Winston Peters says 'quite possible' there are 'rotten apples' in organisation amid UN agency funding review

The Prime Minister has confirmed New Zealand is among the countries considering whether to continue funding a United Nations aid organisation after accusations a small number of its staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks.   

The agency is the major provider of support and food into Gaza, which is on the brink of famine, and there are concerns if funding dries up, people will starve.  

The United Nations' Relief and Works agency for Palestine refugees - known as UNRWA - has been rocked by allegations from the Israelis that 12 of its 13,000 staff were part of the October 7 Hamas attacks. No evidence has yet substantiated the claims.  

"The allegations are incredibly serious and it's important that they're properly understood and investigated," said Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.   

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said it was "quite possible" there were some "rotten apples" inside an organisation.   

The UN has fired the workers and ordered an investigation, but at least 15 countries - including the United States which is its biggest donor and the EU - have frozen their funding.  

Aotearoa makes an annual contribution - the next payment is due in June – and it's now being reviewed ahead of a decision in March.  

"We won't be making any contributions until the Foreign Minister says it's good to go," said Luxon.    

The head of UNRWA has begged countries not to freeze their funding, saying, "it would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region". 

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was also previously the administrator for the United Nations Development Programme, said she cannot rationalise how countries can cut funding "to the major delivery agency to starving and sick Palestinians in Gaza".  

Luxon said he appreciated that, "but we're the Government and there are serious allegations that need to be understood and investigated and when the foreign minister has done that and is happy to contribute then we'll do that".  

Peters rejected that funding has been suspended.  

He said he knew how important the funding was to those whose lives depend on it  

"13,000 people in Gaza and humanitarian need in desperation is important and that's why I'm taking the time to find out."