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Statement following UN Secretary-General’s remarks to Human Rights Council:'In Gaza, children dying for lack of bread and water'

Date: Mon 26th Feb, 2024 | 16:26

“Speaking to the Human Rights Council in Geneva this morning, in a speech that was comprehensive in its coverage of the issues facing the United Nations and the multi-lateral system, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, drew attention to the serious breaches of international human rights law which we are seeing take place before our eyes.

The Secretary-General’s words were delivered with a sense of urgency that has characterised his recent speeches:

“From Ukraine to Sudan to Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gaza, parties to conflict are turning a blind eye to international law, the Geneva Conventions and even the United Nations Charter.”

The Secretary-General, in the course of his remarks, drew attention once-again to the ‘completely insufficient’ level of humanitarian aid reaching those in such desperate need in Gaza and how, as he put it, an all-out Israeli offensive on Gaza “would put the final nail in the coffin of our [UNRWA] aid programmes”.

One wonders how the representatives of those countries who have withdrawn funding from UNRWA can look on as young infants struggle to live, infants whose lives could be saved by having such basics as bread and water. Some of the most experienced and qualified experts familiar with what is happening in Gaza are saying that famine looms, with young children in particular heavily at risk and needing bread and clean water. Their mothers and close relatives listen to their cries in what must be conditions of unbelievable stress.

In my visits to Gaza all those years ago, which I visited a number of times over a twenty year period, one of the most striking features was the importance of bakeries. Today we have seen bakeries wiped out together with most places of shelter, where children struggle for food. Surely it cannot be possible for people to look on and allow this tragedy to unfold on our screens.

The Secretary-General of the UN is among the many Heads of State and Government leaders who have called on countries who have cancelled aid to UNRWA to revoke that decision.

As Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA stated yesterday, this is a man-made disaster and famine can be avoided if there is genuine political will to grant access and protection to the delivery of meaningful assistance.

The lead taken by Ireland in giving increased and additional aid to UNRWA is an example of which Irish people can be proud, not only because our own history, but given the importance international humanitarian action and international humanitarian law has in our world.

As President of Ireland, I would appeal to those countries which have withdrawn aid to think again and to provide the desperately needed support to UNRWA’s 30,000 staff in the region and 13,000 staff in Gaza so we can avoid this catastrophe.

While negotiations on a necessary permanent ceasefire are proceeding, I repeat Ireland’s call once again for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages. Children must not be abandoned to die as the facts of these situations are carried on the television screens of the world.

The weakening of UNRWA is an undermining of the United Nations itself, a threat to which Secretary-General Guterres has drawn our attention. The Secretary-General has today also pointed again to how the Security Council’s failure to respond with agreed resolutions both to Israel’s military operations in Gaza following the horrific attacks carried out by Hamas on 7 October, and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago this week, have in his words “severely – perhaps fatally – undermined its authority”.

As the Secretary-General said today:

“Four years ago, the United Nations marked its 75th anniversary with a global survey. Overwhelmingly, people everywhere said they want world leaders to prioritize and deliver human rights. This call was echoed as we marked the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last December.”

It is essential that the Secretary-General’s calls for reform are heeded in order to ensure the credibility of our international institutions and that basic humanitarian standards are upheld.”


Notes to Editors:

The address delivered in Geneva today by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, is available in full at