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Report UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Represented by Ada Jonusyte and Matthias A. Simnacher

At NMUN 2008, Japan was represented by Ada Jonusyte and Matthias Simnacher in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This specialized agency focuses on neutral humanitarian help in order to provide welfare and human development for the Palestine Refugees in the Middle East. It is the largest UN mission in the region and the main employer for about 30.000 Palestinians.

This year at UNRWA, three issues were to be debated:

1. Ensuring the Continuation of Services to Palestinian Refugees during Conflict;
2. Promoting Good Governance through Refugee Programs;
3. Outlining Strategies to Build Capacity of UNRWA.

The Agency reports directly to the General Assembly (GA) and to the Technical Assistance Board of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Our task during NMUN was to prepare a report which was then introduced to ECOSOC.

Originally, UNRWA has 21 members which can be classified into two categories: donor countries (mainly Western countries) and the neighboring host countries of Palestine refugees (Arab countries). Japan, as the second biggest contributor to this Agency, belongs to the first group. Being a non-Western and non-military power, it has good relationships with the neighboring states. Due to certain reasons, Spain and Sweden were missing, so the number of delegations with a right to vote was 19. This absence was disadvantageous for our Delegation since it changed the balance within this committee in favor of the Arab countries. There were also several delegations which only had observer status: Palestine and NGO’s like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch (only the last NGO was represented at the NMUN conference).

On the very first day, we easily succeeded to set the agenda of the committee in our preferred order: 1, 3, 2. This proposal found a broad consensus, due to a strained situation of the Palestine refugees in the Gaza strip after the attempt to breach the borders in January 2008. This and many other examples did show that UNRWA needs a theoretical framework to effectively deal with a crisis situation. However, soon it became clear that delegations understood the definition of conflict very differently. The main question was to make it clear whether UNRWA would be responsible for emergency situations in this Middle East conflict only or if it should deal with the overall continuing conflict since 1948, the founding year of the State of Israel. A common decision was not found, so the Agency split into several working groups, which were working on housing, water supply, financing, cooperation with other regional and international organizations, as well as a working group with a focus on a humanitarian approach dealing with crisis situations.

Japan’s Delegation did sponsor housing and humanitarian approach draft report segments and was a signatory of draft segments on financing and water supply issues. Our Delegation focused on implementation of the Human Security concept which is an overall priority of Japan’s foreign policy. As an important contributor to the UNRWA budget we were also tracking developments in the financing working group. To reach our aims the Delegation worked hard trying to promote the concept of Human Security by explaining its meaning and usefulness.

For UNRWA, it is relevant because of its complex mandate in the security-troubled region which needs a special interpretation in emergency situations. The main problem UNRWA has to deal with is its mandate: to provide relief for only Palestine refugees. This is practically impossible and not acceptable from a humanitarian point of view during a crisis situation. The Agency has already supplied humanitarian help for people in need, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. That is why our Delegation found it important to have a link to the Human Security concept in UNRWA’s emergency strategy. The draft report segment was also dealing with measures to help vulnerable refugee groups like women and children and to help victims through psychological relief during post-conflict periods.

Unexpectedly, the only extremely controversial proposal was the one introducing the concept of Human Security. The concept and its consequences became the main focus of UNRWA for a whole last day while the other 5 draft report segments were not debated in public at all. Within the committee, delegations started to work along regional groups lines, which was not very beneficial for Japan. The whole European Union (EU) group acted out of character and surprisingly decided to abstain from this draft report segment – the humanitarian approach. Arab countries had increasing concerns speaking about women’s rights and expressed their decision to abstain or vote against Japan’s and its allies’ proposal. Due to the lack of time, it was not possible for Japan to change the situation before the committee turned to the voting procedures.

This draft report segment was the very first accepted by the dais and therefore was voted upon first. The atmosphere was rather tense as it became clear that there were only five members voting for the segment. The largest group of the Agency abstained from the draft paper and it was then asked for the votes against it. As the chair announced that the number of “No” votes is only four, it was an unbelievable outcome for Japan. Even a Member State of the EU immediately complained about the decision of the chair, claiming that there were five votes against the draft segment. The chair, however, did not entertain the motion and we went through the remaining six drafts which were all adapted without any serious opposition.

After this challenging experience the Delegation congratulated its allies and expressed its satisfaction of the cooperation and the final outcome of voting procedures. The Agency began to debate on the second agenda topic – Outlining Strategies to Build Capacity of UNRWA – but due to the nearing end of the simulation, delegates were not able to come up with any substantial results.

On the very last day of NMUN, on 22 March, the UNRWA report was presented by the committee chair to the ECOSOC: The segment on the Human Security concept was mentioned twice as an important part of the Agency’s new strategy in crisis situations. Additionally we could prove that NMUN has an educational purpose: after an exhaustive discussion about the humanitarian approach we were sure that everyone learnt something about Human Security.