The Canadian International Development Minister has announced the launch of a Canadian investigation into United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The investigation will focus on “educational materials used last year to support Palestinian refugee children during pandemic-related school closures in the West Bank and Gaza, [which] contained references that violated UN values of human rights, tolerance, neutrality and non-discrimination.” According to the statement of the minister that appears on the website of the Government of Canada, the investigation will focus on how the materials came to be used in the UNWRA schools and serve “to reinforce UNRWA’s corrective actions, monitoring and oversight in the future.”
While Palestinian Media Watch welcomes the opening of the Canadian investigation into UNRWA’s most recent breach of its duties, PMW recommends that the scope of the investigation be much broader and focus not only on the UNRWA educational materials used during the pandemic, but also include the school books of the Palestinian Authority used in the very same UNRWA schools throughout the year.
A 2019 report prepared by PMW, [Click here to read the report] demonstrated how UNRWA was fully aware that the PA schoolbooks used at the time, and still used in the UNRWA schools today, fundamentally breach UNRWA’s duty of neutrality.
For example, in the report, PMW presented dialogue between UNRWA and the PA in which UNRWA pointed out specific examples with which the PA schoolbooks breached the UNRWA’s duty of neutrality. The PA’s response was to cut off relations with UNRWA until UNRWA capitulated to the PA dictates.
PMW’s report further demonstrated how the decision of UNRWA to continue using the PA schoolbooks, even though they knew the schoolbooks violated their duty of neutrality, breached the terms of Canada’s decision of 2017 to renew funding to UNRWA.
The end result is that while the 2017 Canada-UNRWA funding agreement requires UNRWA to meet the very basic standard of maintaining its own neutrality, in practice, since the agreement did not create independent Canadian oversight, but rather left the oversight in the hands of UNRWA, it really was the equivalent of putting the cat to guard the cream.
In order to remedy the situation, and in addition to the new Canadian investigation, PMW once again recommends that the Canadian government take the following steps:
1. Require that UNRWA explain why they concealed and failed to report the content of the PA schoolbooks and the ensuing breach of the framework agreement.
2. Amend the 2017 framework agreement by adding Canada’s own periodical independent review of UNRWA’s practices.
3. Undertake an independent study of all the PA schoolbooks and UNRWA materials used in UNRWA schools.
4. Inform UNRWA that in the future Canada expects them to take all steps necessary in order to fully meet their obligations.
5. Inform the PA that the use of PA textbooks in UNRWA schools forces UNRWA to breach its duty of neutrality and thereby jeopardizes the aid it receives from Canada.
It should be noted, that the Canadian decision to open the new investigation was based on a study by IMPACT-se, which identified, analyzed, and highlighted the problematic content of the UNRWA-produced educational materials.
However, as that very same report points out, it is the PA curriculum that is being taught in UNRWA’s schools and UNRWA materials are only meant to be used “in conjunction with the PA-issued textbooks as complementary UNRWA-produced material.”