Palestinian human rights groups address UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

An Israeli soldier guarding, as an Israeli bulldozer demolishes a Palestinian house near the West Bank city of Hebron, November 29, 2006. (MaanImages/Mamoun Wazwaz)


Joint Letter of Palestinian human rights organisations submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during her visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Dear Madame Arbour,

As non-governmental human rights organisations based in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), we would like to express our appreciation for your mission to the OPT. The current reality in the OPT is one of gross and systematic violations of international human rights law, as well as serious and grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, amounting to war crimes. These exigencies give this visit, which we have long urged, exceptional significance. We hope that your visit and its follow-up will mark a renewed, substantive engagement by the UN on the issue of Palestinian human rights.

We hope that you will take every opportunity to speak with Palestinians to witness first hand the ways in which the institutionalised framework of the Israeli occupation has severe and long-term repercussions on the human rights of every Palestinian, and by extension on the prospects for international peace and security.

The collapse in the political, humanitarian and security sectors as a result of Israeli actions, particularly in Gaza, has led to widespread violations of human rights. We trust that witnessing the situation on the ground will bolster your resolve to utilise the powers of your office to end impunity for those who commit violations of international human rights law. In this regard, we attach particular significance to the possibility that the mandate of the OPT-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could be expanded to include monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation. This is of great importance at this juncture given Israels recent refusal to allow the entry into the OPT of the fact-finding mission called for by the Human Rights Council in its first special session and the failure of the Security Council to adopt a resolution calling for a fact-finding mission. The additional failure of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to abide by their obligations to protect civilians in the OPT offers additional urgency to our call for your leadership.

The Palestinian human rights community has worked diligently for many years towards the realisation of the rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination. We are cognisant that our goal is a long-term one, but continue to persevere in the hope that eventually genuine strides will be made.

We face many obstacles in achieving this goal. The conduct of the Israeli occupying forces during military operations in the OPT is a consistent manifestation of the exigencies of state security being used as a justification for infringing fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. As a result of Israels latest military operations in Gaza, which began on 25 June 2006, an estimated 359 civilians, including 83 children, have been killed and approximately 1,450 have been injured. Moreover, due to the unlawful targeting of civilian infrastructure not justified by military necessity, and prolonged closure of Gazas borders blocking vital supplies and assistance, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has become dire.

Lack of political will on the part of states to address the root causes of human rights violations is a burden we share with all who seek the realisation of human rights. There has been a lack of political will to address the nearly 40 years of occupation of the OPT as the root cause of violations of the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. In 2006, this led to devastating sanctions being placed on the Palestinian people with serious repercussions for economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights throughout the OPT. As John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for the OPT, noted, this is the first time that an occupied people have been so treated.

These sanctions have been placed on a population already deep under siege. During your field visits we hope you will have an opportunity to see how the Annexation Wall and the over 500 Israeli military checkpoints separate Palestinians from their families, their livelihood, places of worship and educational and health services. Indeed, almost everyone you will meet has stories about a relation who was arbitrarily arrested, tried in a military court without fundamental due process guarantees and now languishes in jail. Similarly, people will explain how their loved ones died in a targeted assassination or were killed by shrapnel as bystanders. Travelling from one location to the next, you will see cities and villages dotted with homes that were demolished by the Israeli military. These are just some of the results of Israels systematic disregard for international law that we carry with us in our collective national memory.

Mindful that impunity only leads to further violations of the law, we respectfully request that you undertake the following:

  • Urge appropriate UN bodies, and in particular the General Assembly, to convene a global conference on how to ensure effective implementation of Palestinian human rights in the OPT following almost 40 years of military occupation;
  • Encourage the dispatch of the Human Rights Councils special procedures to the OPT;
  • Ensure that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in its work on improving accountability for violations of human rights, duly considers the prospect of an international human rights court;
  • Work to fill the gap in effective monitoring by the UN of rights violations by expanding the mandate of the OPT-based OHCHR to include monitoring and investigation which does not rely upon Israeli approval on a case-by-case basis;
  • Actively support the Palestinian human rights community in our call for the reconvening of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    Respectfully yours,

    Al-Haq
    Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights
    Democracy and Workers Rights Center
    Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counselling
    Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights
    Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
    Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
    The Palestinian Center for Human Rights
    Al Dameer Association for Human Rights
    Defence for Children International Palestine Section
    Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
    Ensan Center for Democracy & Human Rights
    Addameer