Human Rights Day 2012: Palestine refugees and human rights

10 December 2012

Each year on 10 December, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of human rights.

Since 1948, Palestine refugees have suffered from the consequences of being displaced, often repeatedly, and from the impact that displacement has had on their enjoyment of various human rights.

On Human Rights Day 2012, we draw attention to the UDHR and the ways in which it relates to Palestine refugees.

Article 1
Right to freedom and equality

The on-going conflict in Syria has led to more than 12,000 Palestine refugees being displaced from Syria to neighbouring countries. Palestine refugees that have left Syria are particularly vulnerable – most are not citizens of their country of refuge – and even with UNRWA’s assistance, many are food-insecure and face extreme difficulties.

In a recent speech, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi expressed his concern for Palestine refugees in Syria, saying:

I am very worried […] that pressure on Palestinians might trigger a surge in external displacement, across borders. The situation so far has been fairly contained, but as the conflict escalates people may be moving out of the most affected areas, especially in and around Damascus, where three-quarters of the Palestine refugees in Syria are concentrated.

Article 12
Right to freedom from interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence

In the West Bank, evictions and demolitions by the Israeli forces among other reasons prevent many Palestine refugees from enjoying their rights, including the right to protection of one’s home and privacy. Even with support from UNRWA, these families have limited opportunities to start over, and to seek legal redress.Boy after West Bank demolition

International law, including human rights law, places strict limitations on evictions and demolitions; this is especially true in the context of military occupation.

In two incidents in April of this year, 67 Palestine refugees, more than half of them children, were displaced as a result of the eviction or demolition of their homes. In one incident on 18 April, the Israeli authorities demolished the homes of seven refugee families in the Palestinian community of Al Khalayleh, displacing them for the third time in six months. The following day, Israeli authorities demolished and confiscated emergency tents provided by humanitarian actors in response to the demolitions.

Article 13
Right to free movement in and out of the country

Persistent constraints on movement and complicated permit regimes have a direct impact on people’s right to move freely and engage in commerce in the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as an effect on the operations of UNRWA and other humanitarian organisations.

In 2002, following the outbreak of the second Intifada, Israel began constructing the West Bank Barrier, which restricts the movement of Palestinians. It often cuts Palestinian farmers off from their land, having a damaging impact on their income. In the city of Qalqilya alone, where over 75 per cent of the population are UNRWA-registered refugees, farmers have lost access to agricultural land and 12,000 olive, almond and fruit trees have been destroyed to make room for the Barrier.

On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion on the legality of the Barrier, concluding that “the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law”.

Article 23
Right to desirable work and protection against unemployment

In Lebanon, the law bars Palestinians in the country (numbering over 450,000) from access to over 30 syndicated professions, including medicine, law, and pharmacy. Fifty-six per cent of Palestine refugees of working age in Lebanon are jobless. Those with a job are often subject to unstable employment that is inadequate to lift them out of poverty.

In the Gaza Strip, home to 1.2 million Palestine refugees (out of a population of 1.6 million Gazans) an on-going Israeli-imposed blockade has prevented a sustainable economic recovery. As of today, exports from Gaza remain at less than five per cent of pre-2007 levels and imports at less than approximately 45 per cent of pre-2007 levels, despite limited measures in 2010 to ease restrictions on the import of some goods to Gaza. The latest figures place the unemployment rate for Palestine refugee youth in Gaza at 59 per cent.

In Lebanon, the law bars Palestinians in the country (numbering over 450,000) from access to over 30 syndicated professions, including medicine, law, and pharmacy. Fifty-six per cent of Palestine refugees of working age in Lebanon are jobless. Those with a job are often subject to unstable employment that is inadequate to lift them out of poverty.

In the Gaza Strip, home to 1.2 million Palestine refugees (out of a population of 1.6 million Gazans) an on-going Israeli-imposed blockade has prevented a sustainable economic recovery. As of today, exports from Gaza remain at less than five per cent of pre-2007 levels and imports at less than approximately 45 per cent of pre-2007 levels, despite limited measures in 2010 to ease restrictions on the import of some goods to Gaza. The latest figures place the unemployment rate for Palestine refugee youth in Gaza at 59 per cent.

Article 25
Right to adequate living standards

In Lebanon, two-thirds of Palestine refugees are poor, surviving on less than USD six per day. 55.7 per cent of households reported an inability to afford more food when their food supply was not enough. 

Article 26
Right to education

With almost 40 per cent of Palestine refugees below the age of 18 and with Palestine refugees broadly affected with high levels of unemployment and poverty, education is crucial for lasting positive social and economic development.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugee children and young people have restricted access to the public school system. As a result, UNRWA in Lebanon provides not only primary but also secondary education. Even so, there is little hope for a successful future for Palestine refugees in Lebanon; school dropout rates are high, and two-thirds of young Palestinians above the age of 15 do not have the Brevet, the state certificate that grants access to secondary school. At the university level, only five per cent of Palestinians in Lebanon hold a university degree.

In Syria and Gaza, recent violence has severely limited young Palestine refugees’ access to education. During a recent trip to Syria, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi paid tribute to the young Palestinian students attending the Agency’s schools in extremely difficult circumstances: 

"I visited a class of girls in ninth grade. We couldn‘t hear each other because of the shelling, but they were still attending lessons".

In Gaza, classes closed and many UNRWA schools sustained damage during the November military action of the Strip. While UNRWA schools in Gaza are now open, lasting physical and psychological damage continues to impede the education of our young students.

About UNRWA

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency‘s General Fund, supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit.

UNRWA and human rights

One of UNRWA‘s key goals is the enjoyment of human rights by all Palestine refugees. UNRWA addresses human rights concerns with the relevant authorities and, where appropriate, cooperates with international human rights mechanisms. The Agency also ensures that its programmes – education, health care, relief and other services – are delivered in a way that promotes human rights. 

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