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Paris, 23 December 2004
On 17 November, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre wrote to Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), requesting a copy of the late Yassir Arafat’s UNRWA registration document.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the Centre’s Director for International Liaison, Dr. Shimon Samuels, explained that: “We had thus hoped to lay to rest the brewing controversy over the registration of Arafat’s birthplace in his French death certificate as ‘Al Qods/Jerusalem’.”
The Centre informed Annan that “UNRWA legal Adviser, James G. Lindsay, responded to our request in a letter dated 25 November (but which arrived only now from Gaza) as follows: ‘In order to release personal information it holds on individuals, the Agency requires consent of the individual involved. In the case of a dead or incapacitated individual, the Agency would require the consent of the executor of the deceased’s estate or of the individual’s legal representative, respectively. In the absence of such consent, the Agency does not ordinarily release information on individuals to third parties. Accordingly, the Agency is unable to release to you the materials you have requested.'”
The letter stated that “the tone of [Lindsay’s response] recalls the allegations often made that keeping entire generations of deceased Palestinians on its books as live refugee recipients of international charity, thereby so inflating its constituency to ensure and justify its own self-perpetuation.”
Samuels added that: “[As Secretary-General,] you have repeatedly stressed a commitment to transparency and full access to information regarding the United Nations and its agencies, as a responsibility to the tax-payers of the 189 member-states who maintain the Organization.”
The Wiesenthal Centre urged Annan “to launch an immediate investigation into UNRWA’s registration policy of deceased persons, the cancellation of their fictituous ration allocations and other subsidies, and their removal from the refugee population register.”
In regard to its Arafat enquiry, the Centre pointed to the operative phrase in Lindsay’s advisory: “… the Agency does not ORDINARILY release information on individuals to third parties parties. Accordingly, the AGENCY is unable to release to you the materials you have requested.”
The letter concluded: “Now that the existence of Yassir Arafat’s UNRWA registration document is confirmed, we expect that you, Mr. Secretary-General, will keep your commitment to transparency by an ‘extraordinary’ gesture in making public this document or its content. If the UNRWA ‘agency is unable to serve the cause of truth, we are certain that you, who bear final responsibility for UNRWA, will order a prompt and full disclosure.
For further information, please contact Dr. Samuels at +33.6.09.77.01.58.