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Archived Webcast 29 April 2008 a.m.

Conférence internationale sur les réfugiés de Palestine (Paris, 29-30 avril 2008) - Séance d'ouverture - Communiqué de presse (29 avril 2008) Français
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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
29 April 2008




General Assembly
GA/PAL/1083

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PALESTINE REFUGEES OPENS IN PARIS
 
Individual, Collective Rights of Palestine Refugees
Remain Undiminished, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Says

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


PARIS, 29 April -- “The Palestinian people’s desire to or right to live a normal daily life in their own sovereign land remains undiminished, as do the individual and collective rights of Palestine refugees,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message to the opening session of the United Nations International Conference on Palestine Refugees.

In a statement read out by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane, the Secretary-General noted that 2008 marked the sixtieth year of the Palestinian dispossession.  At Annapolis, the international community had come together to support efforts that would lead to an end of the conflict.  Negotiations currently under way between Israelis and Palestinians were the only way to settle the conflict and address all permanent status issues.  A sustainable peace in the entire region would have to factor in a viable and just solution to the Palestine refugees issue.

The two-day meeting, convened at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, will assess the present situation of Palestine refugees and examine the role of the United Nations in alleviating their plight.  It will examine efforts at finding an agreed, just and fair solution to the refugee issue as a prerequisite for resolving the question of Palestine and achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Paul Badji ( Senegal), Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee, said, for the past six decades, no other refugees in modern history had remained refugees for such a long time as the Palestinians who had fled their homes in 1948.  Yet, their predicament and the long-lost justice received little attention of the international community.  Without a just solution to the issue, however, a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and in the whole region could not be achieved.  “ Palestine refugees had gone through the suffering, humiliation and dispossession for far too long.  Under international law, and also on a moral ground, all of us have a responsibility to continue to work towards bringing about a just solution to this problem.”

The representative of Palestine pointed out that, had Israel chosen to respect international law and comply with United Nations resolutions, in particular resolution 194 (II), the plight of the Palestine refugees would have long ago been resolved and the international community would not continue to face the many humanitarian and political challenges arising from that crisis.  Yet, Israel continued to deny Palestine refugees the right to return, while at the same time actively implementing a “law of return” for any Jewish person.

“After the passage of so many decades and so much loss, it is critical that the international community redouble its collective efforts to promote the realization of the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the 1967 borders, and the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the right of the Palestine refugees to return,” he said.

Marcio Barbosa, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, also spoke, as did the representatives of Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Senegal, Malaysia, Morocco, Indonesia, Jordan, Ghana and South Africa.  A representative of the African Union and a representative of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spoke as well.

The United Nations Conference will be divided into three plenaries.  Experts in plenary I will discuss the theme Palestine refugees – the longest running humanitarian problem in today’s world.  Panellists in plenary II will address the relationship between the United Nations and the Palestine refugees.  Plenary III will focus on international and regional efforts to promote a solution of the Palestine refugees’ issue.  Invited to the Conference are experts on the issue, including Israeli and Palestinian, representatives of United Nations Member States and Observers, intergovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies, parliamentarians, members of the academic community, representatives of civil society organizations, as well as the media.

Opening Statements

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message read by ANGELA KANE, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said, “The Palestinian people’s desire to or right to live a normal daily life in their own sovereign land remains undiminished, as do the individual and collective rights of Palestine refugees.”  Noting that 2008 marked the sixtieth year of the Palestinian dispossession, he said that, at Annapolis, the international community had come together to support efforts that would lead to an end of the conflict.  Negotiations currently under way between Israelis and Palestinians were the only way to settle the conflict and address all the permanent status issues, including that of the refugees.

Calling the situation on the ground today an urgent concern, with violence a daily occurrence in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in Israel, the Secretary-General urged both parties to implement their Phase I Road Map obligations and build popular confidence in the negotiation process.  As the United Nations now provided assistance to approximately 75 per cent of the population of the Gaza Strip, he welcomed efforts to end violence and reopen the Gaza crossings.  That would require an end to rocket fire and other attacks against Israeli targets, and an end to Israeli incursions and military actions in Gaza.

A sustainable peace in the entire region would have to factor in a viable and just solution to the Palestine refugee issue, to be agreed in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194, the Secretary-General noted as he committed himself to working towards peace within the agreed upon framework – an end to the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the 1991 Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace, Security Council resolutions 242(1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2002), and the Arab Peace Initiative.  That framework should lead to an end of the conflict, the creation of a Palestinian State, living side by side in peace and security with Israel, and a comprehensive peace in the region.

MARCIO BARBOSA, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, welcomed participants to UNESCO Headquarters on behalf of Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.  He said the Conference was taking place at a critical moment.  Annapolis had represented the first serious opportunity for several years to work towards a peace treaty involving the resolution of all permanent status issues, including that of refugees.  During the Paris Donors’ Conference in December 2007, the international donor community had responded positively to the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP).

He said that, although UNESCO did not deal directly with the issue of refugees, it did provide assistance to the Palestinian people and their educational and cultural institution and worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on matters relating to education in the region.  The Eighth Joint UNESCO/Palestinian Authority Committee of 4 and 5 March had identified some strategic priorities, including:  the promotion of quality education; the development of higher education and scientific research; support for the safeguarding of tangible and intangible heritage; development of media legislation; and gender and youth outreach.  UNESCO also continued to pay special attention to programmes and activities that directly benefited those communities most affected by the fiscal crisis, including refugees.

Those areas of action, which put education, culture and media development at the very heart of rehabilitation and development efforts, were critical to building peaceful and prosperous societies, he said.

PAUL BADJI ( Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that, for the past six decades, no other refugees in modern history had remained refugees for such a long time as the Palestinian people who had fled their homes in 1948.  Yet, their predicament and the long-lost justice received little attention of the international community.  The question of Palestine refugees was the most difficult, sensitive and emotional one among the final status issues.  Without a just solution to the issue, however, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and in the whole region could not be achieved. 

The occupation by Israel of the Palestinian Territory was at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.  With the ongoing consolidation of “facts on the ground”, however, there were few signs that Israel was serious about ending the occupation.  Tenders for new housing units for the settlements in and around East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank continued to be issued in total contradiction to the Road Map obligations.  The construction of the wall defied the International Court of Justice advisory opinion. 

In the Gaza Strip, the mostly refugee population continued to suffer from routine Israeli military raids as well as from the humanitarian crisis resulting from total closures.  Unequivocally condemning the killing of innocent civilians by both sides, either in Israeli military operations or as a result of rocket fire from Gaza, he said it was totally unacceptable and unjust that the entire civilian population of the Gaza Strip was enduring collective punishment and was subjected to a suffocating blockade for the actions of a few militant groups.

“ Palestine refugees had gone through the suffering, humiliation and dispossession for far too long.  Under international law, and also on a moral ground, all of us have a responsibility to continue to work towards bringing about a just solution to this problem,” he said in conclusion.

ELIAS SANBAR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to UNESCO and Representative of Palestine at the Conference, speaking on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, said that, in the past year, the Palestinian people had marked many solemn occasions:  the fortieth year of Israeli occupation; the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of Security Council resolution 242 (1967); and the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of General Assembly resolution 181 (II), which had partitioned the historic Palestine.  This year marked the sixtieth year that the 1948 Al-Nakba made the Palestinian people stateless.  The Palestine refugees – now three generations of families, some 4.5 million registered with UNRWA – continued to live in camps and in the Diaspora, awaiting the fulfilment of their right of return, the right of all refugees around the world.

He said if Israel had chosen to respect international law and comply with United Nations resolutions, in particular resolution 194 (II), the plight of the Palestine refugees would have long ago been resolved and the international community would not continue to face the many humanitarian and political challenges arising from that crisis.  Yet, Israel continued to deny Palestine refugees the right of return, while at the same time actively implementing a “law of return” for any Jewish person.  It even continued to deny any responsibility for the refugees’ plight.   Palestine refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had suffered death and injury at the hands of the occupying Power, detention and imprisonment, and the destruction of their homes.  The refugee population in the Gaza Strip had been forced to endure an inhuman siege and closure, by which Israel was virtually imprisoning the entire population.

The Palestinian people continued to look to the international community for assistance in the search for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace and the realization of their inalienable rights, he said.  The United Nations in particular had a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it was justly resolved in all its aspects.  That, of course, included the question of the Palestine refugees.  “After the passage of so many decades and so much loss, it is critical that the international community redouble its collective efforts to promote the realization of the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security on the basis of the 1967 borders, and the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the right of the Palestine refugees to return.”

Other Statements

The representative of Cuba, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Movement had strongly stated its concern at the continued, disproportionate, indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Israel and had reiterated its concern at the increasing deterioration of the political, economic, social and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In the context of the current dire situation, the Movement reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations and the Security Council, noting that the Security Council had failed more than 30 times to adopt resolutions on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He hoped that the resumed peace process would bring about the establishment of the independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  He further hoped for a just solution to the question of the refugees, based on resolution 194.

The representative of Senegal said his country, which chaired the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, had never spared any effort to support the Palestinian people and was unswervingly committed to peace in the Middle East, which was one of the priorities of the President of Senegal.  “We do not have the right to give up,” he said.  “We cannot and we will not.”

The representative of Malaysia said his country insisted on the right of Palestine refugees to return to their homes or, for those who chose not to do so, to accept compensation, whereby Israel should acknowledge its complete moral responsibility over the injustice of the refugees’ expulsion.  The collective form of punishment imposed by the occupying Power on the Palestinian people was unjustified and criminal.

The representative of Morocco said the subject of Palestine refugees was at the very heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The refugees’ fate was an intrinsic part of any solution aimed towards two States living side by side.  His country considered the problem of refugees as one of the most important aspects of the situation.  He appealed to donors to step up their contributions to UNRWA.

The representative of Indonesia said Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and its aggression against the Palestinians not only violated international humanitarian law, but also fed and perpetuated the refugee crisis.  If the will could be summoned by the parties, particularly Israel, a solution could be found to the issue.  The “land for peace” formula provided the answer.   Israel, however, often opted to follow only its own interests while ignoring the voice of the international community.  As long as Israel continued to comfort itself with the conviction that there was lasting security in that approach, there could be no progress, peace or resolution.

The representative of the African Union said her organization reiterated its full solidarity with the Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle for the exercise of their inalienable rights, including their right to self-determination, return to their land, recovery of the property and the right to live in peace and dignity in an independent Palestinian State with Al-Quds as its capital.  The African Union strongly condemned the Israeli occupation, the attacks against civilian areas, and the construction of the separation wall within the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  She appealed to the international community to ensure that the international law pertaining to the Palestine refugees be applied.

The representative of Jordan stressed the importance of the United Nations taking on its moral responsibilities regarding the suffering of the Palestinian people.  Any solution that did not take into account the inalienable right of Palestine refugees was doomed to fail.  Jordan also had a special interest in the refugee problem, as it housed more than 40 per cent of the UNRWA-registered refugees.  The Government supported their basic rights, including their right to return on the basis of international law.  He appealed to donor countries to increase their contributions to the UNRWA budget until a final resolution was reached.

The representative of Ghana also appealed to donors to make available sufficient funds to the Agency.  She said her Government supported a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The international community must be consistent and prepared to hold both parties to their obligations.  She urged all parties to muster the courage to reach a compromise for the sake of all the peoples of the region. 

The representative of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefing the Conference on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the Emergency Relief Coordinator had recently condemned the attacks by Palestinian militants on the Gaza crossings as cynical and irresponsible, because they contributed to a further escalation of violence and aggravated the humanitarian crisis.  The 9 April attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot had affected fuel supplies.  Because UNRWA’s fuel supplies had been exhausted since 24 April, the Agency had been unable to continue its food assistance to 650,000 refugees as well as its refuse collection services.  It was crucial that the Gaza crossings be reopened in order to avert a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.  OCHA was also concerned at the increasing restrictions placed on humanitarian agencies in the West Bank.

The representative of South Africa emphasized that an improvement in the socio-economic conditions of the Palestinian people was a very fundamental aspect of the development of a viable Palestinian State and that it was important that assistance to the Palestinian people be continued and that UNRWA be allowed to fulfil its mandate fully, unimpeded and unhindered.  Voicing her concern at the Israeli closures and restrictions imposed on the movement of persons and goods, particularly humanitarian assistance, she reiterated South Africa’s opposition to the construction of the separation wall.  One of the major challenges for UNRWA was the deteriorating conditions within the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially Gaza, which contributed to the need for increased expenditure by UNRWA.  She called therefore for the continued and increased funding for the Agency.

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For information media • not an official record

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