The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

The following is the second in a series of articles that will be presented by Palestine & The UN regarding United Nations committees and bodies specifically related to the question of Palestine. The articles will focus on the establishment of those committees and bodies, as well as their histories, mandates, work and compositions. The second to be reviewed in this series will be the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

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More than 25 years ago, in 1974, the question of Palestine was reintroduced to the agenda of the General Assembly (GA) and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were reaffirmed and defined. Resolution 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974 reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination without external interference; the right to national independence and sovereignty; and the right to return to their homes and property. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to establish contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on all matters concerning the question of Palestine. That same day the Assembly granted the PLO observer status under resolution 3237 (XXIX).

This was followed in the next session by the establishment of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) on 10 November 1975 by GA resolution 3376 (XXX), adopted by a clear majority of 93 in favor, with 18 against and 27 abstentions. The resolution mandated the Committee to consider and recommend a program designed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights. The Assembly also requested the Committee to submit recommendations within 6 months, while taking into consideration the prerogatives of different U.N. organs in accordance with the Charter. At the same time, the Assembly asked the Security Council to adopt resolutions and measures needed to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their “inalienable national rights”.

From the beginning, and until the present, the Committee has annually elected as its chairman the Ambassador of Senegal, while also electing the Ambassadors of Afghanistan and Cuba as vice-chairmen and the Ambassador of Malta as rapporteur. Further, since its inception, the Committee has been authorized to make contact with, and to consider proposals by States, intergovernmental regional bodies and the PLO. Accordingly, the Committee invited the PLO - and later Palestine - to participate as an observer in the work of the Committee, to attend all its meetings and to make proposals for the Committee’s consideration.

In 1976, the Committee asked the Secretary-General to invite all Member States, permanent observers to the U.N. and intergovernmental and regional organizations to participate as observers. It stressed in particular the participation of States “directly interested in the Middle East crisis”, the League of Arab States, the Organization of African Unity and members of the Security Council, especially its permanent members.

In June 1976, the Committee submitted its first report to the Security Council through the U.N. Secretary-General. In its report, the Committee affirmed that the question of Palestine is at the core of the Middle East problem, and that no solution could be envisaged which did not fully take into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The report urged the Council to promote action for a just solution, in light of the powers conferred upon it by the U.N. Charter. It also recommended a two-phase plan for the return of the Palestinians to their homes and property; a timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories by 1 June 1977, with the provision of temporary peacekeeping forces to facilitate the process, if necessary.

In the report, the Committee also urged an end to the establishment of settlements; recognition by Israel of the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the occupied territories pending withdrawal; and endorsement of the inherent right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty in Palestine. The Committee further stressed the historical duty and responsibility of the U.N. to render necessary assistance to promote the economic development and prosperity of the future Palestinian entity.

Due to a veto by the U.S., the Security Council did not adopt the Committee's recommendations. However, the recommendations were endorsed by the GA in 1976 at its 31st session. Since 1976, the Committee has reported annually to the Assembly and its reports are adopted by an overwhelming majority of Member States. In this regard, the Assembly has mandated the Committee “to exert all efforts to promote the implementation of its recommendations” and to promote the greatest possible dissemination of information on its recommendations through non-governmental organizations and other appropriate means. The Assembly has also requested the Committee to keep the situation relating to the question of Palestine under review and to report and make suggestions to the General Assembly or the Security Council as appropriate.

In 1977, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to establish within the U.N. Secretariat a unit for Palestinian rights to assist the Committee and to work under its guidance. In 1979, this unit was upgraded to a Division. The program of work of the Committee, supported by the Division for Palestinian Rights, includes the convening of regional and international expert seminars and NGO meetings, with the participation of political personalities, representatives of governments and intergovernmental organizations, U.N. officials, academics and the media. Special activities are also organized by the Committee to commemorate the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The Division has also undertaken the preparation and publication of periodic bulletins, annual chronologies, studies and other documentation. In this regard, the Division has produced many valuable, comprehensive, and informative studies and materials on the question of Palestine. Other activities are also carried out, in cooperation with the Department of Public Information, including encounters for journalists and a training program for Palestinian journalists and media practitioners.

At a later stage in its work, the Division became involved in the development and maintenance of an electronic information system on the question of Palestine, namely UNISPAL. This database contains most relevant U.N. documents relating to the question of Palestine. Further, since 1996, the Division has conducted a training program for staff of the Palestinian National Authority, providing two internships annually. Recently, the Division has also been involved in the electronic modernization of the records of the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP).

During 1982-1983, CEIRPP served as the preparatory body for the International Conference on the Question of Palestine, which was held in Geneva from 29 August to 7 September 1983. “The Declaration and Program of Action for the Achievement of Palestinian Rights” adopted by the Conference included the call for the convening of an international peace conference on the Middle East under the auspices of the U.N. The guidelines for such a conference were revised following the Palestine National Council’s “Declaration of Independence” in 1988 and the statement made by President Arafat before the General Assembly meeting in Geneva. This was followed by the adoption of GA resolution 43/176 of 15 December 1988, by an unprecedented majority of 138 in favor with 2 against and 2 abstentions. That resolution called for the convening of an International Peace Conference on the Middle East under the auspices of the U.N., with the participation of the PLO, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and on the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination.

The Committee welcomed the convening of the Middle East Peace Conference at Madrid on 30 October 1991. At the same time, however, it continued to promote the idea of an international peace conference under the auspices of the U.N. Following the signing in September 1993 of the “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements” by the Government of Israel and the PLO, the Assembly welcomed the agreement and authorized the Committee to continue to exert all efforts to promote the exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, to make such adjustments in its program of work, as may be appropriate in light of developments, and to give special emphasis to mobilizing support for and assistance to the Palestinian people. The annual GA resolution in this regard also reaffirmed the U.N.’s permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it is effectively solved in all its aspects.

In following the developments of the peace process, the Committee has consistently reiterated that the involvement of the U.N. in the peace process, both as the guardian of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of international assistance, is essential for the successful outcome of the peace process. It has also expressed its belief that, during the interim period, Israel must recognize and respect its obligations as an occupying Power under the 4th Geneva Convention. Moreover, the Committee has recently expressed increasing concern over the stalemate in the peace process and the illegal policies and actions of the Israeli Government with regard to Jerusalem, expansion of settlements, land confiscation, closures and measures of collective punishment which have suffocated the Palestinian economy.

In recent years, CEIRPP has expanded its cooperative relations to include members of the European Union. Many recent events have been convened under the auspices of the Committee in European countries, including Brussels and Rome. Moreover, in the last two years, the Committee has sponsored the addition of a GA agenda item, entitled “Bethlehem 2000”. The work of the Committee has been important in this respect and has included the organization of an international seminar in Rome, with the support of the Italian Government and the Vatican, to address the issue of Bethlehem 2000. It was during the time of that seminar that the Committee delegation was honored to be received by Pope John Paul II. Last year, the Bureau of the Committee also visited Gaza in the Palestinian territory for the first time and met with President Arafat and other Palestinian officials.

Over the years, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People has exerted invaluable and laudable efforts in carrying out its mandate. The Committee should continue its important work, on the basis of the permanent responsibility of the U.N. towards the question of Palestine, until it is effectively resolved in all its aspects.

The membership of the CEIRPP was originally 20 Member States, which was expanded in 1976 to 23 and in 1997 to 25 States. The current members of the Committee are: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Cyprus, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and Yugoslavia.

At present, the Bureau of the Committee is comprised of the following officers: Chairman - H.E. Amb. Ibra Degučne Ka, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the U.N.; Vice-Chairmen - H.E. Amb. Ravan Farhadi, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the U.N. and H.E. Amb.. Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the U.N.; and Rapporteur - H.E. Amb. Walter Balzan, Permanent Representative of Malta to the U.N.; as well as H.E. Amb. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N.

Observers in the Committee are: Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Syria, Algeria, Czechoslovakia, Ecuador, Morocco, Niger, the United Arab Emirates, Viet Nam, League of Arab States and Organization of the Islamic Conference.