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Leading Palestinians boycott UN head Ban Ki-moon in Gaza as rebuffed prisoners’ families greet him with shoes

L'accueil de Ban Ki-moon à Gaza (02/02/2012)

Leading Palestinian figures including prominent human rights advocates Dr. Eyad Sarraj, and Raji Sourani have boycotted a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Gaza today over the latter’s refusal to meet with the families of Palestinian prisoners.

Meanwhile Palestinians greeted Ban with shoes, beating them on his car as he went by.

In an open letter explaining their decision to boycott the scheduled meeting, the civil society figures explained that they had “made intensive efforts to ensure that representatives of families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would be part of the delegation that would meet with the Secretary-General.”

But after being rebuffed by Ban, the leaders wrote, “we have regrettably decided to boycott the scheduled meeting with the Secretary-General.”

They added, “We express our strong dissatisfaction towards the Secretary-General’s position, especially as he repeatedly met with the family of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.”

Highlighting the dire conditions faced by Palestinian prisoners, Amnesty International today issued an urgent action alert regarding Khader Adnan, who has been on hunger strike for 49 days continuously since he was detained by Israel on 17 December. He has been held since then without any charge or trial.

This is not the first time Ban operates double standards towards Palestinians, in favor of Israel. Ban has previously given legitimacy to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, even though UN bodies have declared it illegal.

A short time ago, Ban, who is delivering a keynote speech at Israel’s notorious Herzliya conference of military and political leaders, thanked Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak – the architect of the 2008-2009 war on Gaza – for his “generosity” towards Gaza:

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The full letter and list of signatories is below.


Meeting of United Nations Secretary-General in Gaza Boycotted

At this time, we were supposed to meet with the United National Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who is visiting Gaza today. We were also supposed to deliver to him an open letter expressing our demands and expectations from him as a Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Over the past two days, we have made intensive efforts to ensure that representatives of families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would be part of the delegation that would meet with the Secretary-General.

However, during the preparatory meeting we conducted, with the participation of representatives of families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, we received an unjustified negative response indicating that the Secretary-General refused to meet with representatives of families of prisoners.

Therefore, we have regrettably decided to boycott the scheduled meeting with the Secretary-General.

We express our strong dissatisfaction towards the Secretary-General’s position, especially as he repeatedly met with the family of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The suffering has not limits, and as the Secretary-General recognized the suffering the Shalit’s family, we expect him to demonstrate concern with the suffering of more than five thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

We will present to you the open letter that we were supposed to deliver to the Secretary-General.

Signatories:

Eyad Sarraj
Chairman of Gaza Community Mental Health Program

Raji Sourani
Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Rawis Shawa
Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council

Mohsen Abu Ramadan
Chairman of the Board of Palestinian NGOs Network – Gaza

Ali Abu Shahla
Businessman

Faisal Shawa
Member of the Board of Bank of Palestine

Sharhabil Zaim
Lawyer

Hamdi Shaqqura
Deputy Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights for Program Affairs

Jamal Khudari
Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic University of Gaza


February 02, 2012

Open Letter to United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon

Dear Mr. Ban,

We would like to take this opportunity, first of all, to thank you for returning to the Gaza Strip. It is essential that you see the reality of life in Gaza – and the reality of the longstanding illegal closure – first hand. It is equally essential that you meet the victims of human rights violations, those individuals who look to you for support and protection. In doing so, it is important to note that your previous visits to the Gaza Strip raised high hopes and expectations among the civilian population. To-date, even the most limited of hopes have not been met, generating feelings of frustration and isolation.

As representatives of civil society and a variety of organizations and public figures dedicated to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law, we must take this opportunity to raise a number of issues occurring during your tenure as Secretary-General which have demonstrated a disregard for the fundamental principles of international law.

It is with regret that we express the belief that, in the view of Palestinian civil society, these actions have brought shame upon the United Nations.

The United Nations was founded on the desire to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, to “reaffirm faith in human rights and the dignity and worth of the human person”, and “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” The UN is an Organization on which millions of individuals throughout the world – including the 1.7 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip – depend, and which countless others trust to uphold international law and to protect human rights: to act in the best interests of individuals. The legitimacy of the UN is dependent on international law. Any action which is contrary to the purpose of the law undermines the legitimacy, the credibility and the effectiveness of the Organization as a whole.

As Secretary-General you are popularly recognized as the ‘guardian of international law’. As such, it is your duty to uphold and promote the rule of law, and to act in the best interests of the individual. Article 100(2) of the UN Charter prohibits Member States from seeking to influence the Secretary-General. This article guarantees to weaker nations and peoples that they will be treated fairly and equally. If this provision is to have any true meaning, it is equally important that, in all circumstances, the Secretary-General treat weaker nations and peoples on the basis of fairness and equality, and not prioritize the interests of the more powerful states. The Secretary-General is required to be neutral and impartial; to act towards the furtherance of the UN Charter and the principles of international law on which it is based.

We firmly believe that it is not the role of the Secretary-General to be ‘politically correct’, but rather to firmly ground all actions in international law – to uphold the principles and purposes of the United Nations, and the principle of universal, fundamental, human rights – no matter what the perceived political difficulties. Unfortunately, with respect to the Israel-Palestine conflict you have repeatedly acted, not to uphold international law and the best interests of victims, but in a manner which can only be described as subservient to the will of powerful States.

For example, in response to serious allegations regarding the perpetration of widespread international crimes during Israel’s 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead) – as documented by numerous UN mandated bodies – you have failed to steadfastly pursue accountability, despite the fact that many of the attacks potentially amounting to international crimes were directed against UN installations, and resulted in the death or injury of UN staff members. In response to the UN Board of Inquiry’s recommendations, which called for investigation into incidents “involving death or injury to UNRWA personnel … and/or physical damage to UNRWA premises that were not included in the Board’s Terms of Reference” and for an investigation into the wider allegations of international humanitarian law violations throughout the course of Israel’s military offensive, you unambiguously stated that “I do not plan any further inquiry.” Such action is simply inconsistent with both the mandate of your office, and a respect for the clear requirements of international law.

Your decision to accept compensation from the Israeli authorities, taken in conjunction with a refusal to pursue criminal accountability – despite the clear recommendations of numerous UN mandated bodies and international human rights organizations – also sends a dangerous message of indifference, both with respect to the lives and well-being of UN staff and the principles of international law. It sends the message that Israel is beyond the reach of accountability. It is noted that your predecessor, Mr. Kofi Anan, stated on the day after the entry into force of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court that: “[t]here must be no relenting in the fight against impunity.” This surely, must be a guiding principle of the United Nations.

Similarly, the continued involvement of the Secretary-General in the Quartet not only involves a disregard for the requirements of international law, but also raises question regarding potential complicity in such violations. Indeed, it is our belief that the role of the Quartet has contributed to the ‘institutionalization’ of the closure of Gaza – inter alia, through acceptance of the so-called ‘easing’ – in effect legitimizing the collective punishment of 1.7 million civilians.

In its current form this closure has now been in place for over four and a half years, and – as documented by numerous UN agencies – has resulted, inter alia, in the systematic violation of human rights, the de-development of the Gaza Strip, and the creation of a state of dependency. The closure is an unequivocal example of collective punishment – ‘economic warfare’ in the language of Israel’s Military Advocate General – and violates, amongst other provisions, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is noted that, under the terms of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, Israel agreed that the crossings “will operate continuously”. The Quartet’s acceptance of the institutionalization of the closure stands in conflict with the clear requirements of international law. The Secretary-General’s continued involvement in the Quartet under such a situation quite simply defies belief.

The Quartet’s decision to impose economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority in the wake of free and fair elections held in January 2006 amounted to a denial of the fundamental right to self-determination. These sanctions constituted the collective punishment of a population for nothing more than the legitimate expression of democracy. As you can see, the consequences for the human rights situation have been nothing short of disastrous. The UN should have no part in such activity.

Recent developments in the UNRWA operations and presence in the Gaza Strip raise questions about the neutrality and potential political bias of the organization. The former UNRWA Commissioner-General, Karen Abu Zayd, and former UNRWA General Director, John Ging, had their main office in the Gaza Strip and established working contacts with the local government in order to provide the best humanitarian services possible. The current Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, however, moved his office to Jerusalem. Additionally, Mr. Grandi and the Acting Director of UNWRWA in Gaza, Christer Nordahl, have cut the existing ties with the government in Gaza. These two factors indicate a politicization of UNRWA’s role, and one which cannot assist in the fulfilment of their vital humanitarian mission.

Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to highlight the situation of Gazan prisoners detained in Israel. For over 5 years these prisoners have been denied family visitation rights, as well as being subject to treatment which in many instances amounts to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It is imperative that you send the clear message that these prisoners are entitled to the equal protection of universal human rights, and that the world will advocate on their behalf. We note that these prisoners have been subject to illegal collective punishment, enacted in response to the detention of Corporal Gilad Shalit. It is essential that you meet with these prisoners’ representatives and family, just as you met with those of Corporal Shalit, underlining the universality of human rights.

We remain committed to the principles of universal human rights, and the rule of law, and express our willingness to assist in any way possible in the pursuit of these goals.

We truly hope that this visit to the Gaza gives you the necessary incentive to stand firm in the quest to uphold the rule of international law. The collective punishment that is Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip is an unambiguous violation of international law, and a stain on the international community, and in particular the Quartet. It is time for change.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned;

Eyad Sarraj
Chairman of Gaza Community Mental Health Program

Raji Sourani
Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Rawis Shawa
Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council

Mohsen Abu Ramadan
Chairman of the Board of Palestinian NGOs Network – Gaza

Ali Abu Shahla
Businessman

Faisal Shawa
Member of the Board of Bank of Palestine

Sharhabil Zaim
Lawyer

Hamdi Shaqqura
Deputy Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights for Program Affairs

Jamal Khudari
Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic University of Gaza

Comments

Excellent letter and excellent decision to boycott meeting with him!
Shame on the UN, and particularly on Ban-Ki-Moon.