Commission on Human Rights continues debate on violations in occupied Arab territories (1/2)

Palais des Nations, Geneva.


The Commission on Human Rights this morning continued its general debate on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.

The Representative of Palestine said he extended a hand to the Israeli neighbour in order to live side-by-side in peace, harmony and cooperation. The Representative of Israel said dramatic changes were taking place in the real world, perhaps nowhere more so than in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Israeli and Palestinian undertakings, agreed at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, as well as the renewed commitment to the Road Map, had created a new reality of shared responsibility.

A series of national delegations and non-governmental organizations addressed the Commission, with many urging the international community to make efforts to ensure the success of the Middle East peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital. The majority of the speakers praised the recent positive developments affecting the peace process, but stressed the importance of the need for Israel to stop the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territories and the building of settlements.

A number of delegates also underlined that despite the positive developments in the peace process, the living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories remained extremely difficult and unchanged. Libya, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said gross violations of human rights of Palestinians included extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, land confiscation, population transfer by military force, confiscation of land, damage and destruction of agricultural land, and forced separation from families and livelihoods, among others.

Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed the European Union’s continued opposition to capital punishment and called upon the Palestinian Authority to cease use of the death penalty, and to end the extrajudicial killing of Palestinians accused of cooperating with Israel.

The United States said the focus of the international community should now be on a successful Israeli disengagement from Gaza and several settlements in the West Bank, and on supporting the Palestinian Authority’s political, economic, and security reform efforts. The United States strongly believed that the one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions in the Commission would undermine the credibility of the United Nations and the Commission in particular.

The following delegations also took the floor this morning: Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Egypt, Qatar, India, Russian Federation, Congo, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania South Africa, Cuba, Australia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Switzerland, League of Arab States, Norway, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and United Arab Emirates.

Also speaking were the following NGOS delivered statements : of Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, speaking on behalf of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues and World Organisation against Torture; International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, speaking on behalf of Arab Lawyers Union; United Nations Watch; International Commission of Jurists; Franciscans International and B’nai Brith International, speaking on behalf of Coordination Board of Jewish Organizations.

When the Committee concluded its morning meeting at noon, it immediately started a midday meeting which will last until 3 p.m. during which it is expected to conclude its general debate on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, and to start the general debate on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world, including the question of the human rights in Cyprus.

Statements

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the situation in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories remained a matter of deep interest as well as concern for the Islamic countries. The OIC was committed to the objective of the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation through the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital, the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland, the restoration of the dignity and security of the Palestinian people and the rehabilitation of the damaged infrastructure and property in occupied Palestine.

The Middle East peace process should not be further delayed. The time was ripe for steering it towards a decisive phase. The Palestinians’ struggle for their right to self-determination was at a defining moment of history. The Sharm al Sheikh agreement should help revive the process and put the Quartet’s Roadmap back on track, but this would depend on a radical change in Israel’s negotiating conduct and an alteration of ground realities, including reversal of the Israeli decision to build new settlements around Jerusalem. No political process could be sustained in an environment of repression and coercion. The story of the violation of human rights in Palestine was long and painful. The international community should act to redress the human rights situation in Palestine. Durable peace in the Middle East was inextricably linked to a just solution of the Palestine issue through realisation of the right to self-determination. The Commission should play an effective role to ensure the realisation of the basic rights of the Palestinian people and to address the grave violations of their human rights. All members should vote for the resolutions being tabled on Palestine.

NAJAT AL-HAJJAJI (Libya), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, had made it clear that the occupation constituted a gross violation of human rights. Those violations would not cease until the occupation was brought to an end. Israel continued to disregard the Commission’s resolutions, as well as those of the Security Council and the General Assembly, which called upon that Government to cease practices in violation of international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as various other international human rights instruments. In addition to violations including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, land confiscation, and population transfer by military force, the building of the wall constituted a violation of human rights through the confiscation of land, and damage and destruction of agricultural land, forced separation from families and livelihoods, which posed significant social, cultural, educational, health and psychological dangers. Moreover, the construction of the wall was against the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, and stood in contradiction of international law. The wall constituted a barrier to establishment of an independent State of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Torture continued to be applied to Palestinian detainees during questioning, she said, and arbitrary detention continued to be used. As noted by the Special Rapporteur, more than 7,000 Palestinians continued to be detained. Only 1,500 had been brought to trial, and a large number had said they had been subjected to torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. While welcoming recent positive developments, it was felt that they did not constitute any concrete change in the status quo. The Commission must fulfil its responsibility to help put an end to the continued Israeli occupation of the occupied territories, cease construction of the wall, dismantle settlements and ensure Israel’s respect of international resolutions. She also noted that, in the Golan Heights, Israel had implemented discriminatory and restrictive practices against the Syrian residents in an attempt to force them to leave their land and homes.

NAELA GABR (Egypt) said the enjoyment of people of their human rights without discrimination, even in occupation, should be respected. In accordance to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, the situation in which the Palestinians were living was of great concern. Israel had continued its repressive practices against the Palestinian people without due respect to the relevant Geneva Convention on the rights of people under occupation. The Palestinian people were subject to myriad adverse actions by the Israeli authorities. The various checkpoints established by the occupying power had reduced the right to freedom of movement of the Palestinian people. The construction of the wall of separation by Israel in the occupying Palestinian territory was yet another violation of the international and humanitarian laws. The wall had affected movement of thousands of Palestinians and had created difficulties to carry out their daily activities. In addition, the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory contravened international norms.

The Sharm el-Sheik Summit between the leaders of Israel and Palestine had been an encouraging sign for the continuation of the peace process. The two parties should abide by the commitments reached during the Summit. The restarting of the peace process was the only way out to establish peace and security in the region. It was also a means to end the suffering of the Palestinian people.

JASSIM ABDULAZIZ FAISAL AL-BOAINAIN (Qatar) said Qatar had read the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, and had noted the reference to the Israeli violations in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. Qatar was very worried about these continuing violations, which included the continued construction of settlements, the destruction of homes, and attacks on health and education institutions among others. The construction of the so-called separation wall was continuing, despite the judgement of the International Court of Justice. Qatar had always encouraged negotiations, and it was up to Israel to take more steps to show its good intentions, including offering land for peace and halting the construction of the wall and settlements. Israel also had to put an end to all the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people in order to achieve peace.

The international community and the Commission on Human Rights had to intervene to ensure the implementation of the legitimate international resolutions. Refugees had to be allowed to return to their homes, and the Palestinian people should be allowed to achieve their economic, social and cultural rights and have their own State with Jerusalem as its capital.

ALPHONSE BERNS (Luxembourg), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said the European Union expected that the new political climate in the Middle East would contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation. Although both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had undertaken a commitment to respect human rights, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories continued to be characterized by human rights violations in the past year. The overwhelming majority of victims killed since September 2000 had been civilians, and the number of children killed on both sides was particularly overwhelming. The European Union remained particularly concerned by human rights violations against children, and felt the Special Rapporteur should give particular attention to their situation. Although the European Union recognized the right of Israel to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks, Israel must do so with respect for international human rights law. Reiterating firm and unequivocal condemnation of all forms of terrorism, he also urged the Palestinian Authority to take all possible actions against those perpetrating such acts.

Welcoming the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement to cease all acts of violence, and all military action, he urged both parties to implement those agreements quickly. He also stressed that, like Israel, the members of the European Union were parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in times of war. The Convention’s terms must be respected by Israel, which should freeze and dismantle settlements and end the de facto confiscation of land caused by construction of the separation wall. Regarding the situation of women in the occupied territories, the European Union reiterated that they remained particularly vulnerable to the occupation, and reaffirmed the Special Rapporteur’s call for the Palestinian Authority to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of violence against women. The Palestinian Authority must promote equality between the sexes, as well as the political participation of women.

Also stressing its continued opposition to capital punishment, the European Union called upon the Palestinian Authority to cease use of the death penalty, and to end the extrajudicial killing of Palestinians accused of cooperating with Israel. Israel’s decision to cease extrajudicial killings of Palestinians was welcomed. Furthermore, aside from the consequences of its construction in terms of limitations on the freedom of movement, the European Union remained concerned by the route of the separation barrier, which could prejudge a final solution. He also reaffirmed commitment to the Road Map to peace, and stressed that a just, lasting and comprehensive peace must reflect the legitimate aspirations of both peoples, and include resolution of the situations with Lebanon and Syria.

HARDEEP SINGH PURI (India) said the Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on 8 February 2005 and the significant meeting between the leaders of Israel and Palestine deserved the support of the international community. It was hoped that the negotiations should lead to the realization of the inalienable and legitimate right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and a homeland and to a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. In recent years, India had extended its full support to the vision continued in the Security Council resolution 1397. It had also endorsed resolutions 1402 and 1403, which called on both sides to move immediately to a meaningful ceasefire, and for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah. India also supported the peace initiatives of the international community, including the endorsement by the Security Council in its resolution 1515 of the Quartet Roadmap and the call to restart negotiations. India had remained steadfastly committed to the cause of the Palestinian people. During the last decade of the Middle East peace process, India had executed a number of projects and programmes worth several million dollars, aimed at capacity building and institutional support in the occupied territories.

The tragic developments in the Middle East were a cause of widespread international concern. The world had watched the incidents of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and other parts of the Palestinian territories and Israel with growing consternation. Innocent men, women and children continued to bear the brunt of untold suffering. Those events also adversely affected regional stability. The full promotion and protection of human rights required a secure environment and the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace. All sides should end violence.

PAVEL CHERNIKOV (Russian Federation) said overcoming the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation and moving the conflict towards a political settlement remained a priority task for all interested parties and partners, including Russia, which would continue its consistent efforts to achieve a settlement in the Middle East which would ensure peaceful and stable co-existence between the States and stability for all countries in the region. This would only be found at the negotiating table and not through force. There was a need to strengthen the impetus to cease armed confrontation and return to the negotiations. The Palestinian Authority would have to continue reforms and make a determined effort to prevent all manifestations of terror.

Particular importance was given to the fact that none of the parties should undertake unilateral activities. There was concern for such sensitive issues as the route of the separation wall and Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank. It was also clear that the condition of the Palestinian economy could not improve without removal of the limitations of the movements of persons. At this stage, of particular importance was the strict compliance of all parties to their commitments made at Sharm al Sheikh and mutual efforts to strengthen mutual trust. This would create an appropriate atmosphere for reaching the goals of the Roadmap, including a sovereign Palestinian State. The Peace Plan, the Roadmap, had acquired an international legal status. There was a growing role of the Quartet of international mediators, and it was under their auspices that a bridge should be built to the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, and the implementation of all other provisions of the Roadmap. The Peace Process should be strengthened by including Lebanon and Syria, and it should lead to a comprehensive and lasting settlement in the Middle East on the basis of the United Nations resolutions. Resolving this problem could lead to a fundamental change for the better in the human rights situation in the region.

ROGER JULIEN MENGA (Congo) said that over the last few months, the situation with respect to international humanitarian law and human rights had improved in the occupied Palestinian territories, as illustrated by the ceasefire, as well as by détente measures such as the release of 500 Palestinians and the transfer of five West Bank cities to the Palestinian Authority. The Congo remained aware that a long and difficult road lay ahead, but hoped that the recent agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would extend to a long-term engagement.

Also stressing that the Roadmap deserved to be reconsidered, as it envisaged a lasting solution to the situation, he called for elaboration of a final and comprehensive solution as promptly as possible on that basis. He also welcomed the holding of the recent London meeting, and hoped that it would lead to the international conference, required under the Roadmap, to revive negotiations on the final status. The international community, and the Commission on Human Rights, should support endeavours to achieve peace. A negotiated settlement would surely lead to the creation of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State, living side-by-side with Israel and other neighbouring States, in peace and security.

SHA ZUKANG (China) said the issue of the Middle East and Palestine had long been a major concern of the international community. For many years, the bloody conflict between Palestine and Israel had caused untold human suffering, material losses as well as deep psychological wounds to the two peoples and had created serious difficulties for the peace process. The never-ending deadlock of the Middle East issue not only endangered peace and stability in the region, but also threatened the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of the region. Fortunately, in recent months, some positive trends had emerged in the Middle East. Leaders for the two sides had demonstrated statesmen’s courage and had opted decisively for a ceasefire and the resumption of talks, and hence visible progress had been registered in Palestinian-Israeli relations. The international community had also intensified its peace efforts, and the Middle East peace process had thus entered a new phase. China sincerely hoped that the two sides would seize the momentum and persevere in their peace effort, not allowing individual cases of violence to derail such effort, so as to make new progress in the Middle East peace process.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, China had all along supported the Middle East peace process and had made unremitting efforts to help defuse tensions in the region and promote the constant progress of peace in the region. Near the end of last year, the Chinese representative visited Palestine and Israel and had put forward China’s four-point proposal on the Middle East issue. China also attended the London Conference in support of the Palestinian National Authorities. China maintained that all the parties concerned should make joint efforts to build mutual confidence and resume the peace talks; the Roadmap should be restarted, and the Palestinian State should be established; and a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East should be actively pursued, among other things.

EDDI HARIYADHI (Indonesia) said there were still many violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories which continued to destroy the fabric of Palestinian society. This evidently stemmed, to a great measure, from Israel’s failure to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions and in particular the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which had held that Israel was under an obligation to stop the construction of the wall and dismantle it forthwith. The wall was a perpetual source of undue hardship for the Palestinians who found themselves still subject to curfews and other restrictions that impinged on their human rights. Both the wall and the settlements were illegal, and for future peace, Israel should dismantle them and allow Palestinians to regain the access they had been denied to education, health care, and employment.

It was not sufficient for Israel to cease its military activity against Palestinians, they should redress the loss and damage suffered by the latter, and should not be allowed to continue to confiscate Palestinian land or to expand their illegal settlements. It was sincerely hoped that the Sharm el Sheikh accord would be a definitive step towards lasting peace in this region that had been troubled for almost four decades. All parties should be congratulated on the truce that had been reached, and it was hoped that this time it would lead to, among others, a truly permanent and unconditional withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Finally, all stakeholders were urged to continue to work towards a just and comprehensive agreement. It was hoped that by working within the framework of international humanitarian law, peace in the Middle East would finally be attained.

SHIM PAW FATT (Malaysia) said that, as the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Malaysia felt compelled to add its voice to concern expressed over continuing violations of the human rights of the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. In spite of some encouraging developments, and as the Special Rapporteur had pointed out, these had failed to address the main violations of human rights and humanitarian law on the ground, including the settlements, construction of the wall, checkpoints, roadblocks, imprisonment of Gaza, and continued detention of more than 7,000 Palestinians. These violations resulted from illegal Israeli policies and practices, which had continued despite repeated denunciations in the Commission on Human Rights and other United Nations fora, despite Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and despite the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.

Violations of Palestinians’ human rights had existed for too long, he stressed. They constituted the main cause of instability in the Middle East. Israel must fulfil its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and respect the opinion of the International Court of Justice. The key to peace lay in implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions and realization of the two-State solution, which would ensure the creation of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine, as well as the existence of Israel, living side-by-side in peace and security, within secure and recognized borders, as envisaged by the Roadmap. All parties must seize upon the current, critical window of opportunity to renew momentum in the peace process by honouring their respective commitments and refraining from actions detrimental to full implementation of the Road Map.

ABDULWAHAB A. ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said although the Palestinians had so far made tireless endeavours to achieve a truce, Israel’s response to all the positive steps taken by the Palestinian people had been extremely limited. The issues of the wall, the settlements and the imposition of blockades had not been resolved and there were no indications that those policies would be relaxed. On the contrary, there was every indication that those policies would be continued and expanded in defiance of the United Nations resolutions, including the resolutions of the Commission. Israel should promptly cease its practice of imposing blockades and closures, as well as its settlement policy and its construction of the separation wall, all of which violated United Nations resolutions and the rights of the Palestinian people. Israel should immediately abandon its dangerous schemes to alter the character of the city of Jerusalem and severe the city’s links with its West Bank environment through the separation wall and the ongoing frantic expansion of settlements within its confines.

Israeli practices and violations were not aimed solely at the Palestinian people. On the contrary, the population of southern Lebanon and the occupied Syrian Golan were also being subjected to inhuman practices and violations of their rights. The Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan since 1967 constituted a violation of human rights and a challenge to United Nations resolutions and international law. The right of the Syrian people to recover the occupied Syrian Golan should be emphasized.

MOHAMED SALECK OULD MOHAMED LEMINE (Mauritania) said the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories reminded the international community of the suffering of the Palestinian people and the need to put an end to this suffering. The requirements in this area had been clearly outlined by the International Court of Justice. The General Assembly had urged Israel to comply with that judgement. Israel had to respect the rights of the Palestinian people, and implement the required conditions to encourage peace and security in the Middle East. The complete withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories was required, as infringements on the human rights of Palestinians in the territories were the result of the occupation, and would only end with it.

The desire manifested by both parties to return to the negotiating table and achieve peace was applauded. This should be done under the auspices of the Quartet and in the context of the Roadmap. Arab leaders had reiterated their peace offer and shown their commitment to a just ending to the conflict, and the international community should support this by making a greater effort to achieve peace in the Middle East on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions which stipulated that Israel should withdraw completely from the occupied Palestinian territories and supported the Palestinian people’s will to set up their capital in Jerusalem.

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