11 December 2022 marks the 74th anniversary of the adoption of UNGA Resolution 194 (III). This legal document explicitly affirms Palestinian refugees’ fundamental right to reparations, including return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced, property restitution, and compensation.
74 years later, however, and the inalienable right to reparations of the 9.17 million displaced Palestinians is yet to be fulfilled. The Israeli colonial-apartheid regime continues to deny their right to return, property restitution and compensation. Further, powerful western states remain unwilling to fulfill their international responsibilities towards displaced Palestinians, specifically their obligations to ensure international protection and to facilitate durable solutions.
UNGA Resolution 194 (III) “instruct[ed] the Conciliation Commission [for Palestine] to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation […],” referring to the legal protection and physical safety and security pillars of international protection. However, with the UNCCP effectively nonoperational since the mid-1950s, displaced Palestinians suffer from a lack of international protection.
This protection gap leaves displaced Palestinians vulnerable and susceptible to violations of their fundamental rights. In Lebanon, for example, more than 70 percent of the Palestinian refugee population are living in extreme poverty and are facing rapidly increasing levels of food insecurity. Concurrently, Palestinian refugees in western states signatory to the Refugee Convention are at constant risk of refoulement and denial of their refugee status due to an overly broad and misguided application of Article 1D.
In fact, rather than accessing the protection that they are entitled to, Palestinian refugees are facing more intensified efforts by international actors to undermine their status and rights as displaced persons. Many of these attacks are targeting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), by means of conditional funding and shirking its responsibilities.
For instance, earlier this year, it was suggested that some of UNRWA’s responsibilities be assigned to other UN agencies or non-governmental organizations. This transfer of responsibilities would signify the first step towards diluting UNRWA’s responsibilities and gradually dismantling it, following suit with Israel’s strategy to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue. Nonetheless, 165 UN Member States voted in favor of renewing UNRWA’s mandate until 2026 in November 2022, without any transfer of responsibilities.
This vote was crucial in reaffirming the UN’s commitment towards Palestinian refugees in light of the many attacks that the Agency has faced over the past few years. However, it has failed to provide a solution to UNRWA’s chronic budget crisis, which is of grave concern.
Additionally, this vote did not address the question of ensuring international protection for Palestinian refugees, that is, to ensure them their recognized human rights and to facilitate durable solutions, including the protection of refugees’ properties. This is necessary considering that, with the defunct status of the UNCCP, no agency is currently ensuring displaced Palestinians’ legal protection of their basic rights as refugees, including protection of their properties.
Nonetheless, international protection, is an absolute right, not a tractable one. It is therefore high time for states to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that displaced Palestinians are provided comprehensive protection rather than accepting their positioning in a legal lacuna. Member states must seriously consider expanding UNRWA’s mandate or reviving the UNCCP to ensure legal protection for Palestinian refugees – the realization of their right to reparations as enshrined in UNGA Resolution 194, relevant international instruments, and states’ best practices.
Today, 74 years later, it remains true that a durable peace and just solution for the protracted conflict is only achievable through enforcing UNGA Resolution 194 (III). It is also non-negotiable that facilitating durable solutions for Palestinian refugees, specifically their right of return, is a fundamental prerequisite for the realization of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
Accordingly, BADIL and the Global Palestinian Refugee Network (GPRN) calls on the international community to:
- Fulfill its responsibilities under international law to ensure and facilitate international protection for Palestinian refugees, specifically by adopting and supporting durable rights-based solutions as a long-term strategy for Palestinian refugees and IDPs;
- Ensure effective protection of Palestinian refugees and those at risk of forcible displacement inside Mandatory Palestine and in exile by expanding UNRWA’s mandate to include explicit and comprehensive mandate of international protection.