- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

Refugee appeal set

The refugee crisis is one measure of the misery of the planet, and the upcoming appeal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees provides a snapshot of troubled areas.

At its annual pledging conference, opening this morning in Geneva, the relief agency is seeking $1 billion to care for 20.5 million displaced people in 2004.

Among the most urgent situations:

• More than a third of the UNHCR’s 2004 budget will go for repatriation and refugee assistance in Africa, where the agency cares for more than 3.3 million people — mostly in Sierra Leone, Angola, Eritrea and the Sudan-Chad border.

• Afghanistan is the UNHCR’s largest single operation, and the agency seeks $132 million next year to fund returns, as well as shelter, water and other assistance for the displaced.

• The agency wants $25 million for the Western Hemisphere. Colombia, its most pressing regional concern, has an estimated 2 million internally displaced people and refugees.

• The UNHCR says it needs $48 million to return refugees in the Balkans and boost reconciliation and stability efforts.

• South Asia presents problems, particularly with a half-million Sri Lankans displaced by civil wars.

Wall of discord

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to pass a resolution today referring to the International Court of Justice Israel’s construction of what it calls a security wall on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

The resolution will ask the court at The Hague to consider the legal consequences of the wall and “urgently render an advisory opinion,” said General Assembly spokeswoman Michele Montas.

This autumn, the world body passed a nonbinding resolution saying the wall “contradicts international laws.”

Israel has long been the subject of resolutions in the General Assembly, and none of them has received the support of the United States. This one is unlikely to be different.

The European Union last week also was debating whether to recommend the matter to The Hague. Italy, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, has said the wall makes it impossible to implement the U.S.-backed “road map” to peace.

Arab nations asked for the meeting after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported that the barrier — which veers as much as 15 miles into the West Bank in some areas — would violate international law and increase Palestinian suffering.

Israel has a legitimate “right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks,” Mr. Annan said. But he added that erecting the wall is “a deeply counterproductive act.” Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, angrily responded that his country has the right to determine its own boundaries.

Cloning reconsidered

It will be an unusually busy day in the General Assembly chamber, with members starting the day by reconsidering their delay on invoking a cloning ban.

The assembly’s legal committee — deadlocked between a total cloning ban and one that would permit cloning research — narrowly agreed in November to postpone consideration of the matter for another two years.

The committee’s recommendation normally would be rubber-stamped by the full assembly today, but Costa Rica and other countries hope enough states have had a change of heart and will reopen the issue. They say the unusual two-year delay and the close 80-79 vote might spur a vote to reopen the issue before December 2005.

The United States, Costa Rica, many developing nations and the Vatican, which has U.N. observer status, are among the more than 60 parties supporting a total ban on cloning, saying that even research assaults the dignity of human life.

But most European countries appear to support the Belgian proposal, which allows carefully monitored research on stem cells and other medical research. There is a broad agreement to outlaw human reproductive cloning.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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