Release of Human Rights Watch Report, US Restoration of UNRWA Funding – 27 April 2021 Daily Press Briefing – (Excerpts)

27 APRIL 2021

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  I have a couple of questions.  First, Human Rights Watch today is accusing Israel of committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel itself.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment?

Spokesman:  Well, regarding human rights concerns in Israel… or involving Israel and the occupied territories, we’ve been raising our own concerns about this.  And as you know, whenever we see any signs of policies that are discriminatory in nature, whether in the occupied Palestinian territories or anywhere else, we draw attention to those, and we try to make sure that those are addressed.

Regarding the report’s characterization, of course, it’s not for me to analyse or characterize the situation in any particular way.  I leave the analysis of the report over to you.  But certainly, from our standpoint, what we try to do is to work with authorities, including the authorities in Israel, to make sure that our human rights concerns are addressed.


Another question, the Biden Administration has decided to restore funding to UNRWA.  Any comment on this?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Well, we’ve… we made clear, including through our comments when the decision was first taken, that we appreciate the return of the United States to the funding of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).  That is helpful at a time when funding is crucially needed so that the Agency can conduct its work for Palestine refugees.

It’s not up to the US alone, however, and we’ve made clear that we want other nations also to step up their own funding for UNRWA so that it can go back to the levels of funding that it had previously enjoyed.  And so, that is what we are pushing for, but the moves made by the United States have been welcome.

And then regarding your larger question, of course, the UN, as a general rule, tries to make sure that it will have a strong and healthy relationship with the United States given our common goals and interests.  And we are continuing to do that with the current Administration of President Biden.


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I would like to go to the issue that Edie had asked you about, about the Human Rights Watch report.  So, you talked about the fact that the UN did also document… and also document abuses wherever they happen, including in Israel and Palestine.  But the report goes beyond just documenting the regular abuses.  They talk about… they came to the conclusion that these abuses are policies of… constitute the crimes of apartheid, persecutions, and crimes against humanity.

And they have recommendations and some recommendations to the UN, and their recommendations to the UN include establishing a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and reparation in Israel and Palestine and also a UN global envoy to apartheid worldwide.  So, what’s your comment on these specific recommendations?

Spokesman:  Well, we will need to study the report and see what needs to be done on our side to follow up on the report.  As you know, it’s just out.

But regarding some of these issues, such as the issue of crimes against humanity, those sorts of allegations are ones that need to be addressed by mandated judicial bodies.  And, of course, it’s not up to us to create.  We… as you’re aware, it’s Member States or groups of Member States that can create those sorts of mandates.  So, that question is really one in terms of what the Member State bodies of the UN would want to do, and we’ll have to see how they themselves wish to follow up on this.

Question:  Okay.  So, I have a follow-up on that, especially that you’re saying you will be studying this report and their recommendations to the UN, etc.  Does this mean that the SG office is going to request a briefing from Human Rights Watch on the reports to hear how the team came fully… to fully understand the picture and how the team came to the conclusions they came to?

Spokesman:  Well, no, what happens with all these reports, whenever we receive them, the respective departments, including those dealing with political affairs and those dealing with other issues, those dealing with human rights, for example, can look over and see what steps are needed on our side.  So, we’ll leave those evaluations to be taken by the respective departments.  I wouldn’t predict what form that follow-up would take.

Question:  Yeah, but leaving this… what do you mean?  Do you mean, like, different departments at the UN or… it’s like… it seems to be that you are leaving this out there without taking any action, which will lead somehow also unaware.

Spokesman:  Well, no, any time there is a significant report to look at, what happens is we let the key people in our various offices, whether it’s Political Affairs, Humanitarian Affairs or others, look at that and see what to do with the recommendations.  And so, that is, ultimately, what we’ll do with this report, as well.  And so, that process of studying and evaluating the report has just begun.


Question:  I have just a small follow-up.  Would it be, then, possible to get a follow-up for us as journalists about your standing on the report or we will have to ask you again?

Spokesman:  We’ll have to see as this proceeds.  I mean, it’s not… it’s simply not the case that we take an immediate reaction to something that needs to be studied, and so that study process takes a bit of time, and we’ll allow them to do that.


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have couple of questions.  First, I have a follow-up to Ibtisam question.  Do you recall that the… it was the UN first to declare that Israel has an apartheid system vis-à-vis the Palestinians when they put… when ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for West Asia) put a report in 2017, yet the Secretary-General ordered Rima Khalaf, the Executive Secretary at the time, to take that report down?  Is it time for the UN to revisit its own report on the system Israel is applying to the Palestinians?

Spokesman:  Well, again, without characterizing it one way or another, we have been getting the various facts out about the situation on the ground, including in the report, by the way, that you mentioned, which, I believe, the facts of the report were released, and we’ll continue to do that.

Ultimately, it’s important to have a solid base of information about what’s happening, and that’s what we try to provide.

Question:  Okay.  My second question, on 21 April, the Israeli occupation authorities arrested journalist Alaa — A-l-a-a — al-Rimawi from his home in Ramallah.  He is number now 26, Palestinian journalists arrested by Israel.  Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling for his release.  He went onto a hunger strike now.  The UN is silent about his arrest and the other journalists.  Do you have anything to say about that?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  What I have to say is that it is our principle that all journalists in every country, including here, need to be protected so that they can go about their work without harassment and without the sort of pressure that we’ve seen.  And so, it’s important that all journalists, including those Palestinian journalists working in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, be accorded their basic rights.


For information media. Not an official record.


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