Commission starts general debate on violation of human rights in the occupied territories

The Wall around Jerusalem (Photo: Musa Al-Shaer)


GENEVA — The Commission on Human Rights today started its general debate on the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, after it concluded its discussion on the right to development.

Many speakers denounced Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territory, in particular the construction of a separation Wall. Delegates said the international community had to ensure that Israel implemented United Nations resolutions which called on it to withdraw from the occupied Arab territories.

John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, presented his report to the Commission on 19 March.

Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Saudi Arabia on behalf of the League of Arab States, China, Egypt, Republic of the Congo on behalf of the African Group, Cuba, Sudan, United States, South Africa, Indonesia, Mauritania, Qatar, Bahrain, Ireland on behalf of the European Union, and India addressed the Commission on this agenda item.

Israel spoke in a right of reply.

At the end of the midday meeting, which was held from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Commission immediately convened an afternoon meeting to continue with its consideration of the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.

DOCUMENTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES

As the Commission begins its general debate on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, it has before it the Addendum to the report of Special Rapporteur John Dugard on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, (E/CN.4/04/6 Add. 1) which focuses on the Wall in the West Bank, although he states that that should not draw attention away from the situation in Gaza, where death and destruction remain a feature of daily life. The Wall being built by Israel in the name of security penetrates deep into Palestinian territory and has resulted in the creation of a zone between the Green Line and the Wall inside the occupied Palestinian territories, which Israel has designated “closed” to all Palestinians. The construction of the Wall has resulted in the large-scale destruction of Palestinian property and the seizure of land for its building has taken place without due process of law. Palestinians who live, farm, work or go to school inside the closed zone require special permits from the Israeli authorities and the permit system is administered in an arbitrary and humiliating manner. The Wall might have been justified as a legitimate security measure to prevent would-be suicide bombers if it had followed the course of the Green Line, concludes the report. However, the manner in which it has been built cannot be justified on security grounds. The Wall violates the prohibition on the acquisition of territory by forcible means, violates important norms of international humanitarian law and seriously undermines the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people by reducing the size of a future PalestinianState.

A summary of the report of the Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, entitled question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine (E/CN.4/2004/6) can be found in press release HR/CN/04/13 of 19 March 2004.

There is also a report by the Secretary-General on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan (E/CN.4/2004/24) communicating the Secretary-General’s compliance with the Commission’s request to bring its resolution 2003/5 to the attention of all Governments, the competent United Nations organs, the specialized agencies, regional intergovernmental organizations and international humanitarian organizations and to give it the widest possible publicity.

There is a report by the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/2004/25) which communicates the Secretary-General’s compliance with the Commission’s request to bring resolution 2003/6 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, to disseminate it on the widest possible scale and to report on its implementation by the Government of Israel at the Commission’s sixtieth session. No reply from Israel had been received at the time of the preparation of the present report.

Finally, there is a note by the Secretary-General (E/CN.4/2004/26) drawing the Commission’s attention to the United Nations reports that have been issued related to the conditions in which the citizens of the Palestinian and other occupied Arab territories are living under the Israeli occupation, since the closure of the Commission’s fifty-ninth session.

STATEMENTS

SHAUKAT UMER (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the international community in general and the Islamic world in particular remained deeply distressed over the systematic and gross pattern of human rights abuses perpetrated by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories. The significant increase in violence and atrocities over the past year had been brought to the Commission’s attention by the Special Rapporteur.

Israeli forces, apart from carrying out the physical extermination of the Palestinian people, had also continued to demolish Palestinian homes and public buildings; even refugee camps had not been spared. The OIC condemned in the strongest terms the premeditated assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in a helicopter missile attack by Israeli forces. Under the pretext of security, the illegal construction of a separation Wall to isolate the Palestinian people had continued in defiance of international appeals. The OIC fully supported the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and urged the Commission to reaffirm its solidarity with the Palestinian people.

ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States, said violations in the occupied Palestinian territory were taking place. Israel had committed extra-judicial killings, killing the elderly and children alike. The Wall being built was yet more evidence of Israel’s violation of human rights, as it was building inside Palestinian territory, causing grave harm to the population and running against all resolutions and international instruments. The Israeli practices were escalating the issue with its repeated violations. Israel was under an illusion if it believed that it could continue to ignore international resolutions, and it was flouting all efforts to achieve just and lasting peace.

Israel should be transparent, and it was the duty of the Commission to deal with the question on a purely humanitarian basis and eliminate the politicizing elements from the work. Israel should stop its practices of State terrorism and military operations such as the recent liquidation of Sheikh Yassin. It should put an end to the construction of the Wall, and commit itself to the resolutions of the Security Council that guaranteed the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. Israel should also withdraw from Lebanon and the Syrian Golan. The Commission should act to halt inhuman Israeli practices in Arab and other lands.

LI XIOMAL(China) said the Middle East and the Palestinian issue were among the major concerns of the international community. For years, the Commission had intensively discussed and adopted resolutions on these issues. What was worrying, however, was the escalation of the bloody conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, and the frequent occurrence of disastrous terrorist incidents since 2000. The long deadlock over the solution of the Middle East issue would not only endanger peace and stability in the region, but also have a negative impact on peace and development in Palestine and the world at large. The key to the realization of a lasting peace in the Middle East lay in an early end to the drawn out conflicts and bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians, the restoration of the right to national self-determination and other legitimate rights to the Palestinian people, and a fair and reasonable solution to the question of Palestine. Countering violence with violence and resorting to military means could only deepen mutual hatred rather than help solve the problem.

MOHAMED MOUNIR LOUTFY (Egypt) said Egypt supported the statement given by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and that by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the League of Arab States. Israel had been called upon for years to halt its violence against the Palestinian people and to withdraw from the occupied territories. Israel had continuously refused the demands of the international community and had continued to carry out massive human rights violations. Houses continued to be torn down, schools and churches and hospitals destroyed; many Palestinians were homeless, others had lost their livelihoods, and, of course, many innocent people had been killed. Humiliation was the Palestinians’ lot. Thousands were now dependent on food aid to survive, and health conditions had deteriorated. Children were being denied the right to education, and the consequences would plague them for the rest of their lives.

Now Israel had begun building a Wall of separation that would drastically cut Palestinians’ freedom of movement and infringe on their human rights in drastic ways. Egypt condemned Israel’s policy of targeted killings. This policy was not improving the chances for peace but exactly the opposite - it would exacerbate the cycle of violence in the region. Israel must comply with international resolutions and withdraw from the occupied territories. Peace could not be achieved without that.

ROGER JULIAN MENGA (Republic of the Congo), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group had reaffirmed its dedication to assist the Palestinian people to help them to achieve their human rights. It also condemned the war crimes and extra-judicial executions and other violations of human rights carried out by Israel. The African Group called on Israel to abandon the use of excessive force perpetrated against Palestinians. Another matter of concern which the international community must address was the severe restrictions of movements imposed on Palestinian people.

The African Group welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur and said the establishment of a Wall further hindered the movement of the Palestinian people and violated the basic principles of human rights, such as the right to development. The Wall also served to amputate part of Palestine. The African Group condemned the construction of the Wall and deemed it as an illegal act of annexation. The Group commended the role played by the Committee on Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People which should help to improve the situation of the Palestinian people. The United Nations’ declaration of the International Day of Solidarity on the Rights of the Palestinian People was a further example of the good work to improve the conditions of the Palestinian people.

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that from the General Assembly to the Commission on Human Rights, the international community had been unequivocal in recognizing the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, in rejecting the illegal occupation of Arab territories by Israel, and in condemning Israel’s massive and flagrant violations of human rights in the occupied territories. In recent months the international community had been distressed by mounting Israeli violence and brutality, and it had been shocked and outraged by the recent brutal assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Such assassinations were part of Israel’s policy, as it tried to silence the voice of the Palestinian people by killing Palestinian leaders.

What the Sharon Government called a defensive security strategy and the construction of a security fence, the rest of the world saw as the construction of a “wall of shame”. Perhaps the International Court of Justice should make an unequivocal statement condemning the illegality of this Wall. A just, lasting peace could not be achieved in the Middle East until the Palestinian people were freely allowed to exercise their right to self-determination and the prolonged Israeli occupation was ended.

ALMANSOUR BOLAD (Sudan) said once again the Commission was faced with the need to respond to the continuation by the Israeli Government of the gross violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories. Sudan reiterated its expression of support to the Palestinian people, and called for an urgent solution to their suffering. The acts of the Israeli Government against Palestinians included extra-judicial executions and detention without trial. The violations also included the destruction of homes, agriculture and infrastructure. As a result thousands of Palestinians had lost their lives and tens of thousands had sustained injuries.

Sudan acknowledged the efforts made by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestine and said his report further illustrated the nature and extent of Israeli practices in the Palestinian occupied territories. Moreover, the construction of the Wall would establish physically on the ground the conditions favourable for the Palestinians to go on and Sudan urged Israel to cease without delay the continuation of the construction of this Wall.

RICHARD S. WILLIAMSON (United States) said that in working towards peace, it was counterproductive to single out one group for censure while turning a blind eye on another. The United States strongly believed that one-sided, anti-Israeli resolutions had no place in a forum committed to equal rights for all. An agenda item such as item 8 focused entirely on castigating one country without regard for those who promoted terror and violence was wrong; and a dedicated country-specific agenda item separate from item 9, which served for all other country-specific situations, meant too many other important matters of human rights were marginalized in the disproportionate focus on one country’s behaviour.

A balanced and constructive text on this issue would express the Commission’s concern about the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians alike; recognize that terror had in fact been the worst enemy of the Palestinian people; and call upon the Palestinian Authority to prevent terror and other acts of violence directed against Israeli civilians. It would also call upon Israel to avoid actions that endangered innocent Palestinian civilians; take appropriate action to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people; and avoid all actions that undermined the long-term viability of a two-State solution to the conflict.

ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said when speaking of the gross violations that the Israeli occupation forces were perpetrating in the occupied Palestinian territories, this was not idle talk. The situation spoke for itself, since the violations that were being perpetrated against the Palestinian people were evident to all. They were flagrant and were becoming increasingly brutal. Israel’s total indifference to, and lack of respect for, United Nations resolutions that basically reflected the situation on the ground and the rights of the Palestinian people illustrated and confirmed the aggressive and expansionist intentions of the Government of Israel. The Commission should be in no doubt concerning Israel’s arrogant attitude in regard to the Commission’s resolutions calling upon the Government of Israel to cease its aggressive practices and violations, in all their forms, and to cooperate with the mechanisms established by the Commission. The Wall that Israel was building constituted a further example of its violations of international humanitarian law, but violations were not confined solely to Palestinian territory, but also to Syrian citizens.

LUVUYO NDIMENI (South Africa) said that his country would not accept Israeli claims to any part of the occupied Arab territory and would support the inalienable right of the Palestinian people and the population of the occupied Syrian Golan over their natural resources, including land and water. Any attempt on the part of Israel to construct or expand settlements, confiscate land and demolish Palestinian homes, including in East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan, should be universally condemned. South Africa supported the international consensus enshrined in a number of Security Council resolutions. Those and subsequent texts had affirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and a sovereign State with Jerusalem as its capital.

South Africa had repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to demonstrate responsibility in avoiding actions that could add to an already volatile situation. It trusted that the Palestinian Authority’s progress on the road of reform would be recognized internationally and supported locally through similar confidence building measures on the side of Israel. South Africa had consistently cautioned Israel’s disproportionate and excessive use of force against Palestinians, its destruction of the Palestinian institutions, its violations of the Oslo Peace Accord, its policy of extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinian leaders and activities, and its shameful policy of collective punishment.

LASRO SIMBOLON (Indonesia) said it was gravely concerned, as pointed out in the Secretary-General’s report, that he had not yet received any reply from Israel with regard to the implementation of resolution 2003/6 adopted last year. Instead of showing interest in complying with the resolution, Israel had continued to ignore it by committing widespread and flagrant violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. As a tool of domination, the Wall continued to separate Palestinians from Israelis, Palestinians from Palestinians, and Palestinians from their property, their farmlands, workplaces, schools, health clinics and other social services. Looking at it from a legal perspective, the construction of the Wall represented something heinous and was another tool for the territorial annexation of Palestinian land. To that extent, Indonesia shared the view of the Special Rapporteur that the Wall should be condemned for what it was: an unlawful act comparable to Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Indonesia continued to maintain that the Road Map presently represented the most viable vehicle for a solution to the challenge of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the actualisation of an independent PalestinianState by 2005.

MOHAMED SALECK OULD MOHAMED LEMINE (Mauritania) said the issue of the violation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories had been examined by the Commission for over three decades, and continued to be discussed without a solution in sight. The persistence of this situation implicated the Commission and the international community as a whole. Today, tension was high, and the peace process was at an impasse. The deterioration of the situation and the cycle of violence made it clear that a political solution was the only solution. The legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, notably their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent State, should be accomplished without delay. All the members of the international community should act together to ensure that this hope became a reality in the interest of peace, security, and human rights, namely by a return to the peace process with, this time, the firm will to put an end to the sources of violence in the region and to open a new era of peace, peaceful coexistence and stability.

JASSIM ABDULAZIZ FAISAL AL-BOAINAIN (Qatar) said that his country had always supported the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Middle East. However, Israel continued its violence against the people it was occupying. The killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin by Israel was once again a flagrant crime, which would only escalate the cycle of violence in the region. Qatar called on Israel to abide by the relevant UN resolutions and withdraw from the Palestinian territories it was occupying. The international community should put pressure on Israel to stop its targeted killings of Palestinian leaders and politicians and to withdraw from the territories it was occupying. The actions taken by Israel would only exacerbate the conditions of the civilian population and it would not contribute to the peace process.

SAEED MOHAMED AL-FAIHANI (Bahrain) said it was regrettable to see that the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories was deteriorating one year after another. The greatest concern was the further deterioration of the rights of the Palestinian people due to their daily suffering from the inhumane policies and practices of the occupation force. The occupation authorities’ excuses for their practices were neither convincing nor realistic, but in fact reflected a political and military doctrine that was incompatible with the peace tendencies in the region. The promotion of the rights of the Palestinian people would not be realized unless Israel withdrew from all Palestinian territories, and the withdrawal from the Syrian Golan and the remaining Lebanese territories would also consolidate human rights, as well as, coupled with the establishment of a Palestinian State, contributing to ending the Middle East conflict and the establishment of normal relations with all countries in the region. Peace would not come except through enabling the Palestinian and Arab people under the Israeli occupation to practice their basic rights away from the current practices and policies that were followed by the occupation forces.

JOHN BIGGAR (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said human rights were universal, and applied throughout the world, irrespective of country, culture, or specific situation. They applied to all, without distinction. Respect for human rights constituted the foundation for all sustainable and peaceful democratic systems, and was an effective conflict-prevention measure and the basis of a fruitful and peaceful relationship between peoples. Israel, which was a party to the major human rights instruments and the Palestinian Authority had committed themselves to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. There could be no military solution to the conflict, and all acts of violence should immediately cease, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction.

The European Union strongly condemned and called for the immediate cessation of the construction of the so-called security fence within the Palestinian territories and other illegal activities that it entailed, such as confiscation of land or demolition of houses. The departure of the route of the fence from the Green Line could prejudge future negotiations and make the two-States solution physically impossible to implement. Again, extra-judicial killings of Palestinians were strongly condemned, and Israel was requested to put an end to these practices immediately. The European Union remained firmly committed to the objective of two States, living side by side in peace and security, in the framework of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

PANKAJ SARAN (India) said for the Commission to be part of the solution in the Middle East, it was necessary to re-emphasize the need for a peaceful solution of the conflict, to prevent further loss of life and restore confidence between both sides, thereby paving the way for their return to the negotiating table. There could be no military solution to this essentially political problem. The negotiations should lead to the realization of the inalienable and legitimate right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and a home land, and a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the region, with the State of Palestine existing alongside Israel within secure and internationally recognized borders. The spiral of violence and counter-violence in particular exacerbated an already serious socio-economic crisis on both sides, as evidenced by falling living standards and growing unemployment levels. Both sides should cease all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, and cooperate with the efforts of the international community. There should be immediate, parallel and accelerated movement towards tangible political progress and a defined series of steps leading to permanent peace involving recognition, normalization and security between the two sides.

RIGHT OF REPLY

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said in response to several accusations levelled against it during the preceding debate that Israel was acting in the self-defense of the lives of every Israeli citizen from suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. The political goal of groups like Hamas was expressed by its statement that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it, just as it has obliterated others before it.” Against such sentiment, one must see that the reality of life in Israel constituted the daily facing of the threat of terrorism at all levels of society; Israel faced an existential threat. When constructing the fence, Israel remained mindful of the humanitarian implications of the construction and did its best to address them, while keeping in mind the exigencies of the current situation. Numerous changes to its route had been undertaken to ease its repercussions on the Palestinian population. Moreover, all arrangements were made without prejudice to the right of the owner to receive compensation in court.

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