Statement by Mr. M. Shameem Ahsan, Representative of Bangladesh to the Fourth Committee

on Agenda item 76 :  Report of the Commissioner-General

of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East,

5 November 2002

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Could I begin by expressing our appreciation for Mr. Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for his report presented yesterday. The report outlines the activities and some significant achievements of the Agency. Viewed in the context of the prevailing environment in the field, marked by relentless violation of human rights, violence, destruction and violation of international legal norms, these achievements deserve our full support. At the same time, the challenges facing the Agency in carrying out its mandated tasks need to be addressed. The Commissioner-General’s report is a good basis to that end.

 

Mr. Chairman, 

 

Challenges to the Agency are varied and many. The report makes clear – most of these are caused by the continued Israeli occupation and reoccupation of the Palestinian territory and the destruction and violence perpetrated by the occupying army. In continuing their interference with the activities of the Agency, Israeli forces have broken new grounds by taking over schools for use as detention centers, preventing ambulances from moving patients, killing UNRWA staff. Add to this list – damage to the Agency’s infrastructure, increasing restrictions on the freedom of movement of its men and material and what the Commissioner General was quoted to call “a tax on humanitarian aid”. Israel levied charges from the Agency for searching its consignments. These incremental obstructive measures, and many others detailed in the report, point to a calculated effort to politicize and undermine the role and activities of an organization devoted to a noble, humanitarian mission. The international community must condemn such measures. We call upon Israel to cease all these forthwith which are in violation of the provisions of the UN Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in time of War and the Comay-Michelmore agreement.

 

Apart from the natural increase in population in its charge, the Agency over the last year also had to suffer a number of strains on its institutional capacity in delivering services. Also, continued loss of jobs, degradation of economic environment, cost of repair or reconstruction of its infrastructure and above all, a slower response to its appeals for emergency programme for 2002 all compounded the Agency’s difficulties. Having to adjust and adapt to harsh illegal measures imposed by Israel, the Agency has incurred additional expenditure, often at the expense of its humanitarian activities.

 

Mr. Chairman,

 

Against such a daunting and dangerous backdrop, the Agency continued to undertake its responsibilities with courage, determination and dedication. Faced with the constraints mentioned above, the Agency worked with grit and adopted innovative approach for solutions. We commend the good work done by the Commissioner General and his staff in the Agency and wish to underscore a few specific points.

 

First, in the field of education, the sustained leading performance of UNRWA schools despite significant loss of school hours due to military operations is praiseworthy. The emergency compensatory programme developed to make up for the loss reflects an innovative approach. We are also very appreciative of the educational project on promoting tolerance and the value of non-violent means of conflict resolution.

 

Secondly, micro credit and micro enterprise programme, which so far benefited a good number of individuals and families, is a proven way of empowering people, particularly women. We welcome the impact it had on women entrepreneurs through the solidarity group lending project.

 

Thirdly, the Agency developed the operational support officers programme in the West Bank when faced with the restrictions imposed on the movement of people and humanitarian supplies. This facilitated movement of UNRWA staff and transports and we encourage its expansion into other areas.

 

Finally, Cooperation with other UN agencies WHO, UNICEF in fields of health and education. Under very difficult conditions, the Agency did well to resort to cooperative ventures. With the cooperation and assistance from WHO, UNICEF and UNDP, the Agency was able to meet emergency health, education and sanitation needs of areas destroyed by Israeli forces.

 

The Agency, as we know, has the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of Palestine refugees in areas within its mandate. The financial difficulty it faces and the crumbling peace process perhaps requires the Agency to adopt different strategies. A basic parameter, which the Agency has already embraced, is to work more and more towards local capacity building. Empowering the population among the refugees through micro credit has made noticeable progress. More thought may be given to diversifying areas of enterprise that could benefit from micro lending and to expand the coverage. Another laudable effort is to promote local ownership of community based organizations involved in social service. Even while addressing the problems at hand, we note with appreciation that the Agency has not stopped looking ahead with a long- term perspective. The reforms it has undertaken should stand it in good stead in ensuring better and efficient management.

 

Mr. Chairman,

 

While meeting the basic needs of the Palestine refugees, we believe the Agency’s assistance also has a moral boosting effect on the population. We deem it an important contribution to the Palestinian people’s struggle for dignity and respect. At this difficult time, the Agency needs all the support that we can provide. The traditional support extended by the donors to UNRWA deserves our praise. More is, however, needed in order to meet the shortfall in the regular budget contribution and to respond to the emergency appeals made by the UNRWA. In a volatile region, the Agency has been playing a stabilizing role. The international community must do everything to ensure it can continue to do so.