As Palestinian organisations dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights, we welcome your decision to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) at this early stage in your tenure as UN Secretary-General. After 40 years of belligerent occupation, the current reality in the OPT is one of systematic violations of international human rights law, as well as serious breaches of international humanitarian law, which in many instances amount to war crimes. This situation gives your visit great importance.
We welcome your stated intention to hear first-hand from the people in the region about the problems and challenges they face. In this regard, we invite you to take the opportunity to speak with Palestinian civil society in order to better comprehend the ways in which the Israeli occupation has severe and long-term repercussions on the human rights of every Palestinian, and by extension contributes to an escalation of the conflict with repercussions on the prospects for regional peace and security.
We trust that witnessing the situation on the ground will bolster your expressed commitment to bring about a “just and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on an end to the 1967 occupation and the creation of an independent Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace with Israel.” In this context, it is critical that any political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians be in conformity with fundamental principles of international law, most notably the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin. Fundamental rights must not be ignored for the sake of political expediency or false compromises. Ignoring such rights only serves to obscure the reality of the Israeli occupation, creating an environment where injustice persists and progress towards meaningful peace cannot be achieved.
As you have correctly noted, Israeli military operations, severe movement restrictions, the withholding of Palestinian revenues and the socio-economic decline precipitated by these measures have resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the OPT, exacting a heavy toll on the Palestinian population. Continued settlement activity, particularly around East Jerusalem, further erodes the quality of Palestinian life. In this regard, we call upon you to reiterate that Israel must fulfill its obligations as the Occupying Power in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Importantly, Israel must immediately desist from all policies and practices that violate international human rights and humanitarian law or that alter the physical character or demographic composition of the OPT.
Insofar as the construction of the Annexation Wall in the West Bank is concerned, we request that you raise the legal obligations incumbent upon Israel regarding its construction, as outlined in the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, with Israeli officials. In particular, Israel’s obligation to cease construction of the Wall, to dismantle those sections built to date and to provide reparation for the damages caused by such construction. Considering that the Register of Damage for the Wall operates under your administrative authority, we urge you to ensure that the Register, despite its inherent limits, is used to record damages in the most effective manner possible.
It is clear that without the respect for and implementation of international law by the international community, Israeli violations will continue with impunity, as they have for decades. Numerous UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions pertaining to the OPT, and a proliferation of special committees, sessions and Secretariat divisions and units, have had little meaningful effect on Israeli policies and have failed to ensure the fundamental rights of Palestinians. Accordingly, we call upon the UN, as an organisation whose Charter has amongst its primary purposes the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to take effective steps to protect the rights of the Palestinian people. To do otherwise is to undermine the UN’s own commitment to human rights and rule of law and to condone governmental violations of international law.
As UN Secretary-General, you act as a spokesperson for the interests of the world’s peoples, particularly the vulnerable among them. We urge you to use your visit to Israel and the OPT as an opportunity to uphold the values and moral authority of the UN. Given the UN’s long-term commitment to the question of Palestine, we believe that it is time for it to take clear and effective actions that are commensurate with the challenge of ensuring a peace built on the respect for international law. As UN Secretary-General, you must use your unique position to clearly condemn the ever increasing breaches of international law in the OPT, regardless of the perpetrator. To fail to do so would be to betray the hope your visit holds, and render further distant the end of the occupation and a just and durable solution to the conflict.
Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights Gaza
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Badil - Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Defence for Children International - Palestine Section
Ensan Center for Democracy and Human rights
Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies