegations of mistreatment in Israeli detention made by unidentified Palestinians, including several working for UNRWA.

For the past ten years, at least half of the UK government’s aid to Palestinians has gone through UNRWA, the largest aid provider in Palestine.

The UK has failed to explain why it has withdrawn funds and has not responded to the UN’s interim report detailing UNRWA’s robust response to the allegations, Bindman said. It also pointed out that other allied countries, such as Canada and EU member states, have expressed satisfaction with the report and pledged to resume funding.

Their legal challenge claims that the decision to withdraw funding was made illogically and without due consideration for evidence, international obligations or FCDO decision-making frameworks.

The claimant wants this decision reversed and UNRWA’s funding restored. If the government fails to restore UNRWA funding by April 2, a judicial review will be launched.

On Jan. 26, only one day prior to the day before the government’s decision, the International Court of Justice issued a ruling in the case of South Africa v Israel. The judges agreed on the plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and issued provisional measures to prevent irreparable harm to Palestinian rights.

The funding suspension has significantly impacted UNRWA’s ability to operate in Gaza, with EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, warning of the agency’s potential financial collapse in 2024.

“The UK government’s strategy for international development sets out four priorities, including to: ‘provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering,’” Alice Hardy, a partner at Bindmans LLP, said.

“Given the catastrophic situation in Gaza, including an impending, man-made famine, the ongoing decision to cease funding to UNRWA is not only morally wrong but flies in the face of that strategy,” Hardy said.

International Center of Justice for Palestinians Senior Public Affairs Officer Jonathan Purcell said: “The government knows that UNRWA is the only effective means to deliver humanitarian aid, and it ought to know that it hasn’t given sufficient reason on how, or why, it decided to cut funding. When the decision to withdraw funds was taken, it was illogical. Now, with Gaza staring famine in the face, it is unconscionable. The government must restore funding immediately if it doesn’t wish to be complicit in the thousands of deaths by hunger and thirst which are, terribly, very likely to occur in the months to come.” 

US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

Updated 5 sec ago

US bans Russia’s Kaspersky anti-virus software

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday banned Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky from providing its popular anti-virus products in the country, the US Commerce Department announced.
“Kaspersky will generally no longer be able to, among other activities, sell its software within the United States or provide updates to software already in use,” the Commerce Department said in a statement announcing the action, which it said is the first of its kind.


Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

Updated 7 min 54 sec ago

Russians report some outages on bank apps after cyberattack, says Kommersant daily

MOSCOW: Russians on Thursday reported some problems with processing payments at major banks after a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Russian banks, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported.
At least one Russian bank was telling clients that it was having trouble sending messages containing codes to confirm payments, a Reuters reporter said.
The Kommersant newspaper said Russians had reported problems using the websites of major banks, as well as with the Telegram messaging app and with major mobile phone networks.
It cited Russia’s payments cards operator as saying that the disruption had been short-lived and that the fast payments system was now working as usual.
The IT army of Ukraine, a group of volunteers committed to disrupting Russian digital communications, later issued a statement saying it was responsible the Russian bank outages.

US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

Updated 17 min 33 sec ago

US philanthropist Melinda French Gates endorses Biden

  • French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion

WASHINGTON: American philanthropist Melinda French Gates, the ex-wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, endorsed President Joe Biden on Thursday for November’s US election, arguing that he is the best candidate for women.
“I’ve never endorsed a presidential candidate before. But this year’s election stands to be so enormously consequential for women and families that, this time, I can’t stay quiet,” she said on X.
“Women deserve a leader who cares about the issues they face and is committed to protecting their safety, their health, their economic power, their reproductive rights, and their ability to freely and fully participate in a functioning democracy.”
French Gates, who recently stepped down as president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the contrast between Biden and his Republican opponent Donald Trump “couldn’t be greater, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”
“I will be voting for President Biden,” she concluded.
Reproductive rights have been an effective political cudgel for Democrats in the two years since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutionally protected right.
A comfortable majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, according to extensive polling, and around half of states have measures in place to protect access.
The issue has been a major theme of the election campaign, with Biden supporting women’s right to choose and Trump failing to stake out a clear-cut position beyond pride in appointing three of the justices who struck down Roe v Wade.
French Gates announced in May that she would be using her $12.5 billion fortune to help “women and families,” making a first payment of $1 billion.
She said the Supreme Court ruling on abortion had prompted her to devote herself to defending women’s rights.

Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

Updated 43 min 14 sec ago

Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

  • The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs

ROME: A sonic boom heard in Tuscany and on the French island of Corsica, initially mistaken by holidaymakers, locals and officials for an earthquake, may have been a meteorite, experts said Thursday.
The town of Campo nell’Elba, on the Italian tourist island of Elba, said on its Facebook page that a nearby tracking station had “captured a seismic, acoustic event felt by everyone” at 4:30pm (1430gmt).
Corsican media reports said it was also felt on the island.
Tuscany regional government president Eugenio Giani initially said it was an earthquake, before backtracking after Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) ruled one out.
The Italian Air Force told Giani it had nothing to do with the sonic boom.
“The type of event which caused the tremor, felt by many as an earthquake over the entire coast of Tuscany and in some inland areas, is currently unconfirmed,” Giani wrote on social media.
The region’s Geophysics Institute and the University of Florence said in a joint statement that whatever caused the boom was traveling at 400 miles per second.
“A meteorite entering the atmosphere seems the most likely and in line with the data registered.”
The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs. The most likely hypothesis is still an airplane.”
It is not the first time mysterious sonic booms have been registered on Elba, the Corriere della Sera said. Similar events in 2012, 2016 and 2023 have yet to be explained, it said.

US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

Updated 20 June 2024

US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.