22 September 2010
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
The world is watching; the world is listening - watching as we assemble to speak about development and listening as we declare our good intentions. And as it does so, it will weigh us in the balance. We will be judged, not by people in high places, but by those who live with the indignities of poverty and disease, the paralysing effects of war and the misery of hopelessness and displacement.
Vulnerability is a broad topic as the diverse statements have shown. From my perspective as Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the UN organisation for Palestine refugees, I am here to remind you that our judges will include almost five million Palestine refugees, a population contending with multiple layers of vulnerability, having been dispossessed for 62 years. Those in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have lived under occupation since 1967. As occupation is the antithesis of development, they suffer to this day from human rights abuses, recurrent conflict, and in the case of Gaza, enforced isolation. Refugees in Lebanon have also suffered from war, exclusion and poor living conditions, and even those fortunate to live in Jordan and Syria are not immune to extreme poverty.
But being a refugee does not negate one’s right to development. In the case of Palestine refugees, through UNRWA’s work, we have helped eradicate communicable diseases, reduce infant mortality and institute equal access to education for boys and girls. Our focus on primary and vocational education, primary health care, empowering social services, and microfinance has created socio-economic opportunities and enhanced refugees’ access to sustainable livelihoods. Recently in Lebanon, human rights work which we supported is opening up fresh job-market opportunities for refugees, a concrete example of the interdependence of human rights and MDGs as highlighted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Our main immediate challenge is to find sufficient financial resources to pursue this work. Even as we continue to strive, however, let us remember that the ultimate impediment to human development for refugees is the absence of peace. It is crucial and urgent that all those with a stake in the current negotiations deliver on their commitments, including a just solution to the Palestine refugee issue.
If, as we hope, UNRWA can overcome its financial difficulties, Palestine refugees will continue to progress towards achieving MDGs in education, health, poverty reduction and the advancement of women.
However, the world is watching and listening and as long as peace continues to elude and the great unfinished business of Palestine remains unresolved, all of us, without exception, will be judged and found wanting.