Home » Cruz targets UNRWA, introduces bill allowing international organizations to be held accountable in US courts

Cruz targets UNRWA, introduces bill allowing international organizations to be held accountable in US courts

by Marko Florentino
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FIRST ON FOX: Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz will introduce a bill this week to clarify that international organizations (IOs) like UNRWA – a United Nations refugee agency for Palestinians that recently came under scrutiny for its alleged ties to Hamas – are not immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in certain terrorism-related cases.

Under the measure, titled the Limiting Immunity for Assisting Backers of Lethal Extremism (LIABLE) Act, IOs would not be immune from U.S. jurisdiction for claims for money damages in which an IO’s agents caused personal injury or death by engaging in torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources for such an act, while acting within the scope of their employment.

The measure further provides that U.S. courts shall hear claims where an IO conspired with, materially supported, or otherwise aided and abetted a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO); and the claimant, at the time of such an act, was a U.S. national, a member of the U.S. armed forces, a U.S. government employee or individual performing a U.S. government-awarded contract; or the IO “is based in or has a substantial presence in the United States.”


Ted Cruz, UNRWA, Hamas terrorists

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz will introduce a bill this week to clarify that international organizations like UNRWA are not immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in certain terrorism-related cases. (Getty Images)

Cruz’s introduction of the measure comes after UNRWA, which was established by the United Nations in 1949, faced backlash earlier this year for its alleged ties to Hamas. Critics of the U.N. agency have long said it promoted an anti-Israel agenda in the region where it operates.

UNRWA’s ties to Hamas came into focus after Israel provided the Biden administration with a new dossier containing information about how some 12 agency staffers allegedly assisted or supported the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in southern Israel.

“UNRWA has knowingly provided salaries and materials to Hamas for decades. That support enabled Hamas to arm itself, create its vast underground terrorist infrastructure, and launch the Oct. 7 terrorist atrocities,” Cruz told Fox News Digital. “That attack included the murder and kidnap of dozens of Americans.”

He added, “The victims and their families deserve the ability to hold UNRWA accountable for its support of Hamas and for what happened on Oct. 7. The LIABLE Act will provide them with that opportunity.”

Cruz was joined by seven original GOP co-sponsors in introducing the measure, including Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rick Scott of Florida, Steve Daines of Montana and John Barrasso of Wyoming.

Since the 1940s, the International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945 has provided international organizations with some of the same privileges and immunities afforded to foreign governments, which at the time included immunity from suit in U.S. courts. At the time of the IOIA’s enactment, courts looked to the State Department in determining from which lawsuits foreign governments should be deemed immune.



A man walks in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency building in Gaza City on Jan. 30, 2023. (Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The State Department adhered to a broad view of foreign sovereign immunity at the time before adopting the more restrictive view that sovereign immunity is available only with respect to sovereign acts, and not with respect to commercial acts. Congress codified that more restrictive view in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976, which provides several exceptions to sovereign immunity.

FSIA contains two terrorism-based exceptions to foreign sovereign immunity in U.S. courts. The first exception, section 1605A, exposes a foreign government to legal liability for acts of violence that result in “personal injury or death” only if it is a designated state sponsor of terrorism (SST). Under the second terrorism-based exception, section 1605B, foreign governments are only subject to suit for acts that cause injury “in the United States.”

FSIA’s terrorism-based exceptions are not crafted to apply to IOs, leaving organizations such as UNRWA with less legal liability in the U.S. for support of terrorism than a foreign government would face for similar conduct. FSIA’s 1605A exception relies on an SST designation inapplicable to non-state actors, such as UNRWA, and the section 1605B exception covers only acts perpetrated in the U.S., making Hamas’ actions in Israel inapplicable for the purposes of this exception.

Since October, the Biden administration has sent about $121 million in taxpayer funds to UNRWA. A remaining $300,000 in appropriated funds for this fiscal year was supposed to be delivered to the agency earlier this year. However, the U.S. froze those funds over allegations that some UNRWA members participated in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

In addition to the U.S. putting a pause on “additional” funding to UNRWA in response to the dossier, other countries have followed suit. Germany, Italy, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland have also joined the boycott following the accusations, which have already resulted in the termination of multiple staffers.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees logo on a wall adjacent to an aid truck delivering supplies

Workers of UNRWA pack the medical aid and prepare it for distribution to hospitals at a warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, on Oct. 25, 2023. (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

From 2009 to 2024, a little under $4 billion in taxpayer money was given to the humanitarian relief organization, according to a Fox News Digital review published last month.


Despite the allegations, the Biden administration has defended UNRWA, insisting the entire agency should not be judged by the purported actions of roughly a dozen people.

“We very much support the work that UNRWA does, we think it’s critical,” Miller said earlier this year. “There is no other humanitarian player in Gaza who can provide food, medicine at the scale that UNRWA does.”

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