On Monday, 22 June 2004, PCHR received Professor John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). In his visit to PCHR, Mr. Dugard was accompanied by his aide Ms Darka Tubali, and Dr. Othman Hassan, Director of the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights to the Palestinain Authority. Raji Sourani, Director of PCHR, and other members of the Board of Administration met with the visitors.
This visit comes in the context of a mission by Mr. Dugard to investigate Israeli violations of international law and humanitarian law in the OPTs, especially following the latest Israeli offensive on Rafah.
During the meeting, Mr. Sourani briefed Mr. Dugrad and his colleagues on the human rights situation in the OPTs, particularly grave breaches perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians. Mr. Sourani focused on the most recent grave breaches perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces in Rafah, including willful killings and destruction of houses and public properties.
Mr. Sourani asserted that these crimes were mostly perpetrated for retaliation, especially in Tal al-Sultan neighborhood. He added that the destruction of houses and civilian properties along the Egyptian border came as a part of a strategic Israeli plan to create a buffer zone in the area, and that Israeli occupying forces would resort to various claims to justify similar actions in the future to complete this plan.
At the political level, with regard to the Israeli Prime Minister’s “disengagement plan”, Mr Sourani asserted that facts on the ground contradict with the declared policies, as Israeli occupying forces have continued to reinforce their presence and maintain their control over Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip, including the expansion of space areas near settlements and bypass roads and the establishment new military installations on the expense of Palestinian agricultural areas and houses that were destroyed. Mr. Sourani warned that the plan would not change the legal status of the Gaza Strip as a territory under belligerent occupation.
It does not provide an exemption for Israel from its legal responsibilities under international humanitarian law towards Palestinian civilians in Gaza Strip. He also highlighted the impact of this plan on the rest of the OPTs, as Israel has continued to construct the “Annexation Wall” inside the West Bank, which will eventually annex more than half of the area of the West Bank, and transform the remaining parts into Bantustans.
The UN Special Rapporteur for the OPTs was appointed according to a decision adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights during its 49th session on 19 February 1993. According to the decision, the UN Special Rapporteur is mandated to investigate Israeli violations of international law and humanitarian law, including of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War in the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel since 1967.