This infographic on the United Nations Social and Economic Commission for Western Asia (Arab Countries) or ESCWA presents basic facts. It was the last of the five UN Regional Commissions to have been created in August 1973 by ECOSOC Resolution 1818 (LV), succeeding the work done by the United Nations Economic and Social Office in Beirut (UNESOB). Named as “Economic Commission for Western Africa” (ECWA) and mandated to stimulate economic activity in member countries, the organization received in 1985 a concrete mission in the social sphere, transforming its name to “ESCWA”, which it still carries (Resolution 69/1985).
ESCWA’s Headquarters have moved three times: it was initially located in Beirut (1974-1982), then moved to Baghdad (1982-1991) and Amman (1991-1997), only to go back to Beirut in 1997, where it is still located.
ESCWA’s first Executive Secretary was Mohammed Said Al-Attar, an Economist from Yemen deeply involved in the economic development debates and practice of his time. He had an impressive political and diplomatic career in his country and represented Yemen at the UN.
The number of ESCWA member states – all of them part of the 22 UN countries in the Arab Group – increased as time went by and now has 20 countries. The last members to become part of the Commission in 2020 were Algeria and Somalia.
Comoros and Djibouti are the two Arab States that have not been part of ESCWA to this day. In the meantime, the State of Palestine is a full member since it declared its independence in 1988. However, in 1977 (two years after the ECOSOC amended its rules of procedure to provide for the participation of national liberation movements as observers in its deliberations (resolution 1949 (LVIII)of 1975), ESCWA accepted a request from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to become a full member of the Commission. Since then, it has had a “Permanent Observer” status. ESCWA is essentially a cultural region, which explains why eight of its members are also part of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, a geographical-based region.
The Arab-Israeli issue is a major one at ESCWA: in 2017, the publication of an ESCWA report accusing Israel of imposing an “apartheid regime” and its successive deletion from UN repositories led to the resignment of Rima Khalaf (a Commission Executive Secretary back then), as the result of the silence of António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, who refuses to support the report.
The “Arab States UN Commission” has an intense relation with the Arab League. Its last report on SDGs progress – published in 2020 – reached the 22 Arab countries and its 4 groupings: the Gulf Cooperation Council subregion, the Mashreq, the Maghreb, and the Arab Least Developed Countries subregion.