Human rights council discusses situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories in context of follow-up of its decisions

John Dugard

The Human Rights Council this afternoon discussed the follow-up of decisions and resolutions taken at its first session and the first and second special sessions and heard a follow-up report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said on 6 July 2006, the Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution in which it decided to “dispatch an urgent fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur”. As there was no reply by the Israeli Government to requests for consent to a fact-finding mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he had been unable to head that mission as required by the Council. He did however compile a report on the situation in Gaza, from which it was clear that concerns were well founded.

Since 25 June, the Special Rapporteur said, Israel had been engaged in a brutal military operation in Gaza, characterised by bombings, sonic booms, military incursions and targeted assassinations. There was a humanitarian crisis resulting from the destruction of the major power plant, the closure of borders, and poverty. Israeli action had failed to discriminate between militants and civilians. In summary, Israel’s action in Gaza constituted collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and the disproportionate attacks on civilians constituted war crimes.

Israel, speaking as a concerned country, said Israel had had high hopes that the Council would exceed the low expectations and double standards of the Commission. Yet, the resolutions and reports that had been issued by the Council since its very beginning had proven otherwise and had emphasized its one-sided and imbalanced nature. Only one country had been singled out by resolution, while the Council had failed to address the grave situations in other parts of the world. Even worse, two special sessions had been dedicated to alleged human rights violations of Israel, which failed to address the simple facts which led to Israel’s actions in self-defence: the indiscriminate attacks by Hamas Qassam rockets and Hizbollah’s Katushya rockets on Israel towns and villages, two renown terrorist organizations. Such blatant omissions cast a black stain on the legitimacy of the good faith and objectivity of the Council.

Palestine, speaking as a concerned country, said the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories constituted the most flagrant violation of human rights, which should be given due attention by the esteemed Council. The list of Israeli breaches and infringements of most principles enshrined in international law was open-ended, including continuous bombardment of civilians, sonic bombs, military incursions, shelling and destruction of vital infrastructure, house demolitions, sporadic house arrests, land confiscation, economic siege and closures, which had dire consequences on food and medical supplies. In addition to this list of punitive Israeli measures, the construction of the Wall compounded the suffering of the Palestinian people and generated, inter alia, forced internal displacement of Palestinians.

Syria, speaking as a concerned country, said there was great concern for the deterioration of the situation in Gaza and the Golan, before the eyes of the international community that was doing nothing to defend the breaches of many Conventions, including the Geneva Convention. The modern media has been broadcasting live what was happening, showing the crimes being perpetrated. The Council should leave behind the mentality and mechanisms of the double standards of the Commission, the enormous paperwork that gave no results, and the resolutions that were never implemented. The Council should prove its credibility to defend the weak and the vulnerable.

During the general debate on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, many speakers urged the resumption of the peace process, in the context of the Road Map, and under the aegis of the Quartet. A two-State solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital, was, many delegations said, the only solution for long-lasting peace and stability in the Middle East as a whole. Many also pointed out the vital importance, for the credibility of the Council, for its resolutions and decisions to be implemented and respected by Israel. The international community should put pressure on Israel in this regard, several delegates said.

Speaking in the context of the general debate were the representatives of Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Finland for the European Union, Malaysia, Indonesia, Senegal, Cuba, Mali, Bangladesh, Canada, Mexico, Russian Federation, China, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, United States, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In right of reply, the representatives of Israel and Syria spoke.

Also speaking were : United Nations Watch, Amnesty International in a joint statement with Human Rights Watch, Al-haq law in the service of man, B’nai B’rith in a joint statement with Coordination Board of Jewish Organizations, Women’s International Zionist Organization, Organization for Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America in a joint statement with Federation of Cuban Women and National Union of Jurists of Cuba, International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru” in a joint statement with World Peace Council.

The next public meeting of the Council will be at 3 p.m. on Monday 2 October, when it is scheduled to take up the progress report of the Working Group on the universal periodic review. At 10 a.m., it will discuss its 1503 procedure behind closed doors.

Presentation by Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories

JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said on 6 July 2006 the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it decided to “dispatch an urgent fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur”. On 7 July the Special Rapporteur met with the President of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in order to implement this resolution. It was agreed by all that it would be necessary to obtain the consent of the Government of Israel for this mission, and that the President of the Council would approach the Ambassador of Israel for such consent, in a memorandum. The President of the Council met with the Ambassador of Israel shortly afterwards, and requested the consent of the Government of Israel for the mission, and the Ambassador indicated he would seek instructions and reply as soon as possible.

The Special Rapporteur then proceeded to constitute the fact finding mission, approaching a military security officer and an expert in public health to join the mission. As the days passed, the Special Rapporteur became worried that the President of the Council had received no reply from the Government. On 21 July, the President wrote a letter to the Ambassador in which he requested a reply to his request for consent to the mission by 24 July. To the best of the Special Rapporteur’s knowledge, the President received no reply to this letter. On 8 August, the Special Rapporteur wrote a letter to the President, in which he stated that more than a month had passed in waiting for a reply from the Government of Israel, and he thought that there was no alternative but to construe this as a refusal; that the Government of Israel should be notified that this was the position; and that the Human Rights Council should be informed.

The Special Rapporteur was not, therefore, able to head a fact-finding mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories as required by the Council. He did however compile a report on the situation in Gaza, following the start of “Operation Summer Rains”, and other issues of concern to the Council in its special session of 6 July. From his report, it was clear that concerns were well founded. Since 25 June Israel had been engaged in a brutal military operation in Gaza, characterised by bombings, sonic booms, military incursions and targeted assassinations. Over 260 Palestinians, including 58 children, had been killed, and some 800 wounded. Buildings had been destroyed and agricultural lands levelled. There was a humanitarian crisis resulting from the destruction of the major power plant, the closure of borders, and poverty. Israeli action had failed to discriminate between militants and civilians. In summary, its action in Gaza constituted collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The disproportionate attacks on civilians also constituted war crimes, and the Israeli authorities themselves ought to consider prosecution of the perpetrators in this regard.

Statements by Concerned Parties

ITZHAK LEVANON (Israel), speaking as a concerned country, said Israel had had high hopes that the Council would exceed the low expectations and double standards of the Commission. Yet, the resolutions and reports that had been issued by the Council since its very beginning had proven otherwise and had emphasized its one-sided and imbalanced nature. Only one country had been singled out by resolution, while the Council had failed to address the grave situations in other parts of the world. Even worse, two special sessions had been dedicated to alleged human rights violations of Israel, which failed to address the simple facts which led to Israel’s actions in self-defence: the indiscriminate attacks by Hamas Qassam rockets and Hizbollah’s Katushya rockets on Israel towns and villages, two renowned terrorist organizations. Such blatant omissions cast a black stain on the legitimacy of the good faith and objectivity of the Council. On Tuesday, the Special Rapporteur called upon both Israelis and Palestinians to get away from the terminology of terror. The Rapporteur might do well to heed his own advice, as his inflammatory descriptions of Israel throughout the report veered quickly into the absurd, where Israel was accused of “terrorizing” the Palestinians at every turn. While the sonic booms of aircraft apparently fell into that category, the sonic booms of suicide bombers apparently did not.

On Tuesday, the Special Rapporteur called upon Israel and the international community to engage with the Palestinian Government headed by Hamas. Surely, the Special Rapproteur was cognizant of the fact that Hamas was an organization whose founding Charter was virtually anti-Semitic and called for the “obliteration” of Israel. Less than one week ago, the Hamas Prime Minister said that he personally would not head any government that recognized Israel. Who, exactly, did the Special Rapporteur expect Israel to engage with? The Rapporteur’s report presented today was simply a rehashing of the statement he delivered last Tuesday, and was an unfortunate waste of time.

MOHAMMAD ABU-KOASH (Palestine), speaking as a concerned country, said that they were here today to follow up on decisions and resolution adopted by the Council to ensure the effectiveness of the Council in implementing its resolutions. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories constituted the most flagrant violation of human rights, which should be given due attention by the esteemed Council.

The list of Israeli breaches and infringements of most principles enshrined in international law was open-ended, including continuous bombardment of civilians, sonic bombs, military incursions, shelling and destruction of vital infrastructure, house demolitions, sporadic house arrests, land confiscation, economic siege and closures, which had dire consequences on food and medical supplies. In addition to this list of punitive Israeli measures, the construction of the Wall compounded the suffering of the Palestinian people and generated, inter alia, forced internal displacement of Palestinians. All conventions on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development were systematically violated by Israel, the occupying power, on a daily basis in Palestine by an occupying power that expanded its list of violations as it encountered no effective reaction by the international community.

It was ridiculous that an occupier armed with the most sophisticated military arsenal, not to mention nuclear weapons, claimed that it was being terrorized by primitive hand-made missiles by determined Palestinians who faced the daily agony of occupation, humiliation, death and poverty and had no protection whatsoever against their occupier. Palestine called for the international protection of their people in Palestine.

KHALIT BITAR (Syria), speaking as a concerned country, said the report submitted was very professional, despite the difficulties in the human rights situation in the Occupied Arab Territories and in Palestine. There was great concern for the deterioration of the situation in Gaza and the Golan, before the eyes of the international community that was doing nothing to defend the breaches of many Conventions, including the Geneva Convention. The modern media has been broadcasting live what was happening, showing the crimes perpetrated. Four million Arabs were suffering occupation. There were 500,000 displaced Syrians who had left the Golan and who had been waiting for 40 years, during which time the international community had been sending delegation after delegation, making resolution after resolution, and the successive Israeli Governments had been ignoring these and putting themselves above the law. Surely the time had come to implement international resolutions, and the Council could find a mechanism to mitigate the suffering of the Arab citizens who were suffering from the worst violations of human rights, and who were waiting for the return of the rule of law in order to build a just country and society.

The Council should leave behind the mentality and mechanisms of the double standards of the Commission and the enormous paperwork that gave no results, the resolutions that were never implemented. The Council should prove its credibility to defend the weak and the vulnerable. Two extraordinary sessions had been held, and there were resolutions, which should find their way to implementation. Syria was prepared to cooperate with the Council, so that people regained confidence in the human rights defence system, and that Arab civilians under occupation could finally regain hope. What was the best way of bringing an end to the suffering of the people, Syria asked the Special Rapporteur.

Related Links

  • UN human rights expert reports on ‘appalling’ conditions for ordinary Palestinians (26 September 2006)
  • UN Human Rights Council