15 March 2005

Secretary-General Praises Peter Hansen’s “Unflagging Energy, Commitment and Leadership” in Remarks to Staff of Palestine Relief Agency

NEW YORK, 14 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) staff in Jerusalem, 14 March:

It is a pleasure to join you today -- to see, again, the outstanding work that you do, and to thank you, international and Palestinian staff alike, for your dedication under very arduous conditions and testing circumstances.  Your efforts make all United Nations staff proud.

I recall my last visit to the occupied Palestinian territory, almost four years ago.  I learned about the special counselling that UNRWA is giving to traumatized children, and about your efforts to rehabilitate people injured by shrapnel or rubber bullets.  Today, I am glad to have a chance to see more of the truly vast range of vital services that UNRWA provides.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine how Palestinian refugees might have fared over these many decades without UNRWA’s programmes in education, health care, microfinance and other key aspects of human development.

I know that today, there is still a lot of suffering and despair as both sides continue to count the casualties.  Too often, children are among the casualties.  Moreover, Palestinians also suffer from checkpoints, curfews and other restrictions on movement that only add to the suffering.  Closures also continue to impede our humanitarian operations.

And yet, the political situation has improved.  We sense once again the possibility of change.  The hope that springs from that should encourage us all.  The historic elections in January showed the determination of Palestinians to seek peaceful and democratic means of ending the occupation, resolving differences, running their own affairs and building their nation.  The understandings reached at Sharm el-Sheik heralded a fresh start in efforts to end four years of bloodshed, and we will all work hard to overcome any delays in its implementation.  The agreement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end violence signalled a new attitude of cooperation, and the start to rebuilding between the two sides.

I have come here at this moment of promise to express my full support for these efforts.  Later today, in my meeting with President Abbas, and in my talks with the Israeli side -- as you know, I just met with Prime Minister Sharon yesterday -- I will be stressing the need for everyone to refrain from any actions that might prevent or delay a resumption of negotiations and implementation of United Nations resolutions and the “Road Map”, or that could prejudge the resolution of final status issues.  We must all keep our eyes focused on our long-standing objective of two States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side by side in peace and security.

I know this is also a time of transition for UNRWA.  Peter Hansen will be leaving at the end of this month, completing his tenure after nine years of outstanding service as Commissioner-General, and 27 years of remarkable contributions to many different areas of the United Nations’ work.

I want to thank Peter for the unflagging energy, commitment and leadership that he has brought to this immensely challenging task.  It is hard to imagine anyone more devoted to the interests of the Palestine refugees, or more courageous in championing them, particularly during the last four years of renewed conflict and tragic violence. Peter has been an inspiring leader, an effective manager, a successful fund-raiser, and an empathetic presence sharing your sorrows and your anger. Indeed, one measure of the high regard in which he is held will come in just a short while from now, when Peter will leave us to attend a ceremony at which the Palestinian authority will honour him for all that he has done.  He richly deserves this recognition.

I know that many of you are disappointed that he will not be with you even longer. There may even be some misunderstanding about the circumstances. I would like to assure you that the only reason for his departure is that, as I said in the letter that was sent to all UNRWA staff, nine years is long enough for anyone to have to live with the stresses and strains of such a job. Peter nobly indicated his willingness to stay on. But I believe it is the right moment to look for a new leader to shoulder the burden.

Peter will be a tough act to follow. I have asked Karen Koning AbuZayd to serve, upon his departure, as Acting Commissioner-General, and I have no doubt she will rise to the challenge.  As you know, I have initiated a global search for the best possible successor.  We are making this a truly open search, asking governments, civil society groups and others to give us the names of qualified men and women.

Thank you again for all the work you do to provide a lifeline, as well as basic services, for millions of Palestinians.

You are not only helping to address a humanitarian plight and contributing to the long-term development of Palestinian society. You are also helping to create an environment conducive to peace. At long last, one can sense potential movement towards the long-cherished dream of Palestinians and Israelis to live a normal life in peace and security.  Let us all do our utmost to turn the current moment into a real end to the conflict.

Thank you very much. Now I would be pleased to hear your comments and answer any questions.

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