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GA/SPD/720
20 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 5th Meeting (PM)

Role of Palestine Refugee Agency More Urgent than Ever amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Delegates Say, as Fourth Committee Continues Joint General Debate

Amid the COVID‑19 pandemic, the role played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is more urgent than ever, delegates said today, calling for solutions to its financial crisis as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its joint general debate.

Jordan’s representative emphasized that UNRWA must continue providing services until a just solution to the Israel‑Palestine conflict is found.  Warning of potential humanitarian and security repercussions if the Agency were to fail in fulfilling its mandate, he urged all Member States to honour their commitments in that regard.

Noting that the Palestinian question remains the main driver of crises in the Middle East, he said a two‑State solution to the conflict requires a sovereign Palestinian State and, as such, cannot be achieved while Israel announces its intention to annex the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Turkey’s representative warned that even if annexation is postponed, it is not off the table because illegal settlement activity continues in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and will form the basis for future annexation plans.  In that context, UNRWA’s key role in supporting refugees is more crucial than ever, she said, emphasizing that adequate support requires stronger commitment from the international community.  Turkey, for its part, has increased its contributions to the Agency tenfold in the last three years and participates in efforts to ensure predictable funding, she noted.

Brazil’s representative said UNRWA is helping a vulnerable population combat an unprecedented health crisis.  The situation has introduced unforeseen costs to the Agency’s already strained budget and, he announced in that context Brazil’s donation to the Agency’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal.

Turning to special political missions, he said they have been operating under a hybrid system that should be better understood.  Noting that the missions are typically mandated by the Security Council but funded from the United Nations regular budget, he said that distortion enhances the imbalance as decisions are made by a few States while costs are diluted among many through regular budget financing.  “This obvious inconsistency should serve as an argument for the wider membership to engage more actively in the discussions about the missions,” he emphasized.

India’s representative agreed, stressing the need to address the fragmented manner in which special political missions are funded.  A separate account assessed at peacekeeping scales and in line with the peacekeeping budget cycle would enhance transparency, she added.  She went on to note that misinformation and disinformation are spreading faster than facts and news, particularly during the COVID‑19 pandemic, expressing support for the efforts of the Department of Global Communications in that regard.  However, she voiced concern over the growing attacks on peacekeepers, saying they result from anti‑United Nations propaganda.  She urged the Department to work with field missions to tailor its communications strategies accordingly.

At the outset, Melissa Fleming, Under‑Secretary‑General for Global Communications, said the Department is working on initiatives to build public confidence in vaccines.  As many laboratories work on the global effort to develop a COVID‑19 vaccine, misinformation and conspiracy theories are also surging, she noted, voicing hope that people will trust the coming COVID‑19 vaccine as well as other existing vaccines.

The Department is also launching a campaign against misinformation and disinformation as part of its ongoing “Verified” project, she said.  Recalling that June’s “Pause” campaign reached people around the world, she said the “Verified” initiative seeks to spread science‑based information and has already reached more than 1 billion people.  With that new aspect of the initiative, the Department wants to educate people about misinformation by drawing from psychology and behavioural science in the social media age.

As such, she continued, the initiative demonstrates that people are hard‑wired to be connected and share information in a time when “we are feeling afraid and searching for cures”.  Pointing out that “pieces of bad information are spreading like wildfire”, she warned that misinformation is disrupting the public response to the COVID‑19 pandemic and can even prove fatal.  “We have to act now to stop the chain and stop the misinformation from spreading.”  The simple act of pausing before sharing information triggers a moment of critical thinking, she stressed.

To promote the initiative, the Department has recruited volunteers from around the world, she noted, reporting that 130,000 people have volunteered and are sharing content with their communities.  Content can be accessed and easily shared in multiple languages from the website www.takecarebeforeyoushare.org, she said, adding that the Secretary‑General and Deputy Secretary‑General will launch related videos.  She called upon  Member States to take their own “Pledge to Pause” as well.

Representatives of Pakistan, United Kingdom and Argentina spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22 October, to continue its joint general debate.

General Debate

The representative of the Russian Federation called for broad international cooperation on outer space, saying it remains the province of all States on the basis of equality and free access to all areas of celestial bodies.  As such, the realm is not subject to national appropriation by occupation or any other means, she observed, warning against any attempt to revise the principles and norms contained in the Outer Space Treaty.  Outer space must not become an international area of disagreements and conflicts and activities of nongovernmental legal bodies can only take place in accordance with its norms.  Turning to UNRWA, she said the Agency must have appropriate resources to continue its key efforts.  Unlike other agencies, UNRWA has been balanced in its approach and has been able to avoid politicizing its efforts, she observed.  On peace operations, she said such missions must continue to evolve along the appropriate path even during the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Blue Helmets must maintain the basic principles of peacekeeping, including a balanced and impartial approach, and solve conflicts by political means.  Despite temporary difficulties, successes already achieved towards peaceful agreements must be maintained, she stressed, noting that constructive and effective cooperation with host countries is vital in this regard.  Emphasizing the importance of a campaign by the Department of Global Communications against disinformation, she expressed hope that all publications within the framework of the campaign will be politically neutral and balanced.

The representative of Nepal emphasized that all countries, irrespective of size and level of economic and scientific development, should have equal access to space technology.  Space science and technologies must be used to improve people’s lives, conserve natural resources and enhance disaster preparedness and mitigation, thus helping to attain sustainable development, he said.  Turning to peacekeeping, he pointed out that Nepal continues to deploy troops and police in the most challenging environments, including during the current pandemic.  It is important that United Nations peacekeeping missions adopt appropriate mitigation measures to promote the safety, security, and health of peacekeepers, while effectively implementing their mandates, he emphasized.  Moreover, performance of peacekeepers is contingent upon realistic and achievable mandates, matching the resources and political will of all stakeholders.  Underlining that durable peace can only be achieved by addressing root causes of conflict with a participatory political settlement, he said it is equally important to integrate prevention strategies into national development plans.

The representative of Jordan said the Palestinian question remains the main driver of crises in the Middle East region.  The two‑State solution to the conflict requires a sovereign Palestinian State and as such, it cannot be achieved while Israel announces its will to annex the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.  Moreover, Israel’s announcement of new settlements thwarts any chance at comprehensive peace, he stressed.  Jordan has been entrusted with religious sites in Al‑Quds‑Al‑Sharif and will firmly stand against any violation of these holy sites, especially the Al‑Aqsa Mosque, he said, stressing:  “We will spare no effort to fight such violations.”  His delegation has always placed the question of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA at the top of its foreign policy priorities.  As such it has sought to gather international support for UNRWA.  On 15 October, Jordan and Sweden co‑chaired a ministerial dialogue to mobilize support for the Agency and discuss practical ways to overcome its financial challenges.  Emphasizing that UNRWA must continue providing services until a just solution to the conflict is achieved, he warned against the humanitarian and security repercussions that would arise were UNRWA to fail in its mandate.  As such, he urged all Member States to honour their commitments so that UNRWA can continue to meet refugees’ needs.

The representative of India expressed support for UNRWA and reported that her country has increased its annual pledge to the Agency and committed to a multi‑year donation. Turning to peace operations, she said that, while there has been considerable progress in dealing with delayed payments, it must be addressed further, especially in respect to closed peacekeeping missions.  As for special political missions, the fragmented manner in which they are funded, without regular cycles of the United Nations budget, must be addressed, she said.  A separate account for special political missions, to be assessed at peacekeeping scales and in line with the peacekeeping budget cycle, would enhance transparency in the budgetary process of those missions, she added.

Noting that misinformation and disinformation are spreading faster than facts and news, particularly during the COVID‑19 pandemic, she expressed support for efforts by the Department of Global Communications to position the United Nations as the most authoritative and authentic source of scientific knowledge and best practices.  However, she expressed concern over the increase in attacks on peacekeepers resulting from anti‑United Nations propaganda and urged the Department to work with field missions to tailor its communication strategies accordingly.  Recalling that 2020 marks the end of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, she said the principle of self‑determination continues to be deliberately misinterpreted and misused by a particular delegation.  That principle is a vehicle for the worthy cause of decolonization of the 17 Non Self‑Governing Territories on the Special Committee’s agenda and not a justification for undermining the territorial integrity of any Member State, she emphasized.

The representative of Myanmar, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the vital role of special political missions in preserving international peace and security, and assisting national and regional efforts.  She also highlighted the efforts of political missions in increasing the use of technology during the COVID‑19 pandemic to reach out to communities and different stakeholders, including women and civil society groups.  Noting also that the pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide, she emphasized the need for greater attention to bridging existing and emerging digital divides so that all countries can take advantage of digitalization.  Turning to Myanmar´s current situation, she said the national armed forces declared a ceasefire from 10 May to 31 August 2020, except in areas where terrorist groups have taken position.  The ceasefire has been extended twice, until the end of September and the end of October, respectively, which will help effective prevention, control and treatment measures against the pandemic, she added.

The representative of Brazil, associating himself with the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries and the Group of 77, described the steady drop in the number of attacks against “Blue Helmets” since 2017 as an extremely positive development.  In that regard, troops should not be deployed without tailored training for the environment in which they will operate, he said.  Brazil remains committed to sharing its experience by offering training partnerships with the Brazilian Peace Operations Joint Training Center and the Brazilian Navy’s Peacekeeping Training Center through courses or mobile training teams sent to the field, he said.  Turning to special political missions, he said they have been operating under a hybrid system that should be addressed and better understood.  Noting that they are typically mandated by the Security Council but funded from the United Nations regular budget, he said that distortion enhances the imbalance because decisions are made by a few States, but costs are diluted among many through regular budget financing.  “This obvious inconsistency should serve as an argument for the wider membership to engage more actively in the discussions about the Missions,” he pointed out.  As for UNRWA, he noted that the Agency is helping a vulnerable population fight an unprecedented health crisis, adding that the situation has introduced unforeseen costs to its already strained budget.  In that context, Brazil has announced a donation to UNRWA's Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, he reported.  Concerning the Malvinas Islands[1], he urged the United Kingdom to end its unilateral actions to exploit that Territory’s natural resources, emphasizing that Brazil does not authorize the use of its ports or airports for Malvinas‑bound craft in an effort to deter such unilateral actions.

The representative of Turkey noted that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and violations of international law continue unabated, including demolitions, arbitrary arrests and movement restrictions.  COVID‑19 has exacerbated the desperate situation, she said, stressing that the parameters of United Nations resolutions must be reinforced in order to find a just solution.  Even if annexation is postponed, it is not off the table, she pointed out, warning that the construction of illegal settlements in the Territories continues and will be the basis for future annexation plans.  In that context, UNRWA’s key role in supporting refugees is more crucial than ever.  Adequate support for the Agency requires stronger commitment and monetary contribution from the international community, she said, noting that Turkey has increased its contribution ten-fold in the last three years and participates in efforts to ensure predictable funding.  Citing the findings of the Working Group’s report, she called for additional voluntary contributions to the Agency.

The representative of Malaysia, aligning himself with Non‑Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said the increasing number of actors participating in space programmes makes the use of outer space for the benefit of all nations more vital than ever.  Noting that his country has introduced the Malaysia Space Exploration 2030 Programme, he said its space sector could contribute at least 0.3 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.  Focusing on UNWRA, he said its unwavering work has assisted and protected more than 5 million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  He strongly condemned Israel’s flagrant violations, including the continued restrictions on UNRWA personnel and the movement of goods in the West Bank and Gaza, which have undermined the Agency’s ability to effectively execute its mandate.  He went on to stress the continuing importance of peace operations, noting that Malaysian peacekeepers, including an increasing number of women, are serving in five missions around the globe.  Malaysia supports efforts to thoroughly re‑examine the tactical, technical and procedural aspects of peacekeeping, while operating in harsh circumstances created by the COVID‑19 pandemic, he said.

The representative of Angola, associating himself with the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Community or Portuguese‑Speaking Countries, said the situation of refugees in the Middle East remains a menace given the tremendous daily difficulties facing youth, women and children.  Angola supports UNRWA and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, he added.  As for the situation between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el‑Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), he encouraged both to engage in negotiations for a peaceful solution on Western Sahara.  The appointment of a new personal envoy is imperative, he stressed, adding that it represents an issue that deserves both urgent attention and consideration in order to expedite the process towards the holding of a self‑determination referendum for the people of that Territory.

Right of Reply

The representative of Pakistan said the Decolonization Declaration states explicitly that all people have the right to self‑determination.  The denial of that right to the native people of Jammu and Kashmir is designed to ensure their elimination, he added, urging the international community and the United Nations to intervene as an explicit obligation under relevant United Nations resolutions.

The representative of the United Kingdom said his country has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).  While the United Kingdom continues to build a strong relationship with Argentina, it is concerned about certain actions by the latter over the last year, including increased penalties for illegal fishing that could target the Falklands (Malvinas) fishing industry.

The representative of Argentina stressed that the Malvinas are an integral part of his country’s territorial integrity, a fact recognized by various United Nations resolutions and international organizations.  The principle of self‑determination, upon which the United Kingdom bases its argument, does not apply to the Territory’s people, he added.  According to United Nations resolution 3149, both parties must abstain from unilateral actions that could threaten the potential for a peaceful solution on the Malvinas, he stressed.

Also speaking today were representatives of Burkina Faso, Brunei Darussalam, Mongolia, Singapore, Ukraine, Honduras, Uruguay, Indonesia and Botswana.

 

[1]     A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

For information media. Not an official record.