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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


Fifty-eighth General Assembly
Plenary
37th Meeting (AM)
GA/10176
20 October 2003
GENERAL ASSEMBLY REVIEWS WORK OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL, BEGINS DEBATE ON STRENGTHENING UNITED NATIONS HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE


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Background

The General Assembly met this morning to consider the report of the Economic and Social Council, as well as strengthening United Nations coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, including special economic assistance.  It was also expected to consider a letter from the Committee on Conference.

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The Secretary-General’s report on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/58/344) states that United Nations personnel continue to face significant threats to their safety in all regions in which they operate, the most dangerous of which is physical violence.  In total, 196 United Nations civilian staff members have been killed since 1992, five of which occurred during the reporting period.  The majority of victims are Palestinians working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

More than 258 incidents of assault on United Nations and non-governmental organization (NGO) personnel were also reported during the period, the report continues, including 69 in Afghanistan, 30 in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and 53 reported by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).  The loss of life resulting from the August 2003 attack in Baghdad fell outside the reporting period. 

According to the report, the fact that fatalities have decreased significantly over the past year provides a sense of optimism that efforts to strengthen the security management system are on the right track, states the report.  Continued emphasis on the implementation of minimum operating security standards, and expansion of security and stress management training, will serve to further reduce risks.  While the United Nations will continue to enhance the security arrangement system, host governments have the primary responsibility for the security of United Nations and other humanitarian personnel. 

The report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/58/89) examines some of the key humanitarian developments and challenges of the past year.  Some of the issues addressed relate to the protection of civilians, internally displaced persons, contingency planning, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS in the context of emergencies.  It also focuses on the major challenges faced in the transition from relief to development and humanitarian financing. 

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Also before the Assembly is the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people (documents A/58/88 and Corr.1), which states that, in the past year, the humanitarian and socio-economic crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory reached unprecedented levels.  Meeting the immediate challenges requires full respect by the parties for their obligations under international humanitarian law.  They must make every effort to facilitate the work of United Nations agencies and their partners in the donor and aid communities.

The Secretary-General calls especially on Israel to take immediate steps to lift restrictions, and to revive the economy, restore Palestinian livelihoods and facilitate the work of the assistance community, including through improving the freedom of movement of aid workers and beneficiaries.  He also calls on the international community to provide the resources necessary for assistance programmes, drawing particular attention to UNRWA’s latest appeal. 

While international assistance can alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, only a comprehensive political settlement, leading to the end of the occupation, can provide a real solution to the humanitarian and economic crisis.  Such a solution is offered in the Quartet’s “Road Map”.  The United Nations system will continue to work within the Quartet, and with the donor community and the parties, to achieve this solution and to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

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Strengthening United Nations Assistance

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AMR ABOUL ATTA (Egypt) called on United Nations organizations and funds to give adequate importance, in the field, to natural disasters and the effects of conflict, at all stages, beginning with early warning and continuing through reconstruction and long-term development.  He called on the international community to boost its efforts to adequately support and finance all relief and humanitarian work.  He also called on it to intervene urgently to address the humanitarian disaster faced by the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.

Indeed, the Secretary-General’s report had clearly referred to the devastating effects of the Israeli military incursions, curfews and closures on the Palestinian population in the territories.  His country appreciated the work being done by UNRWA and other relevant agencies, and urged the wider international community to ensure that such organizations were adequately funded and supported.

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SOMAIA S. BARGHOUTI, Observer for Palestine, said the Assembly’s debate was taking place at a time when the economic, social, cultural and environmental deterioration of the occupied Palestinian territories was worsening, as a result of the continuation and intensification of Israeli practices.  The Secretary-General’s report had summarized the grave situation, describing increased unemployment of Palestinians, and noting that the capacity of the Palestinian Authority had been hampered just when it was needed most.  The strict policies of closure had divided the Palestinian territories into 50 isolated pockets, exacerbating the already severe economic hardships.  She was gravely concerned by the report’s statistics, which clearly showed not only rising unemployment but decreased investment and lower wages among Palestinians during the three-year intifada.

She said the report highlighted some 2,600 deaths and over 36,000 injuries during that time.  It also highlighted the continued and deliberate Israeli destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, including roads, factories and water and sanitation facilities.  All those actions were clear violations of the Geneva Conventions and international law, and it was incumbent on the international community to pressure the occupying Power to abide by those laws and end its destruction and racist expansionist policies. She thanked all Arab States that had provided medical and other assistance.  She also thanked the European Union and Japan, which had provided humanitarian assistance.

She called on the wider international community to provide protection for the Palestinian people, who were encircled by Israeli forces.  She also called for all to help revive the peace process and spark a return to the negotiating table by both sides.  It was clear that there could be no movement towards a comprehensive peace without the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied territories and the full realization of the self-determination of the Palestinian people and the realization of a Palestinian State.

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