56th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 71st Session

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08-Dec-2016 02:40:38
Responding to current humanitarian crises, the General Assembly adopts texts aimed at alleviating the suffering of millions and protecting civilians and aid workers, at the 56th plenary of the 71st session.

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Tasked with addressing and alleviating the largest scale of human suffering — 130 million dependent on aid for survival — since the founding of the United Nations, the General Assembly took up a plethora of humanitarian issues today, adopting five resolutions on a sector whose workers were increasingly in demand and danger.

Based on the texts, which were adopted without a vote, the Assembly condemned in the strongest terms possible all attacks on aid workers and urged States to prevent and prosecute acts of sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies. It also urged donors to continue aid flows to the Palestinian people and urged Member States to take action to prepare for the effects of climate change and natural disasters. The Assembly also decided to designate 26 April International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day, to be observed every year beginning in 2017.

Taking up draft resolutions pertaining to crisis and emergency situations, the Assembly, by one titled “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel”, stressed the importance of continuing close consultations with host Governments and the obligation to protect medical personnel and hospitals. Prior to adopting that text as a whole, the Assembly held two recorded votes on proposed amendments (documents A/71/L.36 and A/71/L.37). Introduced by the delegation of Sudan, they would have, respectively, replaced, in preambular paragraph 26, references to the Rome Statute and International Criminal Court, as well as delete operative paragraph 7, which called upon all States to consider becoming parties to those instruments.

The Assembly urged Member States to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts of sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies, by a draft on “Strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance to the United Nations”. It also urged them to continue to seek and prosecute violations and abuses against children in humanitarian emergencies. By the draft resolution “International cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development”, the Assembly urged Member States to develop, update and strengthen early warning systems, disaster preparedness and risk reduction measures.

The Assembly, by a draft on “Assistance to the Palestinian people”, urged Member States, international financial institutions and regional organizations to extend economic and social assistance to the Palestinian people. It also stressed the role of all funding instruments in directly assisting the Palestinian people and called on international donors to expedite the delivery of pledged assistance in order to help the Palestinian people meet their urgent needs.

In opening remarks, General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) said that worldwide, 128.6 million people were affected by conflict, violence and disaster, with almost 93 million in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. The United Nations and its partners were currently launching the largest humanitarian appeal in history, seeking $22.2 billion in 2017 to meet the urgent needs of people across the globe, he said.

He said new ways to sustain peace, resolve conflicts, combat climate change and better manage migrant and refugee flows must be identified. “Long-term solutions are needed to break the cycles of recurrent crisis and conflict in which the world is currently caught,” he said.

During the day-long meeting, speakers shared experiences in giving and receiving assistance. The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said the Palestinian economy had suffered from decades of Israeli occupation with a lack of control over their monetary and fiscal policies, the two main components of a healthy economy. He called Member States to work “alongside us” and support “genuine” development endeavours. While citing recent progress, he said economic losses continued, with everything that was being paid to the Palestinian people being “just a bill of the occupation”. Accessing its resources would allow Palestine to establish a strong economy, making it no longer dependent on international aid, he said.

Israel’s delegate said that the prosperity of the Palestinian people was a direct Israeli interest and that despite the onslaught of terror attacks against its citizens, Israel had continued to provide assistance, including building hundreds of schools, clinics, mosques and parks. Hamas regularly confiscated, diverted and smuggled resources dedicated to the humanitarian needs of Gaza residents. There should be zero tolerance for such abuse, terrorism and violence. The Palestinian Authority must take a constructive path and accept Israel’s repeated calls to resume direct negotiations.

The ongoing Syria conflict, which some speakers said was responsible for the world’s gravest and most complex humanitarian crisis, was a recurring theme in the discussion. Some delegates, including New Zealand’s representative, raised concerns at the lack of access to civilian populations. No other conflict had taken a heavier toll on its civilian population, she said, expressing disappointment in the Security Council’s inability to adopt a resolution that would have allowed humanitarian aid to reach more than 250,000 civilians in Aleppo.

Speakers from affected countries presented their point of views, with the delegate from Syria expressing concern that some States and organizations were using humanitarian access to serve an “inhumane agenda” and political interests. The Government of Syria remained committed to extending humanitarian aid in full respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Welcoming the reference in the texts to terrorism as a cause of humanitarian crises, he said, “We have to use stronger language that unambiguously and unanimously condemns terrorism.” Terrorism was the reason for current suffering in his country and combating it required cooperation with the Government.

Some speakers made suggestions on ways to move forward. Vladimir Puchkov, the Russian Federation’s Minister for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief, said efforts should be stepped up to fine-tune international legal and normative frameworks and the coordination of international assistance. In that regard, he proposed that international crisis centres be pooled and brought together into a single global network, calling for the establishment of a number of United Nations task forces.

The Assembly took up the following reports: safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel (document A/71/395); strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (document A/71/82); international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters, from relief to development (document A/71/329); Central Emergency Response Fund (document A/71/336); outcome of the World Humanitarian Summit (document A/71/353); assistance to the Palestinian people (document A/71/87); a new approach to cholera in Haiti (document A/71/620); and optimizing the international effort to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (document A/71/411). Also before the Assembly was a letter dated 7 December 2016 from the Chair of the Committee on Conferences addressed to the President of the General Assembly (document A/71/382/Add.1).

Introducing today’s draft resolutions were the representatives of Belarus, Slovakia, Sweden and Thailand. Speaking today were the representatives Brunei Darussalam (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)), India (also for Sweden), Australia, Cuba, Qatar, United States, China, Kuwait, Ukraine, Japan, Turkey, Switzerland, Canada, Georgia, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, as well as the European Union. The representative of Greece spoke on a point of order. Representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross also delivered statements.

The representatives of the Russian Federation, Israel, Ukraine and Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

In other business today, the Assembly decided to authorize the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing to meet at New York Headquarters from 12 to 15 December 2016.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 9 December, to take up its item on the prevention of armed conflict and to take action on a related draft resolution. Consideration of the items on culture of peace and global health and foreign policy was postponed to a later date, to be announced.
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