2 November 2016, New York – European Union Statement by Mr. Pierre-Christophe Chatzisavas, Counsellor, Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, at the 71th Session of the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee 20st meeting on Agenda item 49 – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the EFTA country Liechtenstein, member of the European Economic Area, as well as the Republic of Moldova, align themselves with this statement.
I would to extend a warm welcome to Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl and commend him for his personal commitment and for his leadership at the helm of UNRWA.
I would also like to express the European Union’s greatest appreciation for UNRWA’s invaluable work and the dedication and commitment of its staff who work every day under difficult and often dangerous circumstances. We pay tribute to all UNRWA workers who lost their lives while on duty. We express our most sincere and deepest condolences to their families and their colleagues. We stress once again the obligation on all relevant authorities to protect humanitarian workers.
Last year, in the margins of the General Assembly General Debate, UNRWA main donors convened in a High-Level Ministerial meeting to discuss the financial sustainability of the Agency. There was a serious risk that the school-year could not be opened due to the lack of funding for the Agency – in violation of the right to education of Palestine refugees. This serious crisis was averted thanks to the unprecedented efforts of the Agency and of many donors, including the European Union.
But this year again, we find ourselves in the same situation.
While we all agree that UNRWA continues to play a crucial role in the region and we all call for a rejuvenated Agency that we – traditional donors, regional donors, new donors, host countries – can stand behind, we have the responsibility to create an enabling environment for UNRWA and assist it in bringing greater sustainability to its operations.
We urge once again new donors to share the burden. Support is not only needed to UNRWA but to Palestine refugees. This is crucial to ensure that their increasing needs are being met, and UNRWA has the international community’s mandate to meet them.
The EU and its Member States remain the largest providers of international assistance to Palestine refugees. Together, we contribute to almost half (i.e. $ 265 million) of all donor support to UNRWA’s Programme Budget, and about 33 % (i.e. $ 382 million) of all contributions to the Agency’s overall operations.
We need to acknowledge that securing additional funds for the Agency cannot be the only solution to be sought.
We welcome in this regard Commissioner General Krähenbühl’s leadership and UNRWA’s achievements in reducing the Programme Budget deficit while protecting the delivery of core services.
We urge UNRWA to consider and implement further initiatives that will secure a medium-term budget and financial stability and ensure that services are being delivered to the most vulnerable among the refugee population.
The dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feeds general instability and constitutes a recipe for renewed conflict. While all international donors should swiftly honour their pledges made at the Cairo Conference, Gaza’s humanitarian needs can only be properly addressed through political progress.
We reiterate our call on Israel for an end of the closure and a full opening of the crossings, while addressing legitimate security concerns. The lifting of restriction on movement of people, including for representatives of the international community, services and goods – particularly those designated as ‘dual-use items’ – is needed to allow reconstruction, service delivery and international infrastructure projects.
The EU urges both parties to promote confidence and trust building measures. In this regard, the EU commends the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Electricity Agreement on 13 September.
Intra-Palestinian reconciliation and a full assumption of all government function by the PA in Gaza remain needed elements to improve the situation in the Strip. All sides must respect the cease-fire. All indiscriminate attacks are illegal, unacceptable and increases risks of escalation. Such activities threaten the lives of civilians, divert resources from humanitarian efforts and impede reconstruction and development. The illicit arms build-up by Hamas and other militant groups must stop.
Compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law by states and non-state actors, including accountability, is a cornerstone for peace and security in the region.
The crisis in Syria is exacting a terrible toll on Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff. Palestinians refugee camps and neighbourhoods continue to experience intense armed engagements and are too often arbitrarily deprived of humanitarian assistance.
The EU condemns the continued systematic, widespread and gross violations and abuses of human rights and all violations of international humanitarian law by all parties, particularly the Syrian regime and its allies. A renewed cessation of hostility, safe, comprehensive and unhindered access to all those in need of humanitarian assistance, and efforts to find a political solution in line with the provisions of UN SCRs 2254, 2268 and the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012 cannot wait further.
The EU acknowledges the massive efforts countries in the region are undertaking as a result of the influx of refugees from Syria and will continue to support them as much as it can.
Once again, it has been a very difficult year for UNRWA.
And once again, we are here today to reiterate the EU’s commitment to support UNRWA’s work till a final and comprehensive settlement of the conflict is reached.
In these challenging times for the peace process, regional partners can play a key role in changing the dynamics on the ground, not least through discussion based on the Arab Peace Initiative, which provides key elements for a comprehensive settlement.
Recalling French efforts, the EU is determined to continue to work in close coordination with the parties, Quartet partners and all other relevant stakeholders toward a two-state solution, which ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
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