Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

UNRWA Commissioner-General speaks at Wilson Center

Karen Koning AbuZayd, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), spoke at the Wilson Center today on the obstacles faced by refugees in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. UNRWA was created before the inception of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and its sole mandate is to provide for the humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees as a result of the continued occupation and ongoing restrictions on movement.

AbuZayd advocated the closing of the gap between words and actions. She highlighted the ideals and values proclaimed by the international community but noted the lack of effective, practical actions taken on behalf of remedying the conditions brought on by 60 years of occupation. Although AbuZayd said there is still a lifetime of work to do, the educational programs in the region have had a significant impact as the Palestinian literacy rate is 92.4 percent, well beyond the Middle Eastern average of 64 percent. Regarding meeting the concerns of the 800,000-plus displaced Palestinians, as well as those living under occupation, she called for a focus on infrastructure development in order to create an environment that fosters peace and good governance.

The goal of UNWRA through its humanitarian assistance is to encourage the international community to change their strategy of isolation and exclusion as a means of creating and ensuring a sustainable peace process. As poverty rates have risen to 80 percent in Gaza, AbuZayd called for the international community to meet the obligations and promises of countless international agreements to ensure compliance with current, agreed upon, human rights conventions.

AbuZayd began her humanitarian career in Sudan in 1981. Since that time, she has served as the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and in various posts at UNHCR.

To view the video of the discussion, click here.

For more information on Mrs. AbuZayd and UNRWA, click here.

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