Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Switzerland condemns all forms of racism and antisemitism

Over the past few years, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has implemented projects with Islamic Relief Worldwide. Due to the fact that the NGO has been criticised for previous anti-Semitic statements, the FDFA has analysed the situation. The review concludes that the management of the organisation has reacted quickly and distanced itself from antisemitic statements. The joint projects have been operationally completed.

At an agricultural school, a teacher explains a plant to young men.

In order to improve the prospects for young people in the Gaza Strip, the SDC has supported the NGO Islamic Relief in its professional training project "Enhancing Youth Employability in the Gaza Strip". © IRPAL

Working together with partner organisations is a cornerstone of Switzerland's foreign policy. Sustainable development cooperation activities can only be carried out jointly with local people in the field. To this end, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) partners with a number of organisations around the world, including Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW).

The aid agency is one of the leading Islamic relief organisations today, specialising in humanitarian support in crisis-affected areas. Although IRW describes itself as non-political, it has been accused of having links to radical Islamic groups. In recent weeks, criticism has also been levelled against the organisation because of antisemitic comments posted by an IRW trustee on his Facebook account in 2014/15.

What is the FDFA's response to the allegations against Islamic Relief?

Switzerland condemns all forms of racism and antisemitism as well as any incitement to violence or hatred. To this end, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) has reinforced its control mechanisms, including a strict anti-racism clause introduced in 2017 and an updated code of conduct in 2018. These mechanisms ensure that, in the event of any such incident, the partner organisations are obliged to conduct a detailed investigation and take appropriate measures.

This also applies to Islamic Relief. Due to the fact that the NGO has been criticised for previous anti-Semitic statements, the FDFA has analysed the situation. The review concludes that the management of the organisation has reacted quickly and distanced itself from antisemitic statements. The joint projects have been operationally completed.

What role does IRW play as an international relief agency?

Islamic Relief has established itself worldwide as a competent humanitarian organisation guided by Islamic values that follows internationally-accepted quality and management standards. The aid agency enjoys a high level of acceptance in numerous contexts where working conditions are difficult, which sets it apart from other NGOs and makes it a credible and solid implementation partner.

IRW's local knowledge and access were also key factors in the success of SDC projects implemented in the field. In addition, Islamic Relief has an excellent international reputation – its supporters include the EU, Sweden, the US and the UK.

What kind of joint projects are carried out by the FDFA and Islamic Relief?

No joint projects are currently in place. Past projects are operationally completed.

Example partnerships in Somalia and Sudan

As part of the SDC's health project in Somalia, basic healthcare for internally displaced people and mobile clinics were provided, which benefited a total of 42,568 patients. Because of its long-standing presence in Somalia (since 1996), IRW has a great deal of experience working in the region and is well-established with offices all over the country, including a number of experienced staff members. For the SDC's humanitarian projects in Sudan, Islamic Relief was one of the few international NGOs that had permission to work in Darfur and the Jebel Marra region.

What is the FDFA's response to the antisemitic comments that were made?

The antisemitic comments made by an IRW trustee in 2014/15 are unacceptable. After being made aware of the situation, Islamic Relief responded immediately and clearly distanced itself from such remarks and the person in question, who duly resigned from all his offices.

For the FDFA, this is to be taken as an encouraging indication that the comments were the mistake of one individual rather than an organisational failing.

What is the FDFA's response to the disclosure of further antisemitic comments?

The FDFA is currently not engaged in any cooperation activities with Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW). It learnt of the latest developments on 22 August 2020 in a statement issued by IRW. The FDFA notes with dismay that the unacceptable comments posted online by an IRW trustee in 2014 and 2015 are not an isolated incident. After the trustee in question was forced by the aid agency's management to step down on 22 July 2020, it emerged on 17 August that another senior official had also made antisemitic statements in 2014 and 2015. This individual had publicly apologised for his statements in 2017. In the wake of the scandal surrounding the first comments, IRW's management promised the charity would review its trustee vetting and screening process to make sure this would not happen again.

Against this background, this latest news is highly regrettable – and the decision by IRW management to replace the entire board of trustees is the most appropriate response. As the SDC's joint projects have been operationally completed, there is currently no need for action on the part of the FDFA.

Will the FDFA take measures against Islamic Relief?

All joint SDC-IRW projects have been operationally completed. There is neither scope nor the need for administrative or other measures to be taken.

Is the FDFA planning on partnering with Islamic Relief in the future?

The FDFA expects IRW to take appropriate governance measures to restore its international partners' confidence in it as a politically independent relief agency committed to humanitarian values. It is crucial that the relief organisation continues to distance itself categorically from any discriminatory, racist or antisemitic statements or incitements to violence within its ranks. In this respect, the FDFA applies a zero tolerance policy.

Furthermore, the selection and exclusion criteria for partnerships with Palestinian NGOs, which have been agreed in view of the FDFA's upcoming cooperation programme for the Middle East in 2021–24, would also have to apply.

Note: The article was updated on 26 August 2020.

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