UNESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy today expressed a wish to see the reconstruction of Lebanon take place within the framework of a national vision and plan that covers all segments of Lebanese society and of a developmental rather than a humanitarian nature.
The Regional Commission’s top official, who returned to Beirut to resume her activities at the permanent headquarters, was received at the Rafic Hariri International Airport VIP lounge by senior UNESCWA officials and a media contingent before delivering the following statement:
“I salute the Lebanese people for their solidarity in the face of this destructive war. Ever since the war on Lebanon began, UNESCWA has documented the military operations and their impact in detail and on a daily basis, feeding the information back to the UN Secretariat and to the UNESCWA temporary headquarters in Vienna. UNESCWA held a meeting on 14 August at its permanent and official headquarters in Beirut that brought together a number of development experts and representatives of international and civil society organizations. The meeting aimed to provide a forum for the participants where they could discuss the results of the war and designate priorities and strategies for reconstruction and rehabilitation.
At the Meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers for the Reconstruction of Lebanon held by the Arab League in Cairo on 20 August 2006, UNESCWA proposed five principal points on this issue:
1. There must be a national vision and plan for reconstruction that would reach all areas and all communities in Lebanon. This reconstruction must be of a developmental, rather than a humanitarian, nature.
2. The rebuilding operation should take place within the framework of an overall economic plan drawn up by the state and not to be to the donors alone.
3. Consideration should be given to the economic, geographic, and human characteristics of Lebanon so that it may regain its role and its excellence in the regional milieu. As you know, Lebanon is distinguished in many sectors, among them the service industries of tourism and banking.
4. The international community should bear the cost of reconstruction in Lebanon, specially that the country is experiencing an economic crisis and is heavily burdened by debt. We hope that its debts will be forgiven totally or at least partially to help relieve the impact of this crisis.
5. Rebuilding the state requires protection as well as an Arab regional group effort and specific international commitments set down by regional consensus. How would we guarantee that what happened is not repeated if this is not done by activating Arab national security?
UNESCWA will, at a later stage, perform an analysis of the data gathered since the beginning of the war. This will be a cautionary document that serves as a reference point in the discussion of international laws that need to protect the rights of civilians during armed conflicts. The Commission will work to utilize the great sympathy engendered from the Arab and European community by bolstering Lebanon’s relationship with all the unions and chambers of commerce and industry inside and outside the region. The onus is on all of us, yet I believe we can weather this crisis.”
Tallawy was questioned about her departure from Beirut during the war, to which she said that UNESCWA was at the service of 13 Arab member countries and its permanent, official headquarters were in Beirut. She pointed out that she did not leave Beirut until all the staff were evacuated under her supervision because she was responsible for the safety of staff members on behalf of the United Nations Secretary General. Tallawy stressed that during relief work, the UN continued to work through agencies and programs such as the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund and others. “While international staff members were making their way out of Beirut to continue their work from abroad, others were coming in as part of relief efforts,” noted Tallawy, “It was UNESCWA that was facilitating their logistic and relief work.”
The Executive Secretary answered a question about the impact of the Qana massacre, saying the death of civilians in Lebanon would provide a push towards activating international laws concerned with safeguarding children and civilians during armed conflicts. She said Lebanon had witnessed almost 52 mass murders during the war that no one in the West was aware of. “There might be great sympathy for Lebanon on this issue, yet no one knows anything about these figures,” warned Tallawy. She said she discussed this issue in Paris a few days ago during a meeting held by the “Suzan Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement”. She showed documents that included a map pinpointing the raids on every single region in Lebanon. Tallawy stressed the importance of getting information across to the world “because we found out that the others don’t know about many things that took place.”
Tallawy answered another question by saying that despite all the pressures the United Nations has faced, it remained the only forum that expresses the opinions of peoples in the world and the ambitions of states. She said there was another side to the work of the United Nations such as development and humanitarian activities. “Institutions that operate in this field have done a remarkable job to date. Imagine the world without this international organization,” she declared. “A fundamental change has certainly happened in the world, and one of the victims of this change was, for example, what happened in Lebanon.”
Questioned whether the United Nations had plans for safeguarding women and children during wars, Tallawy said that this demanded a great amount of group effort on the part of countries, governments and civil society organizations“ because humanity is for all nations and knows no boundaries.” Asked whether she would be visiting Secretary-General of Hizbollah, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Tallawy replied, “visiting His Eminence or not is not the issue, what is important is the unity of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”