Who is Sigrid Kaag, the veteran Dutch diplomat named as UN envoy to Gaza?

Who is Sigrid Kaag, the veteran Dutch diplomat named as UN envoy to Gaza?
Dutch politician Sigrid Kaag will be in charge of overseeing the arrival of humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip.
4 min read
27 December, 2023
Kaag will be responsible for creating a mechanism to accelerate the movement of aid into Gaza [Getty]

Sigrid Kaag, a Dutch politician and veteran UN diplomat, has been assigned to take charge of the United Nations' effort to bring much-needed humanitarian relief to war-ravaged Gaza, following an announcement by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday.

Kaag, 61, will be filling a position created after a UN Security Council resolution on Gaza passed earlier this month.

The appointment, set to take effect on 8 January, came as conditions in the besieged Palestinian enclave reached "nightmare" levels, as the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said after a recent visit.

Shortages of power and medicine have stopped hospitals functioning at the most basic levels, and the risk of famine looms over Gaza’s large population, humanitarian organisations have said.

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Since Israel's war on Gaza began on 7 October, accompanied by what Israel called a "complete blockade", very little aid has been allowed into the Palestinian enclave.

The UN described this amount as a trickle which has failed to come close to meeting the needs of the population of 2.4 million.

Guterres has said that Israel's military campaign in Gaza, which includes relentless and indiscriminate aerial bombardment created "massive obstacles" to the delivery of humanitarian aid into the enclave.

Sigrid Kaag's education
Degree in Middle East Studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt
Master’s degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Exeter, the United Kingdom
PhD in International Relations from St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, the United Kingdom

Quitting ministerial post in the Netherlands

In a post on X, Kaag announced she would resign from her current position as finance minister and deputy prime minister of the Netherlands to take on the role of UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza.

"Peace, security, and justice have always been my motivations," Kaag said. "I have accepted this special assignment in the hope of contributing to a better future."

Kaag will be responsible for creating a mechanism to accelerate the movement of aid into Gaza and for "facilitating, coordinating, monitoring, and verifying" the relief effort, according to the UN, including the complex process of ensuring aid trucks are screened before they enter the enclave.

Kaag previously served as the Netherlands' deputy prime minister and is considered an expert on the Middle East. She was also appointed in 2014 as the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon.

She had also won praise for her role in the Syrian disarmament of chemical weapons, which the Syrian regime agreed to in 2013.

For nine months, Kaag led the international inspectors' mission responsible for the destruction of the chemical materials acknowledged by Damascus while navigating between the Middle East and Europe, and maintaining relations with Moscow, Washington and various military forces.

Fluent in Arabic and five other languages, Kaag had previously also worked with Queen Rania of Jordan.


Israeli reaction

Israel is unlikely to welcome Kaag's appointment and has already expressed hostility to UN officials advocating for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. This includes Secretary-General Guterres himself, after he criticised grave human rights violations in Gaza, including the killing of at least 136 UN staff.

Hours before the UN announced it had appointed Kaag to the new position, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy told reporters that his country would not work with UN officials who "support Hamas propaganda".

After the announcement, Israeli media was quick to highlight that the Dutch diplomat is married to a Palestinian in a desperate bid to raise question marks over her neutrality.

Kaag is married to Anis al-Qaq, a senior Palestinian Authority (PA) official who served as deputy prime minister in Yasser Arafat's government and as the Palestinian Ambassador to Switzerland.

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Global reaction

Meanwhile, global diplomats celebrated Kaag's appointment, with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot describing her as "the right person for this challenging role" given her "extensive knowledge" and "very broad (diplomatic) experience".

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield posted on X: "Look forward to working closely with @SigridKaag in this new role – and to supporting her efforts to streamline and accelerate the UN’s life-saving work in Gaza. There is no time to lose."

Egypt's foreign ministry said: "We welcome the appointment of @SigridKaag as a Senior Humanitarian Coordinator to Gaza, & the commencement of implementing SC Res. 2720 to establish a UN mechanism for accelerating aid delivery to Gaza. Reaching a ceasefire remains indispensable to end this crisis."

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, posted on X: "I am looking forward to working with @SigridKaag to ensure unimpeded and continuous aid deliveries to #Gaza. At a time when Gaza is torn into a humanitarian nightmare, UN’s global coordination role is more important than ever."