Strong support expressed for Palestine refugee agency, as Fourth Committee continues discussion of annual report

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, led a UN delegation to Jenin camp on 18 April 2002, to oversee UNRWA’s emergency efforts in the camp and to meet with the traumatized population (Photo: UNRWA, 2002)

Speakers expressed their strong support for the humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and called for the lifting of the financial and logistical obstacles that hindered its work in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, as it continued its consideration of the Agency’s annual report.

The representative of Malaysia highlighted the UNRWA’s efforts to provide education, health and social services to the refugees and to improve their socio-economic conditions. Its operations, he continued, were more crucial than ever for addressing the mounting humanitarian crisis among the Palestinians and the international community should remain committed to providing vital support for the Agency, so that it could fulfil its mandate.

Morocco’s representative stressed that the Agency must be treated as an integral part of the peace efforts of the international community, because its support for thousands of Palestinian refugees would open the way for future steps in a comprehensive and final settlement of the Palestinian question.

Several delegates pointed out that Israel’s construction of the “separation wall” further compounded what was already a highly unstable environment for the UNRWA’s work. The representative of Qatar described the closures imposed by Israel, on the occupied territories and the building of the separation wall, as collective punishment on a civilian population and, therefore, a violation of the Geneva Convention.

While, endorsing the humanitarian mandate of the UNRWA, the representative of Israel called attention to what he described as the increasing politicization of the Agency. Public comments and reports issued by the organization’s leadership reflected a blatant political bias regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said. That not only violated the mandate of the organization and impartiality of the United Nations, but also harmed its ability to fulfil its humanitarian functions, he added.

Responding to delegate’s statements, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, thanked the members of the Fourth Committee for their words of support and encouragement for the Agency. In response to specific comments made by the Israeli representative, he encouraged delegates to read the interview he had given to The Jordan Times and make up their own minds regarding the Israeli assertion that his statements had been biased and that his words could be constructed as lending legitimacy to the use of terrorism for the promotion of the political aims of the Palestinians.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Egypt, Tunisia, Switzerland, Viet Nam, Cuba, Oman, Indonesia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Africa, Sudan, Norway and Canada.

Representatives of the Holy See and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also made statements.

Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Lebanon, Israel, Syria and the representative of the Permanent Observer of Palestine.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 5 November to continue its work.

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to consider the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).