GENERAL ASSEMBLY DISCUSSES PROVISION OF HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE, NEED TO ENSURE SAFETY OF RELIEF WORKERS

11 November 2004
GA/10295

GENERAL ASSEMBLY DISCUSSES PROVISION OF HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE, NEED TO ENSURE SAFETY OF RELIEF WORKERS

11/11/2004
Press ReleaseGA/10295

Fifty-ninth General Assembly

Plenary

51st & 52nd Meetings (AM & PM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY DISCUSSES PROVISION OF HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE,

 

NEED TO ENSURE SAFETY OF RELIEF WORKERS

With the number of complex emergencies on the rise worldwide, the United Nations General Assembly today tackled one of the international community’s toughest emerging challenges:  the need to safeguard the well-being of civilians, ensure the security of relief workers, and promote recovery and development while providing overall assistance in a manner consistent with humanitarian principles.

Delegations acknowledged that humanitarian organizations were increasingly compelled to provide emergency assistance in situations where the distinctions between relief work and political and military activities could become blurred -- where natural disasters had wrecked socio-economic infrastructures or in war-torn societies where conflict parties were often openly belligerent to aid workers and contemptuous of humanitarian norms.  With that in mind, many speakers called for well-organized and adequately funded mechanisms for coordination of assistance.

The Assembly stepped back from its agenda in the afternoon to hold a sombre tribute to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who died in Paris late yesterday. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Mr. Arafat would always be remembered for having led the Palestinians, in 1998, to accept the principle of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future PalestinianState.  By signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, he had taken a giant step toward the realization of that vision, and it was tragic that he did not live to see it fulfilled.  Even though Mr. Arafat was gone, both Israelis and Palestinians must make even greater efforts to bring about the peaceful realization of the Palestinian right of self-determination.

Just prior to calling for a moment of silence in memory of the Palestinian leader, Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon) said that the achievement of the lifelong dream of establishing and ensuring the peaceful coexistence of two States -- Palestinian and Israeli –- would be the best way to pay tribute to Mr. Arafat. Following reminiscences on Mr. Arafat’s near 40-year political legacy and expressions of sympathy from regional groups, the Palestinian Observer said that the people could take solace that Palestine did not stand by itself in the struggle for freedom; support from so many States could provide consolation and hope for the future.

Leading off the discussion on strengthening the coordination of emergency and disaster relief assistance, the representative of the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that effective responses to today’s humanitarian challenges required broadening views to include political, military and developmental partners.  In humanitarian crises, coordination was of paramount importance and should be inclusive rather than restricted to only some stakeholders.  He added that it was time to divert attention from disaster relief to disaster reduction, to give an important role to national and local governments, and to the people in disaster-prone areas themselves.

Qatar’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that strengthening national response capacities remained the most effective means for carrying out rapid assessments and coordinating the initial response.  And while it might not be entirely possible to prevent the occurrence of natural disasters, advance warning and preparedness could help minimize impact.  He emphasized the need for a more equitable distribution of humanitarian assistance across emergencies, including those of a protracted nature.  Aid was abundantly provided in humanitarian emergency situations that benefited from wide media coverage.  As soon as the media spotlight faded away, resources tended to be scarce, especially in some specific regions and when the more difficult task of reconstruction began.

The representative of Japan stressed that given the amount of need, and the limited resources available, the proper balance of ownership on the part of the people in need and partnership on the part of outside supporters was key to realizing a situation where humanitarian assistance eventually became unnecessary.  Assistance should not be one-way, but based on a joint undertaking between donors and recipients as equal partners.  To effectively carry out humanitarian assistance, it was important to be attentive to the needs of people on the ground, unfettered by prejudice, he added.

Global problems of a humanitarian character should be solved through international cooperation and through a common approach, said the representative of Mongolia.  His nation shared concerns regarding the increased involvement of commercial organizations and military forces in relief activities.  The consequences of the provision of humanitarian assistance by military actors should be carefully studied.  He welcomed the Organization’s efforts to respond with coherence and effectiveness, while integrating immediate relief measures with long-term strategies on disaster prevention.

In other business, the Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on promotion of inter-religious dialogue, affirming that mutual understanding and inter-religious dialogue constitute important dimensions of the dialogue among civilizations and of the culture of peace.  The Assembly invited the Secretary-General to bring the promotion of inter-religious dialogue to the attention of all governments and relevant international organizations and to submit a report thereon, including all views received, to the Assembly at its sixtieth session.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Nigeria (on behalf of the African Union), China, Switzerland, United States, Norway, India, United Arab Emirates, Guinea, Turkey, Egypt, Peru, Zambia, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Canada, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Ukraine, Australia, Mexico, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Israel.

The observer for Palestine also addressed the Assembly, as did the representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFCRC).

Expressing condolences on the death of Yasser Arafat were the representatives of the Gambia (on behalf of the African States), Indonesia (on behalf of the Asian States), Belarus (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Nicaragua (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), New Zealand (on behalf of the Western European and Other States), Sudan (on behalf of the Arab States), Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Malaysia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)) and Turkey (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference).

The representative of Senegal spoke in his capacity as Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and the representative of Egypt expressed condolences on behalf of his nation.

The representatives of the Philippines and Kazakhstan spoke following adoption of the resolution on inter-religious dialogue.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 15 November, to take up the annual reports of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Background

The General Assembly met today to consider the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance and assistance to the Palestinian people.  It was also expected to take action on two draft resolutions.

The Assembly has before it the Secretary-General’s report on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/59/332), which outlines the threats against the Organization’s staff during the past year, and provides an update on the implementation of the initiatives approved during the Assembly’s fifty-eighth session.  Since those initiatives are slated to be implemented over the entire biennium 2003-2004, the study constitutes a progress report on actions that have already been taken and an indication of what remains to be done.

Throughout the reporting period, the United Nations personnel in a wide range of field operations continued to be subjected to threats such as hostage-taking, physical assault, robbery, theft, harassment and lengthy detention, as described in previous reports.  Aside from deaths due to illness or vehicle and aircraft accidents, 218 United Nations civilian staff members have been killed since 1992 as a result of malicious acts.  Twenty-two of those deaths occurred during this reporting period, the majority of the dead being victims of the bomb attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.  That figure does not include uniformed peacekeepers, nor does it include the civilian staff members who have lost their lives since 1992 as a result of aircraft accidents due to technical problems.

Statistics clearly indicate that the United Nations staff and personnel continue to be threatened on an alarmingly frequent basis.  Owing to their heightened visibility as members of the international community, the Organization’s personnel are at substantial risk of being targeted by many diverse entities and individuals.  The report stresses that “we can no longer either look at or respond to an increasingly precarious work environment in old ways”, especially as humanitarian agencies, United Nations and non-United Nations alike, are being increasingly targeted.

While this does not mean turning United Nations compounds into fortresses, it did mean monitoring security environments more systematically, states the report.  Relief organizations must anticipate security incidents and plan for them in advance, as well as enhance readiness and protection through training, equipment and physical security measures.  Of course, this also requires the commensurate resources.

Also before the Assembly is the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/59/93).  It examines some of the key humanitarian developments and challenges of the past year, including those relating to natural disaster management and the challenges of obtaining sustainable humanitarian access to populations affected by conflicts.  Developments on key humanitarian policy initiatives are also highlighted.  Those include updates on efforts to strengthen policies and actions with regard to the transition from relief to development, gender and humanitarian action, humanitarian financing and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises.

According to the report, during the past year, nations requiring humanitarian assistance as a result of complex emergencies have remained constant. Figures from the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) indicate that overall requirements for humanitarian assistance remain at approximately the same level as in previous years, with a total requirement of $2.86 billion.  Yet, the patterns for funding of humanitarian activities are uneven, leaving some nations underfinanced.  While appeals for Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are more than 35 per cent funded, for example, nations such as the Central African Republic have received only 5 per cent of their requirements in 2003.

With regard to humanitarian financing, it is recommended that Member States support the efforts of the Organization to improve needs assessment and work towards more effective prioritization, including timely testing and the review of the CAP Needs Assessment Framework and Matrix.  Also, donors are invited to increase funding for relief assistance, such as in the transition phase, and explore means to fund all critical needs across all sectors.  The report goes on to recommend that humanitarian organizations strengthen efforts to integrate a gender perspective into the planning, programming and implementation of humanitarian activities.  In addition, Member States should support integration of HIV/AIDS responses into their activities by ensuring linkages between humanitarian, development and HIV/AIDS mechanisms.

Lastly, the report states that Member States provide the necessary resources to facilitate rapid response by local authorities and humanitarian agencies in disaster-affected areas.  In addition, States should channel increased resources to capacity-building activities in disaster-prone areas, in particular those to address the dynamics and disproportionate risks that natural disasters pose to urban environments.

The Secretary-General’s report on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/59/374) highlights some of the key activities undertaken to respond to natural disasters during 2003 and 2004, with particular emphasis on response, recovery and transition efforts and global initiatives to reduce risk.  It notes that the large number and scale of natural disasters are having an increasing human and financial impact, resulting in a massive loss of life and property worldwide.  It is often those communities most prone to natural hazards that are the least able to cope with their effects, resulting in long-term negative, social, economic and environmental consequences.

In 2003 and 2004, it is estimated that natural disasters claimed the lives of 75,000 people, affected more than 284 million people and caused more than $65 billion worth of material damage.  Overall trends indicate that the frequency of natural disasters and the number of people affected have increased sharply during the past 30 years, but that interventions, such as early warning and food aid, have mitigated the death toll at a relatively steady level.  The report recalls the devastating effects of numerous disasters during the past year, among them the December earthquake, which struck the city of Bam in Iran, killing more than 26,000 people, as well as the intense monsoons that swept South Asia this past July, affecting more than 50 million people region wide.

In addition, erratic and inadequate rainfall in the Horn of Africa -– beginning in 2002 -- sparked acute food shortages that threatened millions with hunger, and a host of other crises on the African continent such as the giant locust swarms currently menacing West Africa.  The growing number of hazards and their increasingly damaging effects on vulnerable populations are cause for growing worldwide concern.

A number of growing trends suggest that the situation is likely to get worse, with developing countries most disproportionately affected.  Therefore, what is required to both improve humanitarian assistance to disasters and accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals is a comprehensive two-pronged approach that puts energy and resources into preparedness for catastrophic events, while simultaneously investing in mitigation and development processes that aimed to reduce risk. The report also stresses that building the capacity of MemberStates and regional organizations in disaster management and supporting national and regional risk reduction activities are also critical to ensuring that such approaches endure.

The Assembly also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/59/121), which contains a description of efforts made by the United Nations agencies, in cooperation with Palestinian and donor counterparts, to support the Palestinian civilian population and institutions.  Also included were observations of the political climate and subsequent challenges as the international community worked to end the cycle of violence and moved toward a negotiated settlement to bring peace and security to the Middle East.

The past year had brought new hope of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, states the report, but neither side had honoured its commitments under the Road Map.  The Israeli Government did not stop settlement activities and continued to carry out military operations in Palestinian areas, while the Palestinian Authority did not bring an end to violence and terrorism and failed to reform its security apparatus, according to provisions of the Road Map. In hindsight, it appears that a stronger international role in assisting the parties could have led to more effective results.  In an increasingly difficult situation, the United Nations agencies and programmes continued to offer a variety of types of assistance to the Palestinian people.  However, “the logic of violence, vengeance and destruction continues to prevail over the logic of dialogue and reason”, the report states.

Throughout the current reporting period, the United Nations agencies in the occupied Palestinian territory found themselves seeking additional resources to meet increasing emergency needs while trying to maintain their development activities.  Several development initiatives continued nonetheless, but the focus shifted even more to humanitarian aid as compared to the 2002/03 period.  A two-track strategy –- balancing emergency needs against development goals that supported a viable Palestinian Authority –- has been the basis of the United Nations approach for the past three years.

As a result of their considerable efforts, the United Nations system and donors had achieved measured success in both emergency and development assistance. Unfortunately, those successes have been overshadowed by the escalation of the crisis, which had led not only to loss of life, but also to a reversal in the progress made in the socio-economic sectors.

Humanitarian and financial assistance would not by themselves serve as a solution to the political crisis affecting the lives of the Palestinians and Israelis, the report concludes.  A solution regarding the status of the Palestinian people, as well as the economic situation and humanitarian crisis, was linked directly to respect for international law and the achievement of a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  As a matter of priority, the Israeli Government must ease restrictions and work closely with the United Nations agencies, donors and humanitarian organizations, while effective steps by the Palestinian Authority to lessen Israel’s security concerns would facilitate such an effort.  There would be no peace, however, unless each of the parties, the region and the wider international community was ready to play its part.

By the terms of the draft resolution on assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/59/L.24), the Assembly would call on relevant parts of the United Nations system to intensify their assistance in response to the urgent needs of the Palestinian people, and call on the international donor community to expedite the delivery of pledged assistance to the Palestinian people to meet their urgent needs.

By the terms of a draft resolution on promotion of interreligious dialogue (document A/59/L.15/Rev.1), the Assembly would affirm that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of the dialogue among civilizations and of the culture of peace.  It would also invite the Secretary-General to bring the promotion of interreligious dialogue to the attention of all governments and relevant international organizations and to submit a report thereon, including all views received, to the Assembly at its sixtieth session.

Statements

KOEN DAVIDSE (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU) and associated States, said the issue of humanitarian coordination was at the core of the ongoing debate about improving the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian aid.  The EU, among others, had put coordination at the top of the humanitarian agenda, but believed that humanitarian coordination should not be limited to humanitarian actors alone.  An effective response to today’s humanitarian challenges required a broadening of views, to include political, military and developmental partners.  In humanitarian crises, more than in other situations, coordination was of paramount importance.  Coordination should be inclusive rather than restricted to only some of the stakeholders.

During the last years, he continued, the discussion on humanitarian action and coordination had mainly been a debate between the United Nations agencies and donor governments.  It was time for others to join the debate in a more systematic way so as to strive for more effective aid delivery and for more sustainable results.  By better listening to and coordinating with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and affected populations, and by building local capacities, better ownership and participation could be ensured, and the chances for sustainable results could be increased.  It was also necessary to find answers to the new security threats to humanitarian workers encountered in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Furthermore, in order to attract more funding, the United Nations agencies should better coordinate, prioritise and ensure quality.  He added that it was time to divert attention from disaster relief to disaster reduction, and to give an important role to national and local governments, and to the people in disaster-prone areas themselves.

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said problems posed by natural disasters were of crucial importance to developing nations due to their long-lasting consequences on affected populations, the environment and social and economic development.  The principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality needed to guide all humanitarian action.  It was essential that humanitarian action be apolitical and offered at the request of the recipient government.  In addition, it was fundamental to build strong capacities at the regional and national levels in order to strengthen cooperation between the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.  States whose populations were in need of emergency humanitarian assistance should endeavour to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations, in particular in securing the delivery of food, shelter and medical care.

He went on to say that the strengthening of the national response capacity remained the most effective means for carrying out rapid assessments and coordinating the initial response.  While it might not be entirely possible to prevent the occurrence of natural disasters, advance warning and preparedness could help minimize impact, particularly in terms of human suffering.  The use of space-based and remote-sensing technologies was important for the prevention, mitigation and management of natural disasters.  There was, therefore, an urgent need to promote access to, and transfer of, technology related to early warning systems.

Moreover, he emphasized the need to ensure a more equitable distribution of humanitarian assistance across emergencies, including those of a protracted nature.  It had been observed that aid was abundantly provided in humanitarian emergency situations that benefited from wide media coverage.  By contrast, as soon as the media spotlight faded away, resources tended to be scarce, especially in some specific regions and when the more difficult task of reconstruction began. He reiterated the importance of strengthening international cooperation through the use of multilateral mechanisms in providing assistance for all phases of a disaster, from relief to mitigation to development.

RUTH ELIZABETH ROUSE (Grenada), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the Caribbean region had been devastated by hurricanes in the past few months, with Grenada and Haiti the most severely affected.  In the Haitian city Gonaïves, 1,900 lives were lost.  In a matter of hours, Grenada moved from the status of a middle-income developing country to a ravaged island.  It was “ironic as well as lamentable” that it took a disastrous hurricane season to reinforce the point that the small island developing States needed special and differential treatment because of, among other things, their vulnerability to natural disasters.  The Flash Appeal on 24 September for Haiti and Grenada was instrumental in highlighting the problems, as well as procuring assistance for the two States.

Based on the Grenada experience, she said it was crucial for the United Nations agencies in the region to have a mechanism that would enable a more timely implementation of programmes and a more rapid disbursement of funds.  She called for enhanced cooperation between the United Nations agencies in the Caribbean and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency.  While grateful for the support received over time from the United Nations agencies, the CARICOM hoped that the suggested mechanism for enhanced cooperation and collaboration with its regional agencies would benefit the peoples in the region.

AMINU B. WALI (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Union, said the unenviable record of conflicts on the African continent underscored the importance of policy coherence and coordination among both donors and the United Nations agencies in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  The continent continued to lament the serious gap between relief and development to ensure a smooth transition from humanitarian emergency assistance to post-conflict reconstruction and development.  The past decade had witnessed more violent conflicts and more complex humanitarian challenges.

The African Union, he said, had undertaken institutional and political reforms to address those challenges in the framework of its Constitutive Act and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  The Union’s efforts in Burundi and more recently in the Darfur region, through the establishment of the Ceasefire Commission and the expanded African Mission in the Sudan, clearly demonstrated the renewed commitment of African leaders for the African Union to assert itself on the continent.

He observed that the international community’s failure to intervene with emergency humanitarian assistance in the tragic events of 1994 in Rwanda continued to haunt the international community even today.  He was convinced that effective and well-resourced programmes for the survivors would not only restore their dignity, but would help promote reconciliation and healing in Rwanda.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said that in providing humanitarian assistance, the United Nations and the international community should be guided by the principles of neutrality, humanity and impartiality.  Such assistance should be provided at the request and with the consent of the affected countries, whose wishes, cultures and customs should be respected.  Although the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) had played an important role in humanitarian funding, in recent years there had been a steady decline of resources mobilized through that channel.  China hoped the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) would step up its efforts in that respect.  It also appealed to donor countries that were able to do so to make greater contributions to humanitarian assistance.

The safety and security of the United Nations personnel had become a subject of growing concern, he said.  Since last year, the Organization’s personnel engaged in humanitarian assistance, had continued to come under attack, and to be taken hostage and detained for long periods.  In August this year, China acceded to the Convention on the Safety of the United Nations and Associated Personnel.  Following that, the Chinese Government had taken part in activities that promoted the safety of United Nations personnel.

Although China was a disaster prone country and had lost over $20 billion last year as a result of natural disasters, it had still provided humanitarian relief to developing countries affected by disasters.  He supported the proposal by the Secretary-General on the transition form relief to development in humanitarian assistance for natural disasters, which would help to build up the capacities of the affected countries in rehabilitation and reconstruction.

ANDREAS BAUM (Switzerland) said his delegation believed that safe access for humanitarian and relief workers must be guaranteed in order to ensure the requisite assistance for vulnerable populations, particularly women and children. In that regard, everyone must continue to search for ways to strengthen cooperation between the various organs of the United Nations in the field.  At the same time, he stressed that it was chiefly up to the host governments to ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers.  Nevertheless, it was necessary to continue system-wide training in security measures for all the United Nations staff.

Switzerland was convinced that one of the best ways to ensure the safety of civilians while at the same time protecting staff and supporting humanitarian imperatives was to step up promotion and implementation of international treaties and norms.  All parties must respect the Geneva Conventions as well as the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Humanitarian action must be based on the fundamental principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, he added.  Assistance activities must be planned, assessed and executed by civilian staff, which must be given specific mandates, particularly when so called integrated missions were being set up.  Switzerland welcomed the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), and the efforts to promulgate guidelines for “team approach” for country and regional coordinators in dealing with such issues as internal displacement.

SICHAN SIV (United States) said that he despaired at the continuing humanitarian tragedy in Darfur, and applauded the decision of the Security Council to meet in Nairobi to highlight the need for the conflicting parties in the Sudan to restore peace to the country.  Everyone must work together to provide far better protection for civilians.  He said that a lack of coordination across the United Nations agencies on the ground in emergency situations continued to plague humanitarian efforts in the Sudan and elsewhere, and encouraged OCHA and the United Nations agencies to establish clear leadership for assistance to and protection of internally displaced persons.

In addition to the United States financial support for the Internal Displacement Division within OCHA, the United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID), finalized last month its policy on assistance to internally displaced persons.  The United States intended to ensure that the policy statement would both reaffirm its commitment to meeting the needs of internally displaced persons, as well as enhance coordination and reliability of response within the government and the greater humanitarian community.  The United States also appreciated the attempt by the United Nations agencies to balance the crucial need to provide for the safety and security of humanitarian personnel with the need to reach victims of emergencies.

JOHAN L. LØVALD (Norway) supported the concept of “integrated missions” for the United Nations peace operations as a way of creating greater coherence in the activities of the United Nations, making it more effective at managing crises, restoring peace and security, and creating stability and good governance in failed or failing States.  The military, civilian and police elements of such missions had a crucial role in establishing security, which was an essential precondition for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

He said that the Organization had gained some experience in mission integration and it was clear that perhaps it was neither possible nor desirable to create a rigid template for such missions, since each operation would pose different challenges.  Missions must also be adaptable.  Integration gave a sense of direction but needed to be practiced wisely if MemberStates and the international community were to make full use of the skills and competencies of the various parts of the United Nations system in humanitarian, development and peacekeeping areas.

At the same time, he stressed that it was no secret that recent experiences in mission integration in a country like Liberia had caused concern within the humanitarian community.  While some of the tension might have been specific to the situation there, the wider debate had revealed the inherent need to find ways to maximize the gains from integration while minimizing the cost to the Organization’s humanitarian role.  Among the issues that needed to be discussed were the possibility of having a clear command and control structure while separating humanitarian and development activities from political and military elements, and the need to ensure the necessary space for humanitarian action within integrated field mission frameworks.

In light of the scepticism with which some of those topics had been met, it was up to the United Nations to ensue that its humanitarian activities were grounded in impartiality, independence and neutrality, for the Organization could not risk compromising those fundamental principles by having humanitarian action too closely associated with a military or political mission.  When military personnel performed humanitarian or reconstruction projects to win the hearts and minds of local populations, there was a risk of blurring the military and humanitarian roles.  The need to maintain a clear distinction between the humanitarian and military aspects of missions was most urgent when conflicts were “more active”, since the way the partners saw the relationship between the two had a direct bearing on the security of humanitarian personnel.

And the support and confidence of local populations and conflict parties have traditionally been the best protection for relief workers, he continued. Indeed the deterioration of the situation of humanitarian workers in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where they had become deliberate targets of violence, spotlighted the need for greater awareness of the practical dilemmas and risks that were likely to arise in the interface between military and humanitarian action in the field.  Norway appreciated the work of the United Nations to develop guidelines for such interactions, and he believed the focus should now be on bridging the gap between those guidelines and military doctrine and practice.

VAYALAR RAVI (India) said the number of countries in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of complex emergencies had remained constant over the past year, and the overall requirements for such assistance had remained at nearly the same level as in previous years.  He expressed concern that the pattern of funding humanitarian activities had stayed uneven, thereby leaving some countries substantially under-financed.  The glaring example of the Central African Republic, which received only 5 per cent of its requirements last year, underscored the importance of allocating resources fairly to all countries in need.

He explained that because the allocation and availability of resources for humanitarian assistance remained issues of concern, India was supportive of the Secretary-General’s recommendation inviting donors to continue to make available increased amounts of earmarked funding for relief assistance.  He also supported the need for some predictability in the funding provided for humanitarian activities.  For humanitarian assistance to be effective in situations involving a multiplicity of actors, the coordination function could not be allowed to overwhelm humanitarian action on the ground; otherwise the coordination could become the most important preoccupation of the humanitarian effort.  Where such coordination became necessary, the national government could be best placed to coordinate humanitarian assistance.  At the same time, he underscored the need to fully respect the principle of national sovereignty.

KOICHI HARAGUCHI (Japan) said there had been positive developments in the field of humanitarian assistance, such as the repatriation of a large number of refugees.  Yet, serious humanitarian crises and disaster spots remained, and sometimes even increased, in various parts of the world.  Given the amount of need, and the limited resources available, humanitarian assistance could not be sustainable if its basic objectives were simply to perpetually provide people in distress with necessary assistance.  Assistance should be geared toward creating a situation where people could live without it.  The proper balance of ownership on the part of the people in need and partnership on the part of outside supporters was key to realizing a situation where humanitarian assistance eventually became unnecessary.  Assistance should not become one-way traffic; it should be based on a joint undertaking between donors and recipients as equal partners.

The active participation of recipients in the planning and implementation phase made assistance most effective, he said.  For example, there had been cases in which traditional leaders where assigned a central role in the management of refugee camps, at the suggestion of refugees themselves.  That approach was in line with the concept of human security that Japan had been promoting.  To make that approach successful, it was necessary to expand the base of partnership.  The number of actors should be increased, and assistance should not be the monopoly of developed nations.  South-South cooperation should also be explored.  To carry out humanitarian assistance effectively, it was important to be attentive to the needs of people on the ground, unfettered by prejudice.  To provide assistance that led to reconstruction, development and durable solutions, a holistic approach was needed, with close cooperation among those engaged in conflict prevention, peace building and development.

ABDULAZIZ NASSER AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said the world had recently witnessed numerous outbreaks of natural disasters and armed conflicts, which claimed the lives of thousands of people, as well as aggravated the problem of refugees and internally displaced persons.  He emphasized the principal role of the United Nations in following up and evaluating humanitarian and relief assistance.  He supported the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report, especially on helping poor countries build their national institutional capacities, and on establishing the necessary coordination among all humanitarian assistance organizations, in order to meet the challenges posed by natural disasters and wars, through an international strategy that dealt with natural disasters at all stages.

In that context, he urged the donor countries and international financial institutions to increase their contributions in order to fund humanitarian relief activities, in fulfilment of the principles of international solidarity and interdependence and those of the Charter.  He emphasized the importance of strengthening the role of international law in settling disputes and eliminating reasons for armed conflicts, which caused humanitarian disasters, as well as the importance of taking the necessary measures to protect humanitarian personnel.  His country was extremely concerned about the threats facing humanitarian personnel, especially the Palestinian personnel, who faced great difficulties in providing the required humanitarian services due to the continued blockade and movement restrictions imposed by Israel.

SOMAIA S. BARGHOUTI, observer of Palestine, said that the Palestinian people had learned today with great sadness of the passing of Yasser Arafat, and that her delegation appreciated the Assembly’s expressions of sympathy and support.  On the issues before the Assembly today, she said that she wished she could present a more positive assessment of the situation of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories but that was not to be:  their condition was deteriorating by the day.  A humanitarian catastrophe was looming, and the international community must move urgently to put pressure on the Israeli occupiers if a deeper tragedy was to be averted.

She condemned the occupation, stressing that Israeli forces continued to erect blockades and barriers, to destroy homes and businesses, and to disrupt Palestinian lives in countless ways.  Thousands had been killed and injured as the occupying power had ratcheted up its activities.  Palestinian infrastructure had been deliberately damaged and even trees had been systematically uprooted.  Israeli activities in the occupied territories had declared war crimes and the international community must bring pressure on Israel to live up to its international obligations, to stop flouting international law and to end its racist and expansionist policies.

Drawing attention to the relevant report before the Assembly, which stressed the problem of unemployment and deepening poverty in Gaza and throughout the territories, she noted numerous difficulties the Palestinian people had in ensuring not only their safety and security but promoting their development as well.  With all that in mind, she was most concerned by the obstacles and difficulties thrown in the paths of the United Nations and other relief agencies and their staffs -- particularly those aimed at hampering freedom of movement.

She praised the work of those agencies, which nevertheless continued to provide humanitarian assistance, and she welcomed the neighbourly efforts of Arab nations that had taken in wounded and provided help in the reconstruction of Palestinian infrastructure.  She also welcomed the assistance provided by the NGOs, as well as that of all other States and donor countries, particularly Japan and the members of the European Union.

PAUL GOA ZOUMANIGUI (Guinea) said the consequences of humanitarian crises, and the responsibility of the United Nations to protect civilians, were apparent. His nation was pleased with the diversity of actors providing assistance, and he stressed the importance of assessing the work that had been done and learning from them.  The United Nations bodies should define common measures to be implemented in the context of a transitional strategy.  Turning to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse, he said that the implementation, in the field, of a system to file complaints was a step forward, as was the Gender Resource Package, which was critical for those working in peacekeeping.  He supported the suggestion of the Secretary-General to develop national capacities for planning and preventing catastrophes.

The security of the United Nations personnel, he stressed, was the obligation of all parties involved respecting Security Council resolutions.  Often, in dangerous situations, the diversity of human actors required greater cooperation both within the system and between the United Nations and other actors, including regional and national organizations.  Financing was an issue of great concern, despite the progress made.  He supported the proposal to increase to $100,000 the ceiling allowed to a nation suffering from a disaster, and he called on donors to mobilize funds for disaster prevention.

He supported the draft resolution on the victims of the Rwanda genocide. Guinea has received many refugees from nations emerging from conflict, and had been involved in the search for solutions for the benefit of all people in the region.  His Government would continue to demonstrate understanding in the management of humanitarian issues in the subregion.  He stressed that the international community should assume its responsibility and address the challenges facing it.

ERSIN ERÇIN (Turkey) said that premature loss of life due to natural disasters continued to affect a great number of people worldwide, particularly the most vulnerable.  It was becoming more obvious than ever that without coordinated efforts to improve preparedness and response, and address risk and vulnerability, the effects of disasters on people and human settlements would become more deadly and costly.  It was incumbent upon every responsible member of the international community to join forces in tackling those challenges because, given the nature of today’s interconnected world, there was no alternative to that approach.

The merits of the report on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, he continued, were evident.  Nonetheless, he concluded that the relevant parts of the report fell short of expectations, and it was not as comprehensive as he would have wished.  Important developments that had taken place on international urban search-and-rescue operations since 2002 were not adequately reflected in the report.  Among other things, more information could have been provided on the activities of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, and some general recommendations were not sufficient to contribute to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of international search-and-rescue operations.  In addition, the late issuance of the report left little time for Member States to form their positions.  His delegation would review what had been done so far, take stock from related activities, and consider formulating a draft resolution focusing on progress in the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of international urban search-and-rescue assistance.

TAREK ADEL (Egypt) said the promotion and coordination of humanitarian assistance should be the priority of the United Nations and other relevant organizations.  He reaffirmed that supporting and building the institutional capacities of countries required coordination between different mechanisms, in order to implement a comprehensive method for dealing with natural disasters.  He called on all States and international financing institutions to increase contributions to provide relief and humanitarian assistance.  The Secretary-General’s reports showed that natural disasters and environmental emergencies constituted grave dangers, which threatened the poorest people in the world.

The pattern of financing humanitarian assistance was still not adequate, in terms of the gap between the number of disasters and what humanitarian assistance was available, he said.  Thus, it was necessary to take into consideration the Secretary-General’s recommendations.  There was no doubt that providing humanitarian assistance was a necessary and required action.  At the same time, the risks and difficulties involved required finding ways and means to safeguard the security of the United Nations personnel and others who provided assistance, so that they could undertake their work fully.

He also called on the international community to intervene decisively in the humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied Palestinian territory, where there were blatant violations of the rights of the Palestinians, leading to the total paralysis of the Palestinian economy, as well as to the poverty and displacement of Palestinians.  Egypt appreciated the positive role that the United Nations and agencies took in providing assistance, in particular the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  He also called on States to increase support for activities to overcome and fill the financing gap. The goal was clear:  Palestinians should be able to determine their destiny freely in an independent, sovereign State.

OSWALDO DE RIVERO (Peru) said that there was a proliferation of humanitarian action today on the part of the United Nations to protect civilians and provide assistance following natural disasters.  Humanitarian efforts were becoming the main activity of the Organization.  That expansion was proof that the Organization was failing in the fulfillment of its main mandate, which was to maintain peace and security.  Today, the proliferation of conflicts was creating humanitarian crises on a great scale, and was converting the Organization into a global operation for intensive care.  It was like “a great big Red Cross”, he said.

The main function of humanitarian aid was to alleviate human suffering, but today the international community’s assistance extended to the transition to development, which could be confusing.  The Secretary-General had said that that led to differing interpretations, which made it difficult for nations to make financial contributions.  It was also an illusion because it led people to think that development was around the corner.  There was a serious economic situation in the world that could not be described as a situation of transition to development. People were living on two to three dollars a day.  He was convinced that the most effective humanitarian activity of the United Nations was that provided in the context of natural disasters.  Humanitarian activity in cases of natural disasters had increased the prestige of the Organization.

Today, natural disasters were increasing and, therefore, the activities of the United Nations, particularly OCHA, would have to be strengthened and receive full support.  Coordinated work at the regional level, such as the Andean Strategy, was necessary.  In August 2004, Peru had hosted a regional meeting aimed at strengthening the technical ability of the Latin American region to manage disasters.  He hoped that the upcoming meeting in Kobe, Japan, would work on reducing the vulnerability of countries to disasters.  He suggested that OCHA publish an annual report on its work, as well as recommendations to improve humanitarian activities.

BERNARD MPUNDU (Zambia) said that due to the increased demand for humanitarian assistance worldwide, it was of prime importance to devise a coordinated approach on how assistance was delivered to ensure that there was no duplication of programmes and to reduce costs.  In view of the many factors involved in the implementation of humanitarian activities, it was imperative to implement a comprehensive strategy of cooperation in order to achieve the intended results.  While financial and material resources were necessary for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, its success largely depended on how conducive the environment was.  The safety and protection of humanitarian personnel was paramount, and it must be a shared responsibility of the international community.

His delegation welcomed the launch by the Secretary-General of an appeal to Member States to raise an estimated $1.7 billion to support humanitarian activities.  After years of having a food deficit, the Zambian Government had implemented measures designed to promote agricultural production to increase food security, and the country had achieved a surplus production.  He appealed to the Secretary-General, through OCHA, to support Zambia’s capacity to respond to humanitarian situations.  His Government still counted on the international community to conquer the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  He added that it was now up to Member States to match the resources required to confront the looming humanitarian crises around the world.

NIKOLAY V. CHULKOV (Russian Federation) said the problem of ensuring the physical safety of humanitarian personnel had recently become particularly vital. In that connection, his delegation had been pressing for States to take effective relevant measures in line with the Convention on the Safety and Security of the United Nations and Associated Personnel.  It had also deemed it necessary to work towards a broader scope of legal protection for the Organization’s personnel by finalizing the Convention’s protocol.  He noted the efforts of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in elaborating a necessary framework for establishing relations between humanitarian and military elements operating in complex emergency situations.

In addition, he said the humanitarian community’s search for an adequate response to new and emerging threats and challenges must be guided by the fundamental principles of neutrality and impartiality.  Also, humanitarian workers should observe local security practices and be sensitive of national and local customs.  He went on to decry the current plight of the millions of civilians worldwide caught in armed conflicts, despite the countless international conventions and human rights treaties aimed at protecting them.  That situation called for systematic and coordinated efforts at international, regional and national levels, taking into account the fact that civilian protection had both human rights and humanitarian elements.

He went on to say that post-conflict peace building and rehabilitation remained key topics on the global agenda, highlighting the need to ensure a smooth transition from relief to development.  Russia believed that was the key to success in international humanitarian and post-conflict operations, and that it also laid the groundwork for dynamic economic development.  Attention should also be given to planning and programming of development-oriented activities from the initial stage of deploying humanitarian operations.  All that would require an adequate and coordinated response on the part of the international community, with the United Nations in the lead role.

In light of the current growing need to predict emergencies, take preventive measures and ensure timely response on the part of both national and international humanitarian agencies, he said it was necessary to provide adequate measures to reinforce national emergency planning objectives.  He supported continuing efforts to strengthen national early warning systems, assess damage and mitigate the consequences of natural disasters.  All that should facilitate the creation of a global network for early warning in case of major emergencies in order to ensure coordination among national rescue agencies, and to allow the effective use of available local capacities in international rescue and relief operations.

Tribute to Yasser Arafat

JEAN PING (Gabon), President of the General Assembly, said that Yasser Arafat had dedicated his life to establishing a PalestinianState, and had accepted the principle of the peaceful coexistence of two States, Palestinian and Israeli.  The achievement of his lifelong dream would be the best possible tribute to President Arafat.

The Assembly then observed a minute of silence in memory of Yasser Arafat.

KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General, said that for nearly four decades, Yasser Arafat had expressed and symbolized in his person the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.  He was one of the few leaders who was instantly recognizable by people in any walk of life, all around the world.  He would always be remembered for having led the Palestinians, in 1998, to accept the principle of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future PalestinianState.  By signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, he took a giant step toward the realization of that vision, and it was tragic that he did not live to see it fulfilled.

Now that Mr. Arafat was gone, he continued, both Israelis and Palestinians must make even greater efforts to bring about the peaceful realization of the Palestinian right of self-determination.  Today, there were a total of 19 United Nations agencies and bodies lending their assistance to the Palestinian people, and that work must and would be continued, for as long as the Palestinian people needed help.  Together with its partners, the United Nations would also continue its efforts to achieve the full implementation of the Road Map, with the goal of realizing a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  That included as its centrepiece the establishment of a sovereign, democratic, viable and contiguous PalestinianState, living side by side in peace with a secure Israel.

Though President Arafat had not lived to see the attainment of those goals, the world would continue to strive toward them, he added.  Thoughts and prayers also went to his wider family -– the Palestinian people, in the hope that they would find the strength, vision and courage to look ahead to the possibility of a peaceful settlement, for the benefit of succeeding generations.

CRISPIN GREY-JOHNSON (Gambia), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, said his delegation had been profoundly saddened by the death of Mr. Arafat, who had been the very personification of the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination.  He had committed his entire life to the cause of peace and had taken the question of Palestine from being a mere footnote on the international agenda to an issue of international debate and world discourse.  He had left his footprints on the sands of time, and the African Group hoped that his spirit and memory would radiate among Palestinians, as well as among all the people of the wider Middle East and beyond.

REZLAN ISHAR JENIE (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Group of Asian States, said his delegation regretted that Mr. Arafat, the father of the Palestinian movement, had been unable to see the emergence of an independent Palestinian State during his lifetime.  Despite many adversities, President Arafat’s determination to lead the Palestinian people to a just and lasting peace never wavered.  His permanent desire was justice and peace for a people only too familiar with the harshness of oppression.  And when the ferocity of the campaign against the Palestinian people did not lessen over the years, Mr. Arafat matched it with the intensity of his spirit and undying optimism.  For that, he was loved and admired by people all over the world.  His death did not mean that the flame of independence had been extinguished.  All of Asia extended its condolences to the people of Palestine.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS (Belarus), speaking on behalf of the Eastern European States, said it was his sad duty to comment on the death and extraordinary life of President Arafat, who would be remembered as a lifelong symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people.  As a person and as a statesman, he had left an undeniable imprint, not just on the Middle East but also on the world’s international political scene.  His delegation conveyed its deepest sympathies to the Palestinian people.

EDUARDO SEVILLA SOMOZA (Nicaragua), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said Mr. Arafat had been a historic figure who symbolized the feelings of his people until his very last breath.  The Group expressed its most heartfelt condolences to the Palestinian people, and particularly his widow and young daughter.  It would also urge the Palestinian people and their leaders to keep alive the search for a free, sovereign and economically viable State dedicated to peace, not only for Palestine, but for the region and the entire world.

DON MACKAY (New Zealand), speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group, extended condolences and sympathies to the family of President Arafat and to the Palestinian people.  During the past four decades, President Arafat had come to symbolize the Palestinian national movement and the aspirations of the Palestinian people.  The Palestinians, and others, respected President Arafat as a leader who symbolized their long search for statehood and independence, and led the Palestinians to historic acceptance of the principle of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future PalestinianState.  Now, the Palestinian leadership would have to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security, and bringing it to fruition.  It was hoped that the international community would provide every support it could to achieve that vision.

OMAR BASHIR MOHAMED MANIS (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Arab States, said the late President continued to work on behalf of the Palestinian people to have an independent State, and he sacrificed everything that was precious to him to achieve that ideal.  The Palestinian people were losing a symbol of the Palestinian struggle.  Despite forced imprisonment, he had worked to mobilize efforts with the peace process and took brave decisions with insight to pursue the establishment of an independent state through difficult negotiations.

President Arafat’s loss was a source of great sadness for all peace-loving nations and people, and for those who cared about the peace process in the Middle East.  He offered condolences to the family and to the heroic people of Palestine. The Palestinian people, with the loss of their President, were losing an inspirational and steadfast leader who never wavered in his effort to liberate Palestine, and in his real belief in the legitimacy of their struggle.  He had firmly defended their rights and was committed to the struggle with rare strength and will power.  His principles would remain alive and would be the guiding light for his brothers until his goals were achieved.

DIRK JAN VAN DEN BERG (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the Palestinian people had lost a historic leader and a democratically elected President.  Mr. Arafat’s devotion and single-minded commitment to the Palestinian national cause throughout his life was never in doubt.  He commended the Palestinian leadership for their demonstration of dignity and responsibility to maintain the Palestinian institutions at this difficult time.  The Palestinian people could count on the undiminished support of the European Union on the path toward a peaceful, durable and just settlement of the conflict.  He added that the European Union was convinced that the goal could be achieved for both Israelis and Palestinians.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), said that President Arafat would be forever remembered not only by Palestinians, but also by people from all parts of the world for his immense courage, enormous sacrifice and strong determination in championing and protecting the inalienable right to self-determination of the people of Palestine and their claim to their own sovereign homeland.  He had devoted his life to that struggle against all odds for almost four decades, including suffering the indignity of being virtually imprisoned by the Israelis.  President Arafat would indelibly remain the icon of the Palestinian struggle against injustices, brutal oppression and subjugation, as well as against the forces that sought to deny the Palestinian people of their dignity, freedom and independence.  His legacy would continue to inspire the Palestinian people and those who shared the legitimate cause of the Palestinians.  The NAM would remain strongly supportive of all endeavours in addressing the Palestinian question.

ALTAY CENGIZER (Turkey), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), said that today was a sad day for all.  The Muslim world was aggrieved but in a most meaningful way.  It joined its Palestinian brothers and sisters in their loss.  President Arafat epitomized the rightful struggle of his people.  The flame he lit with courage and self-determination, and which had remained unabated for half a century, would continue until Palestinian statehood was achieved.  He paid tribute to President Arafat’s unforgettable memory and his struggle on the side of justice.  He prayed for the late President’s soul, for his family and brethren around the world, and saluted his ideal, which would never fade away.

PAUL BADJI (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Palestinian people had lost a leader who, for decades, had been a powerful symbol of their national aspiration, unity and steadfastness, and who devoted most of his life to the struggle against the occupation and for the realization of their inalienable rights.  The Committee was hopeful that the Palestinian people would remain united and determined to continue along the road of peace charted by President Arafat. The Committee would maintain its support of the Palestinian people until their inalienable rights were fully realized in keeping with international legitimacy, and would also support international efforts aimed at re-injecting momentum into the political process.

The Committee continued to believe that the Road Map remained the best way to achieve the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine through the establishment of two States, Israel and Palestine, based on the 1967 borders and relevant United Nations resolutions.  He expressed hope that the Quartet and the international community would continue to work toward the achievement of that goal, and added that it would be the best tribute to President Arafat.

AMR ABOUL ATTA (Egypt) said the entire planet, as well as the Palestinian Authority and its various institutions, had been saddened by Mr. Arafat’s death. The Palestinian leader had been the embodiment of the national struggle for freedom and independence for all people.  The pages of history would forever recognize Mr. Arafat, as they had recognized Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi and all those who had struggled to achieve the dream of freedom.  Mr. Arafat had also been a dedicated political leader working towards a political settlement that would end bloodshed and halt a conflict that had been clouding the international horizon for decades.

Sadly, he did not see that dream come true, and history would not forget the humiliating circumstances under which he had been forced to live for the last two years of his life, confined to his Ramallah compound, without even the most basic of human rights.  Egypt, nevertheless, trusted that the values and principles that Arafat had lived by would not be lost or forgotten.  The conditions in the region were developing rapidly, and while many of them were negative, some also gave an indication that Arafat’s spirit would live on, that the peace process would be activated and that both sides would return to the negotiating table.

SOMAIA BARGHOUTI, observer of Palestine, said it was with great sorrow and sadness that the Palestinian leadership had announced that President Arafat had passed earlier this morning.  Mr. Arafat had left the world, and his spirit had returned to his Creator, but part of that spirit would remain with the Palestinian people.  He had been a liberator and had struggled to ensure that the Palestinian people were freed from the shackles of oppression and occupation.

In addition, Mr. Arafat had left a great universal and national legacy, which represented hope for the future for Palestinians and all people of the world.  He lived hoping to make Palestine an independent State and the people would miss his great courage, adherence to principle, clear strategic vision and wise leadership.  But they could take solace that Palestine did not stand by itself in the struggle for freedom.  The support of so many had provided consolation, she said, thanking all delegations as well as the Secretary-General and the Assembly President for their heartfelt words.  She announced that the Palestinian Mission would be open Monday and Tuesday, 15 and 16 November, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to all delegations wishing to pay their condolences.

Statements on Humanitarian Assistance

YUSOFF MD. ZAIN (Malaysia) said the role and function of the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations in the occupied Palestinian territories was crucial and indispensable.  Malaysia was concerned by the revelation in the report of the Secretary-General that the provision of a variety of types of assistance to the Palestinian people by the United Nations had as a backdrop an increasingly difficult humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.  Such assistance was and continued to be provided under difficult circumstances, characterized by a repressive administration and security regime, as well as measures imposed by the Israeli Government.  Those had negatively affected the well-being of the Palestinian people and also hampered the ability of the United Nations in the field to carry out its work.  His delegation strongly urged Israel to allow unfettered access to the United Nations agencies and humanitarian workers in the occupied territories.

Notwithstanding, he continued, Malaysia was satisfied with the performance of relevant United Nations agencies to provide a wide variety of assistance to the Palestinian people and institutions.  But the ever-growing sector of “unmet needs” documented in the report required particularly focused attention.  He urged the international community to increase contributions to the cause and not lose focus, despite the challenges and sense of hopelessness.  The construction by Israel of the separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territory had introduced a new dimension to the problem of providing assistance.  It had an adverse impact on the living conditions and freedom of movement of the Palestinian civilians.  The International Court of Justice, in an advisory opinion, had recently urged the removal of the wall.  He urged the Security Council to seriously look into the matter.

GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said the issue of coordination was vital because of its direct impact in the field.  Ultimately, everyone was working to meet the needs of affected populations, and protecting civilians in armed conflicts was central in that. The international community must react strongly to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights.  It must be more successful in promoting the responsibility of affected States to ensure that civilians were protected, and be prepared to react when those States did not protect civilians. More effective use of all the tools developed during the past five years must be made to protect civilians, and an energetic battle must be waged against impunity. He believed that specialized United Nations country teams and humanitarian and resident coordinators must be better equipped to address protection-related issues.  Their ability to effectively identify those issues and develop relevant strategies to meet the challenges that occurred in crisis situations must be enhanced.

He believed that regional organizations could and must play a more active role in promoting civilian protection, and he strongly encouraged the United Nations to enhance dialogue with those organizations so they could do that.  He said there had recently been timely, highly constructive discussions among humanitarian actors about how to increase the security of personnel and maintain a presence in difficult field situations.  In particular, he supported the emphasis placed on decentralization in the field, which should begin to respond to certain concerns expressed by humanitarian actors.  Canada supported the concept of integrated missions, but determining when recourse to that kind of mission was required should be facilitated by increased dialogue with the United Nations humanitarian assistance actors.  He added that because effective humanitarian action was not an abstract concept, Member States must take steps that were both highly tangible as well as political.

KIM SAM-HOON (Republic of Korea) said the importance of coordination and cooperation among the United Nations agencies could not be underestimated, particularly in the area of disaster management and risk reduction, where humanitarian and development agencies should work together to strengthen joint efforts to make better use of lessons learned.  Such knowledge-sharing would allow such organizations to better respond to immediate crises and to systematically develop institutional and legislative risk reduction mechanisms.  He added that information management was a critical component of emergency response and, in that regard, his delegation fully supported the work of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Disaster Reduction to standardize, aggregate and link disaster-related data from disparate sources.

The recent kidnappings of three United Nations electoral monitors in Afghanistan had underscored the dangers inherent in some humanitarian relief work, he said.  The Organization had no higher priority than to ensure the safety and security of its own staff.  Therefore, he was deeply concerned with increasing targeting of and attacks on the United Nations personnel.  There was no excuse for such attacks against aid workers, and he hoped the perpetrators would be brought to justice as soon as possible.  He was also concerned that there continued to be serious gaps in efforts to integrate gender into humanitarian response and assistance.  Systematic implementation of gender mainstreaming guidelines in field operations also remained weak.  It was essential, he said, to remain cognizant of women’s unique role and plight in emergency situations and that responses be tailored accordingly.

JONNY SINAGA (Indonesia) said that current trends in urbanization, environmental degradation and climate changes implied that natural and man-made emergencies would continue to increase in their regularity and intensity.  Member States needed to improve their response capacity and preparedness, so as to reduce vulnerability.  They also needed to continue to improve disaster management abilities and enhance regional capacity, while embracing risk reduction as a core principle.  His delegation was concerned that the global level of financing for humanitarian operations often remained insufficient, especially in African countries where the magnitude of the problem was considerable.  The core issue in the transition from relief to development was the lack of funds for implementing programmes.  He emphasized the importance of enhanced international cooperation, including among the United Nations and regional organizations, toward assisting countries in their efforts to build capacity, as well as to predict, prepare and respond to natural disasters.

International awareness of humanitarian problems had grown considerably over the years, he continued.  Many governments had greatly improved their preparedness, such as being able to facilitate the return of refugees and the internally displaced, and their resettlement.  Unfortunately, he said, those same things could not be said with regard to the situation in Palestine.  He called upon the Government of Israel to halt all actions that encroached on the territorial rights of the Palestinians, and to strictly observe the provisions of international law and implement the Road Map.  While Indonesia recognized that the main responsibility for improving the humanitarian situation and creating conditions for long-term development existed with governments, the role of the international community was very important to ensure the availability of resources for that purpose.  He added that humanitarian assistance must be delivered only with the consent of the affected country, and with respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States.

MARKIYAN KULYK (Ukraine) said his country was concerned with the alarming spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in humanitarian crises, which further amplified the suffering of civilian populations.  Coupled with famine and natural disasters, the disease was driving to ever larger parts of nations towards destitution. Integration of HIV/AIDS considerations into humanitarian programmes, beginning with the consolidated appeals and the humanitarian action plans, as well as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on HIV/AIDS interventions, were also essential to facilitate a comprehensive response to the disease in emergency settings.  Efforts to address that problem could be more successful if reinforced by concrete action on the part of Member States, particularly through development of national strategies that addressed the spread of the disease among humanitarian workers and international peacekeepers.  Ukraine had been one of the first troop contributing nations to incorporate HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and safe behaviour in pre-deployment training for its peacekeeping units.

He stressed the need for better alignment between humanitarian assistance and long-term development strategies, stating that cooperation between humanitarian agencies and development agencies had to be strengthened.  Addressing the consequences of Chernobyl, he said that, some 18 years later, the impact of that catastrophe on the lives of the affected people continued to pose enormous challenges to his country.  The recent transfer of coordination functions for the United Nations Chernobyl-related activities from OCHA to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would stimulate resource mobilization and enhance the impact of activities in that field.  Also, in the spring of 2006, Ukraine and a number of other interested delegations would hold a special plenary meeting to honour the victims of the Chernobyl disaster and to raise public awareness about long-term consequences of the catastrophe.

ROD SAWFORD (Australia) said his country continued to provide rapid and generous support for the survivors of crises and disasters.  Australia contributed relief efforts for emergencies wherever they occurred, but its highest priority was the Asia Pacific region.  Ensuring the most effective response to humanitarian needs called for a number of essential issues, including the protection of civilians.  Yet, the protection of civilians affected by armed conflict was the responsibility of national governments.  Sadly, in Darfur, violence had become a tactic to terrorize communities.  Improved security and access to humanitarian personnel were also necessary, as assistance could not be delivered if those delivering it were not able to operate safely.  Moreover, integration of humanitarian assistance into the broader United Nations response to emergencies was critical, and needed to be carried out in a way that upheld humanitarian principles.

Using humanitarian response to lay the groundwork for recovery and reconstruction was also important, he said.  Saving lives was only the beginning; recovery must be a shared priority for humanitarian development.  He went on to say that finding more effective ways to respond to natural disasters would be a key point for next year’s World Conference in Japan.  While some progress had been made in humanitarian coordination, events in Darfur earlier this year -- as agencies scrambled to meet vast needs -- indicated that there was room for improvement, particularly in the area of preparedness.  Lastly, he said, it was important to assess and integrate gender aspects into the planning, implementation and evaluation of humanitarian action.  Women were recognized as playing a critical role as peace builders, he said.

JENNIFER FELLER (Mexico) said that, in the past 12 months, approximately 286 million people had been affected by natural disasters.  Despite the efforts of the international community, the frequency of disasters had increased along with the number of victims.  It was important to guarantee access to information, health and education for the most vulnerable populations.  Likewise, she believed that was the responsibility of States to improve humanitarian conditions in their territories and to step up efforts to ensure rapid and efficient delivery of assistance to victims.  It was also the responsibility of States to identify humanitarian needs so as to ensure that aid flows served the intended purpose.

The United Nations, in particular the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), should strengthen leadership and coordination capacities with regard to the international community’s endeavours to provide humanitarian assistance.  The communications media had a significant role to play, and it was essential to establish channels of communication with all involved parties to share experiences, harmonize indicators and to take action.  It was no secret that natural disasters were tied to the destruction of the environment.  Therefore, it was important to ensure the management of resources.  She called on those States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol.  Humanitarian assistance was a collective undertaking.  Rarely had the United Nations shown such solidarity as in the response to natural disasters.  It was necessary to avert tragedies that could be prevented.

BAATAR CHOISUREN (Mongolia) said natural disasters had increased around the world during the past decade.  The passing year had witnessed different types of disasters in various parts of the world, most notably in developing nations. Disasters were a humanitarian challenge and an impediment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Global problems of a humanitarian character should be solved through international cooperation and through a common approach.  His nation shared concerns regarding the increased involvement of commercial organizations and military forces in relief activities.  The consequences of the provision of humanitarian assistance by military actors should be carefully studied.  He welcomed the Organization’s efforts to respond with coherence and effectiveness, while integrating immediate relief measures with long-term strategies on disaster prevention.

The utilization of modern technology, especially the Internet, for early warning and alert systems should be further explored and introduced in the field, he said.  He welcomed the establishment in Bonn of the new Early Warning Promotional Platform, under the auspices of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).  The past year, he said, saw dramatic and disturbing occasions when humanitarian personnel were directly attacked.  Safety and security were essential pre-conditions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Mongolia was vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters such as severe snowfalls, droughts, flash floods and earthquakes.  The country was still trying to recover from three years of droughts and calamitous winters.  It was grateful to donors and the United Nations for their assistance.  Furthermore, he appreciated the work of the United Nations to strengthen and develop a variety of disaster response tools to assist and support national response capacity.

STANISLAS KAMANZI (Rwanda) said that 10 years after the genocide had decimated the social, economic and political fabric of his country, the concerted efforts of the Rwandan Government and some members of the international community had resulted in both economic and political progress.  However, the most vulnerable of Rwanda’s society –- the survivors of that genocide, particularly the orphans, widows and victims of sexual violence -- continued to suffer.  Their desperate lives were characterized by poverty, disease and hopelessness.

He said his Government had worked tirelessly to improve the living conditions and health of the genocide survivors and, since 1994, had allocated 5 per cent of its expenditure annually to assist the survivors.  However, he reminded the Assembly of his country’s limited means.  While he recognized and was appreciative of the international community’s support so far, he noted that the living conditions of the genocide survivors remained desperate.  He thus called on Member States to support the resolution the African Union intended to introduce under the Assembly’s agenda item on “strengthening the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations”.  In view of the seriousness of the situation that survivors of the genocide found themselves in, he further appealed to members to consider how they could work with the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes to support them.

TERUNEH ZENNA (Ethiopia) said that natural calamities continued to impede his country’s efforts to mitigate the effects of drought.  According to the assessment made by the multi-agency team, currently some 10 per cent of the population or some 8 million people were still vulnerable and in need of emergency relief assistance.  The food security prospect was extremely poor and, according to assessments by the multi-agency team, some 507.8 metric tonnes of food aid were required.  There was a need to address the underlying causes of food insecurity and the issues of recovery, assets protection and sustainable development in the affected areas of his country.  His Government had, therefore, continued to exert maximum efforts to mitigate the effects of recurrent drought.

He said that in Ethiopia’s action plan to meet the Millennium Development Goals vis-à-vis hunger, his country along with its development partners, had agreed that farmers would need support to the tune of $500 million a year for five years if the objective of ensuring food security were to be achieved.  His Government had allocated slightly over $230 million, which was more than 40 per cent of the required annual total.  Many development partners were beginning to respond quickly and generously.

CHAIM SHACHAM (Israel) said today was a day of profound sorrow for his Palestinian neighbours.  But it also presented an opportunity for peace and the chance to fashion a future together.  In exceedingly difficult security conditions, his country did all that it could to help the Palestinian people meet their humanitarian needs.  Israel’s efforts ranged from direct financial and humanitarian assistance to participation in multilateral endeavours alongside other members of the international community, to the heavy consideration given to humanitarian needs within the context of his country’s security imperatives.  “Let us not forget, after all, that Israel does this while confronting a brutal Palestinian terror campaign against its citizenry, a war that, in subverting any chances for peace, does immense harm to both Palestinians and Israeli peoples.”  Terror was of no assistance to the Palestinian people.  “It is terror that makes humanitarian assistance and progress towards peace so difficult”, he stressed.

He said the Secretary-General’s report before the Assembly recognized some of Israel’s contributions and sacrifices, as well as some of the difficulties it faced because of its constant need to balance the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people with the security needs of Israelis.  Israel had done its utmost, together with the donor community and international organizations, to promote assistance to the Palestinian population.  Yet, as the report noted, as soon as new humanitarian arrangements were put into effect, terror groups found a way to use them to their advantage to carry out violent actions against Israelis.  But while problems remained, his country was committed to facilitating and assisting in the improvement of the humanitarian situation.

Perhaps the most important initiative that Israel was taking to alleviate the situation was the disengagement plan, he said.  That brave and courageous plan of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon aimed to stabilize the humanitarian and security situations, and to provide Israelis with greater security and Palestinians with greater control over their lives.  He hoped that initiative, combined with a return to the Road Map, would facilitate a true form of assistance to the Palestinian people.

GEORGES PACLISANU, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said today’s conflict environment was characterized by a number of complex non-international armed conflicts.  In certain areas, there was increased polarization, which rendered acceptance of independent and neutral humanitarian action extremely difficult, and engendered the conviction that those involved were taking sides.  That conviction was further reinforced when humanitarian action was seen as being a tool in the pursuit of a military strategy and political objectives.  As a consequence, there was a risk that humanitarian principles would erode, that humanitarian action would be rejected and that the security of humanitarian personnel would be seriously compromised.

He believed that for the ICRC to fulfil the mandate it had received from States, it was vital to defend neutral and independent humanitarian action.  The Committee could not subscribe to approaches that combined political, military and humanitarian tools in the midst of armed conflict or violence.  It insisted on respect for identity, mandate and operating principles of each actor.  Indeed, independence and neutrality were key principles of the Committee’s identity.  For the ICRC, coordination involved regular dialogue and consultation, which helped contribute to improving responses as well as enhancing security.  The ICRC considered work among humanitarian actors as flowing from their distinct mandates, expertise and operation principles and methods.

Within that framework, he said the Committee coordinated with, but was not coordinated by, other humanitarian actors.  It participated in the United Nations multilateral coordination mechanisms and structures, at Headquarters and in the field, such as with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, of which it was a standing invitee, and with the United Nations country teams.  Through such dialogue and mutual consultation with other humanitarian actors, the ICRC contributed to the common goal of more effective humanitarian action.

LUCA DALL’OGLIO, Observer of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said his organization specialized in the support, protection and stabilization of populations forced to leave their homes due to conflict or natural disasters.  Considerable efforts had been made to improve the combined capacities of humanitarian actors to provide more timely and coordinated responses to crises, beginning with a more proactive field level response.  Under the leadership of the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), the commitment of all involved agencies to pursue a collaborative approach had gained momentum, and a number of tools had been recently developed.  He stressed the relevance of efforts to strengthen the Internal Displacement Division of OCHA, as well as to create a more vigorous role for the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator in providing the United Nations Country Teams with strategic coordination on protection and assistance to internally displaced persons.

He said the IOM worked as part of the United Nations Country Team in Iraq and participated in the joint approach, calling for the sharing of resources, operations support, management and oversight.  Within that coordinated framework, the IOM participated in three of the 10 United Nations programme clusters, including refugees and poverty reduction.  The situation in Darfur was another example of the complex coordination required to address a crisis of enormous proportion.  The IOM had recently initiated the development and implementation of the Management and Coordination Mechanism for the Voluntary Return of Internally Displaced Persons, which would provide appropriate monitoring and reporting mechanisms to ensure that returns remained safe, free and voluntary.

CAROLE POWELL, speaking on behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said the debate this year took place amidst rising concern on the part of agencies, Member States, non-governmental organisations and the communities themselves about the ways in which humanitarian assistance programmes were conceived and delivered. One of the main reasons for concern was that humanitarian assistance today was a very different thing from what it was in the past. Many important issues, which the IFRC had advocated for decades, had only recently been prioritised by governments. It was fortunate that the Millennium Development Goals had placed a clear emphasis on vulnerability and need.

Her organization’s experience, she continued, showed that coordinating humanitarian assistance had become increasingly challenging.  That reflected not only on the complexity of the issue, but also the sharp growth in the number of stakeholders seen by States as relevant to humanitarian work, including the private sector.  Therefore, it was important to coordinate the work done by those stakeholders.  On the topic of coordination, the issue of how to work with the Millennium Development Goals and how to coordinate humanitarian assistance would have to take account of the need to find a place at the table for civil society. She added that the challenge for everyone was not simply to coordinate humanitarian assistance, but to make sure that the assistance reached people quickly, effectively and lastingly.

Action on Draft

The Assembly decided to take action on the draft resolution on assistance to the Palestinian people (A/59/L.24) at a later date.

Then it adopted, without a vote, the draft resolution on promotion of interreligious dialogue (A/59/L.15/Rev.1).

LESLIE B. GATAN (Philippines) thanked the Assembly for adopting the resolution and the delegations who supported it.

MURAT SMAGULOV (Kazakhstan) said the resolution adopted recognized the commitment of all to respect the religions of the world, and his country attached much importance to that.

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For information media. Not an official record.