53rd Anniversary of G.A. Resolution 194 (1948) OPEN LETTERS to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

Fifty-three years ago, on 11 December 1948, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution of monumental importance to the Palestinian refugees – G.A. Resolution 194. This year, the 53rd anniversary of Resolution 194 follows the conclusion of the one-year anniversary of the al-Aqsa intifada, in which the Palestinian refugees have made incomparable sacrifices in asserting their fundamental and inalienable rights to be free from Israel’s illegal occupation and to return to their homes of origin. These demands are supported by the entire Palestinian people and leadership, a fact that is not surprising considering that nearly three-quarters of the world’s Palestinians are refugees.

Therefore, upon this occasion of the 53rd anniversary of Resolution 194, we urge all interested persons, organizations and governmental actors to call for the full implementation of Resolution 194. The following model letter can be used to address key actors within the UN system, including UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan, Member States of the UN (through their foreign ministries), and key UN agencies and organs (including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson). We especially recommend that letters be sent to member states of the UN belonging to the European Union, as well as key states in the non-aligned movement.


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Call for Full and Immediate Implementation of G.A. Resolution 194: Prerequisite for a Just and Durable Peace in the Middle East

Your Excellencies:

11 December 2001 marks the 53rd anniversary of the passing of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), the landmark resolution that reaffirmed the fundamental, inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees – to return, restitution and compensation.

Resolution 194 did not create new law but rather affirmed the applicability of existing binding law to the case of the Palestinian refugees. Resolution 194 affirmed that three fundamental, inalienable rights were held individually by each Palestinian refugee, namely the rights to: (1) return; (2) restitution; and (3) compensation. Return was expressly stated to be “to their homes,” i.e., to their homes of origin in the territory that later became the state of Israel. Because return was expressly stated to be “to their homes,” restitution (i.e., the right to receive one’s property back if it had been occupied by secondary occupants, looted or confiscated by a governmental authority in violation of international law) was expressly recognized to be a right held by the Palestinian refugees. Finally, compensation was not to be “in lieu of” the right of return but rather supplementary to it. Refugees choosing to return were to be compensated if their property had been damaged or destroyed. Refugees choosing not to return were to be compensated for all their property, whether damaged or not.

The comprehensiveness of the rights affirmed in Resolution 194 demonstrates that the goal of the international community in affirming them was to try to erase the effects of Israel’s illegal displacement of the Palestinian refugees (“ethnic cleansing”) and to do “restorative justice” by attempting to put the Palestinian refugees back in the position they would have been in had their illegal displacement not occurred. On this 53rd anniversary of Resolution 194, it is high time to implement the rights recognized and affirmed by the international community in 1948. In the intervening 53 years, the international community has not retreated one iota from full recognition of the rights affirmed in Resolution 194.

Therefore, upon this 53rd anniversary of Resolution 194, we hereby call upon the entire United Nations system – including UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan, UN Member States and all UN agencies/organs (including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson) – to undertake the following measures to implement fully and forthwith the three fundamental, inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees enumerated in Resolution 194 – return, restitution and compensation:

1. Convene an international conference on mechanisms necessary to implement the three fundamental rights affirmed in Resolution 194 – return, restitution and compensation. Since the rights exist, practical plans for implementing them must be designed. Palestinian refugees themselves must feature prominently in the decision-making processes designed to restore their rights to them.

2. Reinvigorate the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) by nominating new states to comprise its membership. The current membership – composed of the U.S., France and Turkey – is completely inactive (and, in the case of the U.S., completely biased).

3. Make public the property and land records of the UNCCP for inspection by Palestinian refugees and others, for example to be used in designing a mechanism for securing the restitution rights of the refugees under Resolution 194.

4. Issue a definitive pronouncement that under international law, the ethno-national concept of a “Jewish state” (i.e., a Zionist state) is completely prohibited and therefore illegal because it necessarily involves discrimination in favor of Jews and discrimination against non-Jews. Such state-sanctioned discrimination is prohibited under the entire corpus of international human rights law and, indeed, under the UN Charter (which Israel, as a member state of the UN, is bound to uphold).

5. Mandate the creation of an internationally supported return and restitution mechanism whereby Palestinian refugees would be fully restituted of their properties, with interest calculated from the date of taking.

6. Call for the imposition of comprehensive sanctions upon Israel until it agrees to implement the rights of the refugees under Resolution 194. This is a minimum requirement, since Israel’s admission to the United Nations was expressly conditioned upon its implementation of Resolution 194. Economic and military aid to Israel must cease completely until Israel comes into compliance with Resolution 194, in order for other states to avoid being complicit in Israel’s longstanding violation of the international law-guaranteed rights of the refugees enumerated in Resolution 194.

Fifty-three years is far too long to wait for the implementation of the fundamental, inalienable rights of a population group exceeding 5 million persons. Concrete action to implement the rights of the Palestinian refugees is urgently needed now, in order to bring about a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

The United Nations system must fulfill its obligation to uphold international law!

Resolution 194 must be implemented now!

For more further information on the rights enumerated in Resolution 194, see BADIL Brief No. 8, Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return: An International Law Analysis (pdf). For a longer legal analysis, see BADIL’s legal monograph, The 1948 Palestinian Refugees and the Individual Right of Return: An International Law Anslysis (pdf).