Sommaire: November 4, 2002: Statement by H.E. Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Løj, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations, on behalf of the European Union, on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. FIFTY-SEVENTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY - FOURTH COMMITTEE: Item 76 (New York)
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union - Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Associated Countries - Cyprus, Malta and Turkey, as well as the EFTA Countries of the European Economic Area - Iceland and Liechtenstein, align themselves with this statement.
Allow me to begin by expressing our appreciation to UNRWA's General Commissioner Peter Hansen and to all his staff-members, who tirelessly perform their responsibilities under very difficult circumstances. We pay our tribute to those, who have given their life or been injured while carrying out their duties.
We also want to express our gratitude to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria who for more than five decades have been extending their kind hospitality to Palestinian refugees.
Our deliberations take place against the background of an alarming humanitarian situation in the occupied territories. The refugee population is particularly exposed to its devastating effects.
As recognized by the Secretary General's Special Envoy, Mrs. Bertini, UNRWA is a central element in the immediate international response system to the crisis. Nevertheless, UNRWA has in the past year experienced a hitherto unknown degree of access and mobility restrictions. This point is made very clearly in the Commissioner General's report on UNRWA activities in the past year. We take note with grave concern also of the many reported instances of serious abuse of UNRWA installations and even staff members, some of who have been killed or injured.
The prevailing situation is untenable and unacceptable. The European Union reiterates its call on Israel to lift the closures and curfews and stop the destruction of the economic infrastructure in the occupied territories. Freedom of movement of persons and goods must be restored immediately. Furthermore, Israel must act in line with international humanitarian law and respect the neutrality and security of all UNRWA staff and installations. As also emphasised by the Security Council and the General Assembly medical and humanitarian organisations must be ensured unhindered access to the Palestinian civilian population at all times.
While dealing with the current emergency situation in Gaza and the West Bank, the Agency also has to continue its vital regular services to the rapidly increasing Palestinian Refugee population in all its fields of operation. UNRWA is more than ever facing the difficult challenge of securing sufficient funds in order to fulfil its broad mandate in a responsible manner.
Many of UNRWA's activities are under increasing pressure. A few statistics from the Commissioner General's report speak for themselves: 74 per cent of UNRWA schools operate on double-shift basis. Classroom occupancy rates average 43.5 pupils. And the medical consultations of UNRWA doctors exceed 100 per day.
2001 saw some encouraging developments with respect to the regular budget as the Agency managed to obtain a positive working capital of USD 8.5 million. Unfortunately, the Commissioner General's report indicates a serious financing gap for UNRWA's general budget this year. And the response to the emergency appeals of this year has been markedly slower than in previous years.
The current financial situation demands action from all of us. The Agency itself faces the challenge of prioritising even further and getting more value for money. And we as UN member states must ensure substantial and regular contributions in order for the Agency to carry out its mandate.
The European Union through its Member States and the European Commission remains UNRWA's principal donor. In response to UNRWA appeals, the European Community has increased its funding of UNRWA to 237 million euros for the period 2002-2005, which will offer a solid financial base for EC-UNRWA cooperation for the coming two biennial budget cycles. This is in addition to significant contributions from ECHO, the European Commission's Humanitarian Office, and the EU Food Security Programme. We will do our utmost to continue to ensure support for the Agency. But we also encourage the Agency to increase its efforts to broaden its donor base.
We welcome the agreements reached with the Palestinian Authority concerning VAT-exemptions in Gaza and hope a similar agreement can be reached for the West Bank. We urge Israel to take immediate steps to ensure the transfer of withheld VAT and taxes to the Palestinian Authority, which would enable the reimbursement of the more than $21 million owed to the Agency. Furthermore, we call on Israel to transfer port charges and all additional storage, demurral and transit duties levied on goods destined for UNRWA. Indirect taxation on humanitarian assistance remains unacceptable.
We strongly support UNRWA's on-going efforts at reform. We welcome the recent strengthening of the Policy Analysis Unit and the many attempts at creating a more transparent and efficient financial system. We hope that the introduction of key performance budget indicators will lead to increased transparency and efficiency. Maybe they could serve as inspiration for more general efforts of measuring and communicating the impact of the Agency's activities.
We understand that promotion of management reform and strategic planning are easily hampered under the current difficult conditions. We nevertheless urge the Agency to strive to continue all efforts at increasing efficiency, prioritisation and dialogue. In this respect we sincerely appreciate the efforts undertaken by UNRWA aiming at strengthening the crucial local dialogue and cooperation with both donors and other agencies.
Until such time as a comprehensive, just and lasting peace is achieved on the basis of resolutions 242, 338 and 1397 of the Security Council, UNRWA has a crucial mandate to fulfil. The European Union will continue to support the work of UNRWA both politically and financially.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.