International Conference on Palestine Refugees

The U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), in cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the League of Arab States, convened the International Conference on Palestine Refugees at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, from 26 to 27 April 2000. The Conference was then followed by the convening of a one-day U.N. NGO Meeting on Palestine refugees under the auspices of the CEIRPP.

The Conference was organized in recognition of the importance of the Palestine refugee question, the timeliness of the issue during the final status negotiations stage of the peace process, and the need to resolve the problem as a prerequisite for establishment of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.

In general, the Conference aimed to discuss the current situation of the Palestine refugees, including in the context of the peace process, examine the role of the U.N. in reaching a just solution of the refugee issue, and recommend political measures in support of a lasting solution in accordance with international law and U.N. resolutions. These recommendations were incorporated in a final document of the Conference in the form of Concluding Remarks of the Organizers.

An important development was the surprising attendance by President Arafat at the opening session of the Conference, symbolizing the importance of the issue being discussed. The Conference was attended by many prominent personalities, international experts on the Palestine refugee question, high-level officials and other representatives of U.N. Member States, intergovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies, academics, parliamentarians, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and media.

The Opening Session of the Conference was addressed by Mr. Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Political Affairs, representing the U.N. Secretary-General (SG); H.E. Mr. Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Vice-Chairman of the CEIRPP; H.E. Dr. Azzedine Laraki, SG of the OIC; H.E. Mr. Said Kamal, USG for Palestine Affairs of the League of Arab States; Mr. Ahmed Sayyad, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO; and H.E. Mr. As’ad Abdul Rahman, PLO Executive Committee Member and Head of the Refugees Department. These statements were followed by statements made by representative of governments, including Oman, on behalf of the Arab Group; South Africa, on behalf of NAM; France, as the host country of UNESCO; Indonesia, Italy, China, and Egypt.

Along with the opening session, the Conference had 3 plenary sessions during which the panelists addressed the Conference and interacted in dialogue. Each plenary session had a specific focus. All of the panelists made impressive presentations and the dialogue was constructive.

Plenary I was entitled Palestine refugees – the longest-running humanitarian problem in today’s world, with discussions focusing, inter alia, on the origins of the problem and the socioeconomic problems being faced by the refugees. The panelists included: Mr. Salman Abu-Sitta, researcher and former member of the PNC; Mr. Don Peretz, Professor Emeritus at Binghamton University; Mr. Uri Avnery, journalist and Chair of Gush Shalom; and Ms. Susan Akram, Associate Professor at Boston University Law School.

The 2nd plenary, entitled The United Nations and the Palestine refugees, focused on, inter alia, the rights of the refugees according to international law and the role of the U.N. as a guarantor of international legitimacy; U.N. efforts for solving the refugee issue and the work of the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) and the role of UNRWA. Expert panelists included H.E. Dr. Hussein Hassouna, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States to the U.N.; Mr. Lionel Brisson, Director of Operations of UNRWA; Mr. Mustapha Djemali, Regional Director of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; Ms. Laura Reanda, former chief of the U.N. Division for Palestinian Rights; Mr. Yossi Katz, Knesset member; and Mr. Terry Rempel, Research Coordinator for BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

Plenary III was entitled Palestine refugees and the current Middle East peace process. Presentations focused on the settlement of the refugee problem as a prerequisite for peace in the Middle East; the refugee issue in the final status negotiations as well as in the multilateral negotiations, and the Palestinians displaced in 1967 and the work of the Continuing Committee. The panelist were H.E. Mr. Osama El-Baz, Political Advisor to the President of Egypt; Mr. Henry Siegman, Director of U.S./Middle East Project of the Council on Foreign Relations; Mrs. Karin Roxman, Political Advisor to the EU Special Envoy to the Peace Process; H.E. Mr. Andrew Robinson, Canadian Special Coordinator for the Peace Process and gavel-holder of the multilateral working group on refugees; Mr. Alexandre Zassypkin, Head of the Middle East Peace Process Desk of the Russian Foreign Ministry; and Mr. As’ad Abdul Rahman.

During the closing session of the Conference, a final document, entitled Concluding Remarks of the Organizers of the International Conference on Palestine Refugees was presented by H.E. Ambassador Parilla. The following are excerpts from those concluding remarks:

“They [the Organizers] noted that the plight of Palestine refugees was among the permanent status issues being negotiated by the parties. It was emphasized, in this context, that a just solution to the question of Palestine and a lasting peace in the Middle East could not be achieved without a just and fair solution to the question of Palestine refugees.”

“The deliberations of the Conference demonstrated the strong support of the international community for efforts aimed at finding a solution to the question of Palestine refugees and displaced persons based on key U.N. resolutions, notably General Assembly resolutions 212 (III) of 19 November 1948; 194 (III) of 11 December 1948; 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949; and Security Council resolutions 237 (1967) and 242 (1967). In this connection, the Organizers emphasized the permanent responsibility of the U.N. towards all aspects of the question of Palestine, including the problem of Palestine refugees, until it is resolved in conformity with relevant U.N. resolutions and in accordance with international legitimacy.”

“The Organizers reaffirmed that the right of return of Palestine refugees to their homes, as stipulated by General Assembly in its resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, remained a conditio sine qua non for the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty… They considered the issue of refugee compensation to be an integral element of, but not a substitute for, their right of return.”

“The Organizers were also grateful to countries, which, for decades, have hosted Palestine refugees and displaced persons – the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt and other countries.”