Human rights experts urge stronger action by international community

John Dugard: “Israel’s conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories posed the same kind of threat to the credibility of international human rights that apartheid in South Africa had posed in the 1970s and 1980s.” (PCHR)


Top United Nations experts on human rights today urged stronger action by the international community to counter human rights violations in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territories, Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and on human rights abuses suffered by migrants, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its second day of dialogue with Special Rapporteurs and independent experts on human rights.

John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said Israel’s conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories posed the same kind of threat to the credibility of international human rights that apartheid in South Africa had posed in the 1970s and 1980s. Systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law had occurred in the territories, and they had been committed, not by uncontrolled militias, but by one of the most disciplined and sophisticated armies in the modern world, directed by a stable and disciplined Government.

He stressed that in the absence of Security Council action, it was incumbent upon regional organizations, especially the European Union, to apply pressure to Israel to ensure respect for human rights in compliance with the international law. He recalled the economic sanctions imposed by individual States on South Africa during the apartheid years, when Britain, the United States and France had exercised vetoes to prevent economic sanctions from being imposed on South Africa. He said civil society could also bring pressure to bear on companies to cease doing business with Israel.

Also today the Committee continued its dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler.

Following each of today’s presentations, delegations had the opportunity to engage in question-and-answer sessions with the Special Rapporteur or Independent Expert. Participating in those dialogues were the representatives of Afghanistan, Canada, Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), China, Costa Rica, United States, Peru, Senegal, Indonesia, Israel, Switzerland, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Togo, India, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Cambodia, Republic of Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Observer for Palestine also participated in the dialogues.

Also this afternoon, the representative of Egypt introduced a resolution concerning the rights of Palestinian children entitled “The situation of and assistance to Palestinian children”.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 29 October, to continue its dialogues with Special Rapporteurs on human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its consideration of questions of human rights. It was expected to hear presentations by, and hold dialogues with, the following special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights: the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (presenting her report contained in document A/59/377); the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (presenting his report contained in document A/59/256); the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan (presenting his report contained in document A/59/370); the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (presenting his report contained in document A/59/269); the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (presenting his report contained in document A/59/316); and the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (presenting his report contained in document A/59/367).

The Committee was also expected to continue its dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. For additional information on his presentation, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3793 of 27 October.

Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories

JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said Israel’s conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories posed the same kind of threat to the credibility of international human rights that apartheid had posed in the 1970s and 1980s. Gross, egregious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law had occurred in the territories. They had been committed, not by undisciplined and uncontrolled militias, but by one of the most disciplined and sophisticated armies in the modern world, directed by a stable and disciplined Government.

Israel’s construction of the separation wall, he recalled, had been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. However, Israel had made no move to respond to the Court’s direction to dismantle the wall, nor had construction halted. Unfortunately, Israel’s assaults on Gaza had drawn attention away from its refusal to comply with the Court’s advisory opinion.

The wall construction had had serious consequences, he said. It had consolidated and encouraged illegal Israeli settlements by including them within the “closed zone” – the area between the wall and the “Green Line” boundary between Palestine and Israel. Settlements had grown rapidly; inevitably, the approval of settlements had given rise to settler violence against Palestinians – violence for which the State of Israel retained responsibility.

The wall had resulted in seizures of Palestinian land, he added, including in East Jerusalem. The wall’s construction around Greater Jerusalem had led to the enclosure of settlements and Palestinian parts of East Jerusalem, and would lead to some 60,000 Palestinians being denied access to schools, hospitals and employment. The wall greatly impeded freedom of movement, as Palestinians living on the West Bank side of the wall had been denied access to their lands in the “closed zone”, unless in possession of a permit. Such permits were frequently withheld and the gates granting access to the “closed zone” were arbitrarily administered and frequently remained unopened at scheduled times. The permit system could be likened to the “pass laws” of apartheid, he concluded. Yet, unlike the apartheid system, which had been administered in a brutal but uniform manner, the wall regime had been characterized by arbitrariness and inconsistency.

The wall had not been designed to achieve security alone, he stated. That would have been accomplished by building it along the “Green Line” or within Israeli territory. Rather, its construction aimed to seize land for present and future settlers for the State of Israel. It also appeared to have been designed to cause an exodus of Palestinians from areas adjacent to the wall. The migration into what remained of Palestine had already begun.

As for Gaza, he stressed that Israel had pursued a scorched earth policy during the past year, with Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya all experiencing the might of the Israeli army, and its large-scale wanton and purposeless destruction. Over the past four years, 10 per cent of the population of Gaza had been rendered homeless by the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces. Bulldozers had dug up roads, electricity, sewage and water lines. Force had been used disproportionately and excessively, with a total lack of concern for those affected. Most of those killed and injured had been civilians.

Gaza was a prison, he concluded, and its inhabitants prisoners of Israel. Even if Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza, it would remain subject to Israeli control. Therefore, it was important for the international community to make clear Israel’s responsibility to uphold its obligations concerning Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of Gaza clear.

Israel had genuine and legitimate security concerns, he acknowledged. However, the State had taken advantage of the paranoia about non-State terrorism to unleash a reign of State terrorism in the occupied Palestinian territory. In the process, it had brought into contempt the entire United Nations Charter-system, which had been premised on prohibition of the use of force, self-determination, human rights and respect for the rule of law.

Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 heard comments and questions from Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union), Egypt, Libya, Syria, United States, Lebanon, and Jordan. The Observer for Palestine also spoke.

The representative of Israel said it had emphasized for more than a decade the problematic nature of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which examined only one side of the conflict and prejudged key issues. The most recent report, like previous reports, lacked context and balance and distorted the facts. By misrepresenting a complex conflict, the report ran counter to the stated goals of the Untied Nations. It was impossible for a reasonable observer to fairly assess the current situation without fully viewing the context of violence and terror that had killed not only Palestinians, but more than 1,000 Israelis, and had wounded more than 6,000.

The challenge faced by Israel was how best to protect its citizens, he said. How could one fight terrorist organizations that had no respect for life or the law? The Road Map had imposed obligations on both sides, focusing in its first clauses on the Palestinian duty to end terrorism and violence. Yet, the Special Rapporteur has refused to consider these factors in his reports. Without such a background and context, it was impossible to fairly judge whether any defensive measures taken by Israel were proportional or met the requirements of international humanitarian law.

Israel’s security fence was a temporary, non-violent defensive measure taken to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israeli cities and population centres, he said. By ignoring the dangers faced by Israel, the only cause that was supported was the myth that only one side had responsibilities, and only one side had rights. Such a myth was incompatible with the Road Map and with the true spirit of international law and diplomacy.

Responding to the comments and questions posed by representatives, Mr. DUGARD said the Israeli Supreme Court had played an important role in advancing human rights in the occupied territories. He noted that in one case it had handed down a monumental decision finding that the wall caused disproportionate suffering to the Palestinian people. There was a great correlation between that opinion and that held by the International Court of Justice. He added that he was encouraged by reports that the Israeli Government was reconsidering its position regarding the applicability and Forth Geneva convention. He noted with concern the situation of 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, many of whom were children and women. He called on the international community to provide support to Palestinian prisoners.

Regarding the construction of the wall, the International Court of Justice had said the wall was unlawful, and in the absence of Security Council action, States should do their best to pressure Israel to acknowledge the illegality of the wall. He noted that many Israeli products exported to Europe came from its settlements and was a matter that required further attention. The wall had contributed to the economic decline of the Palestinian population. It had seriously aggravated the economic situation and had a grave impact on the social life of Palestinians. In certain areas shops had closed, and people had moved out because of a lack of access to essential services on the other side of wall. There had already been serious restrictions on the freedom of movement as a result of checkpoints. The added restrictions on movement resulting from the wall required the urgent attention of the international community.

He stressed that in the absence of Security Council pressure, it was incumbent upon regional organizations, especially the European Union, to apply pressure to Israel to ensure respect for human rights in compliance with international law. He recalled the economic sanctions imposed by individual States on South Africa during the apartheid years, when Britain, the United States and France had exercised vetoes to prevent economic sanctions from being imposed on South Africa. He said civil society could also bring pressure to bear on companies to cease doing business with Israel.

Responding to the comments of the representative of Israel, he said it was the customary strategy of Israel to attack the Special Rapporteur for drawing attention to the situation in the Palestinian occupied territories. He was aware of Israel’s security needs, but Israel had responded in a disproportionate and excessive manner to terrorist bombings. What was significant about the Israeli representative’s comments was that he had made no mention of the decision of the International Court of Justice about the illegality of the wall, and no mention of occupation. Those were the two principal issues that must be addressed by Israel.

He clarified that he was not drawing comparisons between apartheid in South Africa and the State of Israel. He was calling attention to the similarities between apartheid in South Africa and the occupation of Palestine. It was the occupation that was responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Israeli representative had made no reference to the ruling of the International Court of Justice that the wall is unlawful and that Israel was obliged by law to dismantle it.

As for the Road Map, the Road Map was dead, and it was dead largely as a result of Israel’s failure to take action against settlements. It was a positive step that Israel was withdrawing settlements in Gaza, but settlements in the West Bank were expanding rapidly. He objected to the violence that seemed to accompany the withdrawal from Gaza and to the Israeli Government’s intention to maintain control over the Gaza Strip even after withdrawal of the settlements.

The Special Rapporteur emphasized his recommendation that all States must do their utmost to ensure that the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion was respected, and bring pressure to bear upon Israel to end the occupation. Pressure should also be brought to bear upon both parties to resume negotiations.

Although the Israeli Government did not recognize his mandate, he said, there had been no difficulty in implementing it.

Commenting directly upon the questions asked by the United States and to that country’s position on the Middle East, in response to the United States representative’s allegation that he had been unbalanced in his reporting, he said he had never claimed his report to be perfect. It had been based upon visits to the region, and discussions with its inhabitants. Unfortunately, he had been unable to meet with members of the Israeli Government, as it had refused to recognize his mandate. Such meetings might have helped to “balance” his report.

He agreed with the United Nations that there must be a negotiated settlement to the conflict, but felt it was deplorable that Israel claimed not to have a negotiating partner. Even more deplorable was the United States’ failure to bring power to bear upon Israel to resume the negotiations. For the last year, the United States administration had had its eye on the national elections and had failed in its responsibility in regarding of bringing peace to the Middle East.

As for the applicability of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, he noted that the judges had ruled 14 to one, and that even the United States judge had made findings on the unlawfulness of the wall’s construction. As the highest legal body of the United Nations system, the Court must be shown more respect.

The United States should be part of the solution in the Middle East, he concluded, yet at present it remained part of the problem. The failure of the United States to exercise any leadership role in the Middle East was one of the reasons for the deplorable situation there. Both sides looked to the United States for leadership –- as did the entire world –- and no one was fulfilling that leadership burden. He hoped the United States delegation would convey those sentiments to the State Department.

Following Mr. Dugard’s comments, the representative of Israel said it was not true that his Government did not support the United Nations Special Rapporteurs. It did not support biased Rapporteurs nor their reports, he clarified. Mr. Bassiouni had today instructed the Committee as to the complexity of such conflict situations and the need to progress gradually. His had been an unbiased report. To hear Mr. Dugard speak of a 10 per cent destruction in Gaza was baseless. To hear him claim that, while there had been a significant reduction in barriers and roadblocks in the West Bank, those remaining were aimed at humiliating the Palestinian population was biased. He would have expected the Special Rapporteur to have the courage to acknowledge that the reduction in roadblocks was the direct result of the security fence’s construction.

Israel had not wanted to build the fence, he concluded. If there had been no terror, there would have been no fence. The State would comply fully with the ruling of its Supreme Court, he stressed. Finally, to hear the Special Rapporteur refer to the Road Map as dead was inappropriate to the present forum.

Introduction of Draft Resolution

At the top of its afternoon session, the representative of Egypt introduced a draft resolution on the situation of and assistance to Palestinian children (A/C.3/59/L.28), recalling that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had continued to deteriorate in the past year. This had especially impacted the children of the territories, who remained among the most vulnerable segments of society. Overall, the text emphasized the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of all children in the region and called upon the international community to ameliorate the dire humanitarian crisis faced by Palestinian children. A consensus adoption of the text would do much to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian children.