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Development Ministers on Gaza, human rights and the future of development cooperation

EU development ministers held an informal meeting in Brussels under the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council to discuss EU development cooperation for the coming years, human rights mainstreaming and the situation in Gaza. Edvin Skrt, Director-General for development cooperation, attended the meeting.

For the debate on Gaza, the development ministers were joined by Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management. They shared their concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, both in terms of humanitarian access and shortages of basic supplies, as well as the rising number of civilian casualties and the worsening living conditions of displaced people. Another cause for concern is the intensification of military operations in the Rafah area, where more than half of Gaza's population has sought refuge.

On the humanitarian situation, Director-General Edvin Skrt reiterated Slovenia's position that only a ceasefire would allow humanitarian aid to continue to be delivered safely and unhindered. He also underlined the need for full respect of international humanitarian law.

Commissioner-General Lazzarini outlined the worrying situation on the ground and reiterated his commitment to the transparency of UNRWA’s operations. He pledged full cooperation with both the UN internal and independent external investigations commissioned by the UN Secretary-General into the alleged involvement of some UNRWA staff in the terrorist attacks against Israel on 7 October 2023. He assured that UNRWA would also comply with all the requirements of the European Commission with regard to the transparency of its operations. The Commissioner-General stressed that UNRWA already pays a great deal of attention to the recruitment, training and supervision of its staff. He undertook to keep the Council regularly informed about UNRWA’s activities and dialogue with Israel.

Slovenia praised the role of UNRWA and its colleagues in alleviating the humanitarian situation and providing shelter to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and neighbouring countries. It welcomed the two independent investigations aimed at enhancing the transparency of UNRWA's activities and taking appropriate action in response to the allegations. Slovenia also stressed that the Agency needs sufficient and continuous funding to fulfil its mandate.

The main discussion of the development ministers focused on reviewing development cooperation and exchanging views on the way forward. Special emphasis was placed on fragile states and conflict situations. Member States agree that the EU must not abandon its citizens in such circumstances.

Director-General Skrt underlined the importance of aligning development cooperation with foreign policy objectives. Within the EU, the world's largest donor and a leader in the green transition, it is particularly important to meet the challenge of linking internal and external policies and to work towards the dissemination of best practices. Slovenia also stressed the importance of the EU remaining flexible in its response to external turbulence and changing geopolitical circumstances.

The ministers discussed with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, how to ensure that human rights are sufficiently integrated into EU development cooperation. Slovenia expressed its support for the work and independence of the High Commissioner, especially in crisis situations. Human rights and a human rights-based approach are at the heart of Slovenia's foreign and development policy. Accordingly, Slovenia is committed to mainstreaming human rights in its work, including during its mandate in the UN Security Council.