Commission on Human Rights starts debate on violations in occupied Arab territories

John Dugard

The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon started its general debate on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, after it concluded its general debate on the right to development. John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, told the Commission that the level of violence had dropped substantially since Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon had met in Sharm el-Sheikh on 8 February, but said that developments had failed to address the main violations of human rights in the occupied territories — the settlements, the wall, checkpoints, roadblocks, imprisonment of Gaza, and the continued incarceration of more than 7,000 Palestinians.

Following Mr. Dugard’s presentation, Israel and Palestine responded as concerned countries, and Luxembourg participated in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur.

Earlier, the Commission concluded its general debate on the right to development, hearing speakers raise issues on the importance of moving from the conceptual phase to that of concrete action for the right to development; of ensuring the emergence of a more fair international economic system; and of supporting the mechanisms established to promote the implementation of the right to development, such as the Working Group on the right to development, and the High-level Task Force on implementation of that right, among others.

Making statements on the right to development were the Representatives of Ethiopia (on behalf of the African Group), Eritrea, Sudan, Mauritania, Iran, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Angola, Zambia, Jordan, Algeria, Syria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Thailand and the Philippines. The Observer from the Holy See also spoke on the right to development, as did representatives of the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.

Additionally, Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations spoke on the right to development: New Humanity speaking on behalf of International Organization for the Development of Freedom of Education and International Young Catholic Students; Franciscans International speaking on behalf of Dominicans for Justice and Peace; International Federation of Rural Adult Catholic Movements; Europe-Third World Centre; World Federation of Trade Unions; Union de l’action féminine; Movimiento Cubano por la Paz y la Soberanía de los Pueblos; National Union of Jurists of Cuba; International Indian Treaty Council; World Peace Council; Tebtebba Foundation - Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education); International Federation of University Women (speaking on behalf of several NGOs1); Federation of Cuban Women; International Committee for the Respect and Application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights - CIRAC; World Muslim Congress; Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization; Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action; and International Institute for Peace.

Greece spoke in exercise of its right of reply.

The Commission will meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 March, to continue its consideration of the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.

Documents on the Question of the Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine

Under its agenda item on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, the Commission has before it a number of documents.

There is the report of the Secretary-General on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan (E/CN.4/2005/26), which states that the Secretary-General had brought the Commission’s resolution 2004/8 on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan to the attention of all Governments, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and to all the specialized agencies and to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, among others.

There is the report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/2005/27) which states that the Secretary-General had brought the Commission’s resolution 2004/10 on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine to the attention of the Government of Israel and all other Governments, The competent United Nations organs, the specialized agencies, regional intergovernmental organizations and international humanitarian organizations.

There is the report of the Special Rapporteur (E/CN.4/2005/29) on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, John Dugard, who states that the report focuses upon military incursions into the Gaza Strip, the demolition of houses, the violations of human rights and humanitarian law arising from the construction of the wall and the pervasiveness of restrictions on freedom of movement. The Special Rapporteur concludes that the report has drawn attention to the serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law flowing from the actions of the Government of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel is both legally and morally obliged to bring its practices and policies into line with the law. That Israel has legitimate security concerns cannot be denied. However, these concerns must be addressed within the parameters of the law. As the International Court of Justice indicates in its advisory opinion, approved by the General Assembly, there are consequences of the wall for States other than Israel. The Special Rapporteur reminds States of their obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.

Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967

JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said at present there was a time of hope in the Middle East. Since Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon met in Sharm el-Sheikh on 8 February, the level of violence in the region had dropped substantially. Moreover, Israel had taken a number of steps to improve the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the release of 500 prisoners, the cessation of targeted killings of Palestinian militants and punitive house demolitions, the removal of some checkpoints in the West Bank, and the revision of the course of the wall to intrude less upon Palestinian land. However, these developments had failed to address the main violations of human rights in the occupied territories — the settlements, the wall, checkpoints, roadblocks, the imprisonment of Gaza, and the continued incarceration of more than 7,000 Palestinians.

The Israeli Government had decided to evacuate 8,000 settlers from Gaza, the Special Rapporteur noted, yet settlers and settlements remained a problem. Some 150 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem remained inhabited by more than 400,000 settlers. Israel’s statements that settlement growth had been frozen, or limited to natural growth, were far from the truth. In 2004, the settler population had increased by six per cent, compared with a growth of less than two per cent in Israel proper. Existing settlements had been visibly expanded, and new settlements had been built. Some new settlements had received express Governmental approval, others tacit approval. It was clear that the majority of settlements were there to stay – and to grow – despite the International Court of Justice’s unanimous ruling in July 2004 that the settlements were illegal.

Israel had also rejected the Court’s advisory opinion that the wall was illegal and must be dismantled, Mr. Dugard added, and had continued its construction. Moreover, recent decisions by the Israeli Government made it clear that its main purpose was to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel. The wall had resulted in major human rights violations for some 50,000 Palestinians living in the “closed area” between the wall and the Green Line, and for another 500,000 living within one kilometre of it. Had the wall’s construction followed the Green Line, Israel’s claim that the wall was a security measure could have been plausible; as it was, the manner of its construction had led to a more sinister conclusion.

Regarding checkpoints, Mr. Dugard stressed that there was no freedom of movement in the occupied territories; military checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstructions made travel a nightmare for Palestinians. Checkpoints served two purposes: the humiliation of the Palestinian people, and the convenience and security of the settlers. A system of road apartheid had been set up to keep the highways for the exclusive use of settlers, relegating Palestinians to second-class roads. On the issue of prisoners, he concluded that they too constituted an obstacle to the peace process. Israel should take the bold step to release prisoners in order to further peace. Finally, regarding the determination to dismantle Israeli settlements in Gaza, he said it was the right thing to do, but underscored that Israeli disengagement would not end Gaza’s imprisonment or remedy the humanitarian crisis caused by its closure.

Response by Concerned Countries

ITZHAK LEVANON (Israel), speaking as a concerned country, said a number of new and positive elements were included in the latest document submitted by the Special Rapporteur, in particular he had taken note of a number of measures that Israel had taken in order to reduce friction and alleviate hardship for the Palestinians, despite the security risks involved. Among the confidence-building measures taken by Israel were the release of prisoners, the repeal of assigned residence orders, and the cessation of targeted killings and demolition of houses as security measures. The Special Rapporteur also recognized the significant changes being made by Israel to the route of the security fence.

The Special Rapporteur also recognized that Israel’s far-reaching disengagement initiative, including the evacuation of 8,500 people from the Gaza Strip was a brave move on the part of Israel, and that the plan was the right thing to do and should be acknowledged as such by those concerned about human rights and humanitarian law in the Palestinian territory. Another positive development was the Special Rapporteur’s recognition that not only Israel but also the Palestinian side had obligations and responsibilities. The Rapporteur made reference to violations on both sides, and included his clearest call yet for concerted action by the Palestinian leadership against terrorism. This recognition that there were obligations on the Palestinian side and that these obligations had been violated only served to underline the problematic nature of his mandate, which only authorized him to consider violations on the Israeli side of the equation.

Mr. Levanon said the Special Rapporteur had strong criticism for many of the measures taken by Israel to defend itself from terrorism, and Israel took issue with much of this criticism, finding many of the Rapporteur’s allegations misinformed or inaccurate. Unfortunately, the prejudicial mandate of the Special Rapporteur did not permit a dialogue. Nor did it reflect the understanding that mutual and reciprocal implementation of commitments was the only way to take the parties forward to reconciliation. The dissonance between the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and the actual situation in the region had never seemed clearer. The Secretary-General had described the Commission as suffering from a credibility deficit, and there could be no better place to start repairing that deficit than with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

MOHAMMAD ABU-KOASH (Palestine) speaking as a concerned country, said the so-called wall was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Besides the fact that it unlawfully changed the status quo on the ground and put into effect a de facto annexation of land and property throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, it also violated, among other things, the right self-determination, the right to freedom of movement, the right to earn a livelihood, fundamental rights to welfare, property rights and the right to a family life. In this regard, Israel as well as the international community should implement their obligations.

Resorting to policies of collective punishment, destruction and dispossession perpetrated by a heavy military force against a powerless civilian population whose alleged crime was shouting loud for freedom and independence, was only part of an extensive list of violations, which should be addressed and rectified by the international community. This was no time for appeasement on the part of the international community. The soft words of the Israeli Government and its representatives were negated by the reality of the miserable life of the Palestinian people under the prolonged Israeli occupation, the continued detention of thousands of Palestinians and the abhorrent means and methods of grabbing Palestinian land.

There was no other alternative to the ending of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian and other Arab territories, which was breeding extremism throughout the world, and this was known by the whole world. The recent clear Palestinian and Arab stance and related declarations and measures had created a positive environment and had offered a valuable opportunity that could be seized by Israel to reverse its colonial polices and commence ending its occupation instead of foot-dragging and endless negotiations intended to postpone the inevitable and obvious. All should be missionaries of a just peace instead of soldiers of maiming and killing. The walls of occupation, hatred and revenge should be torn down and a new reality, based on human rights, equity, freedom, self-determination and respect of international law, should be created in which joint efforts could create a normal and better way of living for current and future generations.

Interactive Dialogue

ALPHONSE BERNS (Luxembourg) agreed that the conferences at Sharm el-Sheikh and London had raised hopes, and asked the Special Rapporteur what, in his view, must be done by both parties to ensure lasting peace. On the subject of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the wall, he asked what had been the Special Rapporteur’s findings regarding Palestinian opinions on the wall’s construction during his visit to the occupied territories.

JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, speaking in response, said with regard to the second question on the opinion of the Palestinian community on the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it was clear that the Palestinians were delighted that it had apparently ruled in their favour with regard to the wall. The ICJ had found the wall to be illegal, rejecting a number of arguments raised by Israel over the years. There was also disappointment over the failure of the international community to concern itself more with the enforcement of that opinion.

With regard to the first question, steps would have to be taken in order to bring a lasting peace to the region. Ultimately, the issues of refugees and the status of Jerusalem would have to be addressed by negotiations, but before this Israel would have to address the issues that were the major stumbling blocks to lasting peace in the region: settlements; the continuation of the wall whose construction in Palestinian territory continued; checkpoints and roadblocks; and prisoners. These should be addressed sooner rather than later, or Palestinian patience could run out and there would be a return to the militancy seen over the last few years.

Related Links

  • Special Rapporteur: Israel will remain occupier after disengagement, UNHCHR (27 January 2005)
  • 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights, Geneva (14 March - 22 April 2005)