The Commission on Human Rights began this morning its substantive work for the year, hearing presentation of the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and summations of developments over the past year in occupied Palestine and in the activities of mercenaries.
John Dugard, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said among other things that Palestinian living conditions had deteriorated significantly over the past year and Israeli construction of a massive security wall raised a real prospect that life would become so intolerable for those villagers living in the subsequent “Closed Zone” that they would abandon their homes and migrate. Mr. Dugard’s report was submitted ahead of formal debate under the Commission’s agenda item on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, and general comment on the document will occur later in the Commission’s six-week session.
A Representative of Israel termed Mr. Dugard’s report a wholesale rejection of the current complex situation in favour of a simplistic picture in which one side of the conflict had a total monopoly on victimhood, and said the report was well outside the realm of any reasonable discourse.
A Representative of Palestine said the report was objective, truthful and sincere, but that it had not been possible for the Special Rapporteur to deal with all the human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people, as it was not impossible for such a document to cover so many wide-ranging abuses.
Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, also started the general debate on the agenda item on the right of peoples to self-determination.
Representatives of Israel, India, Palestine and Pakistan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue with its general debate on the report of the High Commissioner and the right of peoples to self-determination.
Under its agenda item on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, opened briefly in advance of general consideration later in the session, the Commission has before it the report of its Special Rapporteur, John Dugard (E/CN.4/2004/6), which concludes, among other things that the Israeli occupation continues to result in widespread violations of human rights, affecting both civil and socio-economic rights, and international humanitarian law. Israel’s justification for these actions is that they are necessary in the interests of its own national security, the document states, but the Rapporteur finds it difficult to accept that excessive use of force that disregards the distinction between civilians and combatants, the creation of a humanitarian crisis by restrictions on the mobility of goods and people, the killing and inhumane treatment of children, widespread destruction of property and territorial expansion could be justified as a proportionate response to the violence and threats of violence to which Israel is subjected. The construction of “the Wall” within the West Bank and the continued expansion of settlements, which, on the face of it, have more to do with territorial expansion, de facto annexation or conquest, than security, raise serious doubts about the good faith of Israel’s justifications in the name of security, the report states.
SUMMARY OF THE REPORT
The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) continues to be a matter of grave concern. Although the road map promoted by the Quartet offers some prospect of peace in the region, it is important to record that the past six months have seen continued violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The Government of Israel has justified its actions in the OPT on the grounds of self-defence and portrayed them as anti-terrorism measures. That Israel has legitimate security concerns cannot be denied. On the other hand, some limit must be placed on the violation of human rights in the name of counter-terrorism. A balance must be struck between respect for human rights and the interests of security.
During the past few months the construction of the Wall, separating Israel from the West Bank, has been frenetically pursued. The Wall does not follow the Green Line, which marks the de facto boundary between Israel and Palestine. Instead, it incorporates substantial areas of the West Bank into Israel. Over 210,000 Palestinians will be seriously affected by the Wall. Palestinians living between the Wall and the Green Line will be effectively cut off from their farmlands and workplaces, schools, health clinics and other social services. This is likely to lead to a new generation of refugees or internally displaced persons.
The Wall has all the features of a permanent structure. The fact that it will incorporate half of the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem suggests that it is designed to further entrench the position of the settlers. The evidence strongly suggests that Israel is determined to create facts on the ground amounting to de facto annexation. Annexation of this kind, known as conquest in international law, is prohibited by the Charter of the United Nations and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Special Rapporteur submits that the time has come to condemn the Wall as an unlawful act of annexation in the same way that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights has been condemned as unlawful. Similarly, no recognition should be given by the international community to Israel’s control over Palestinian territory enclosed by the Wall.
The restrictions on freedom of movement continue to create a humanitarian crisis in the OPT. Although curfews have not affected as many people in 2003 as in the previous year, they still disrupt Palestinian life on a broad scale. The number of checkpoints has increased during the past six months. These restraints on the movement of goods and persons give rise to unemployment, poverty, poor health care and interrupted education and, in addition, they result in the humiliation of the Palestinian people.
The death toll in the conflict continues to rise as a result of suicide bombings and military incursions. The Israeli practice of assassinating suspected terrorists has inflicted death and injury not only on those targeted but on a substantial number of innocent civilians in the vicinity of such actions. The legality of such measures is highly questionable.
There are some 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Although Israel has agreed to release 540 of them, its refusal to release more prisoners constitutes a major obstacle in the way of peace in the region. Sadly, allegations of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment continue to be made. The Special Rapporteur therefore calls for an independent inquiry into such allegations.
The destruction of property in the OPT continues unabated. During the past eight months, Gaza has been particularly affected by military action that has caused large-scale devastation to houses and agricultural land.
Israel’s undertaking to curb the growth of settlements has not been implemented. On the contrary, settlements have continued to grow at an unacceptable pace. This phenomenon, together with the construction of the Wall, suggests that territorial expansion remains an essential feature of Israel’s policies and practices in the OPT.
Question of the Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine
JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, presenting his report to the Commission in advance of scheduled discussion under the agenda item, said that sadly, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had deteriorated over the past year from a human rights perspective. The occupied Palestinian territories were experiencing a humanitarian crisis with disastrous consequences on employment, health and education for Palestinians. Over the past year a further wrong had been added to a list of wrongs: the “Wall”, the construction of which had resulted in the large-scale destruction of Palestinian property and had created a “Closed Zone”, the permit system for which was administered in an arbitrary and humiliating manner. This system, which subjected Palestinian freedom of movement to the whim of the occupying power, created anger, anxiety and humiliation among the population, and as a result was likely to create insecurity for Israel rather than security.
There was a real prospect that life would become so intolerable for those villagers living in the Closed Zone that they would abandon their homes and migrate. The main beneficiaries of the Wall were Israeli settlers. The Wall could have been justified as a legitimate security measure to prevent would-be suicide bombers from entering Israel had it followed the course of the Green Line. The Special Rapporteur said that he had visited the Wall, and at no point where he had visited did physical features of the land, on the face of it, justify placing the Wall within Palestinian territory. Israel would have to answer many questions in a satisfactory way if it wished to persuade the international community that the Wall was a good faith attempt to provide security for its people rather than forcible territorial expansion.
The Special Rapporteur said he could only conclude that the Wall violated the prohibition on the acquisition of territory by forcible means and seriously undermined the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people by reducing the size of a future Palestinian State. Moreover, it violated important norms of international humanitarian law. Human rights norms were likewise violated, particularly those affirming freedom of movement, the right to family life and the right to education and health care. An internationally acceptable peace in the region should take place within the framework and constraints of the rules of international law and the appropriate United Nations resolutions on the topic of the occupied Palestinian territories. By reporting on violations of these rules, the Special Rapporteur said he believed that he advanced rather than hindered the peace process.
YAAKOV LEVY (Israel), speaking as a concerned country, said the latest report submitted by the Special Rapporteur and his recent addendum were, regrettably, no different from their predecessors, and continued to use the Rapporteur’s mission and mandate as a platform for advancing a political agenda. His wholesale rejection of the current complex situation in favour of a simplistic picture in which one side of the conflict had a total monopoly on victimhood placed his report well outside the realm of any reasonable discourse. The refusal to acknowledge any Palestinian obligation or wrongdoing whatsoever reflected a patronizing attitude to Palestinian society that could only undermine any attempt to develop a responsible and accountable leadership.
Many of the allegations raised by the Special Rapporteur repeated misleading charges made in his earlier reports. Not only did the Rapporteur misrepresent the current situation, but he also sought to prejudice the outcome of future negotiations between the parties, notably in his repeated attempts to establish the so-called “green line” as an international border. The report contained little reporting on facts, and was more a presentation of a virtual reality that conformed to the Special Rapporteur’s political agenda. It showed no interest in a debate about humanitarian issues in the territories, and was clearly part of the problem and not of the solution.
NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine), speaking as a concerned country, said the Special Rapporteur’s report had been objective, truthful and sincere. Nevertheless, it had not been possible for him to deal with all the human rights violations perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people, as it was impossible for such a limited report to contain all such violations. As he himself could not address all of his concerns in regard of violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people in the limited time available now, he would be addressing them in due course when the item was opened for general debate. He would address the allegations made by the Representative of Israel at that time.
RIGHT TO REPLY
YAAKOV LEVY (Israel), speaking in a right of reply, said it was regrettable to view that in the first hours of work that the Organization of the Islamic Conference had chosen to focus on one nation, Israel, and that half its speech singled Israel out. One of the most serious violations of human rights took place when Palestinians did not make any distinction between civilians and Israeli army personnel in their suicide attacks. Those imprisoned in Israel were there for their acts of terrorism. The Wall was there purely for a defensive measure, and was not meant as a political act, nor as a border. It had no effect on the ownership of land, and was temporary. Its sole purpose was to protect people, and was reversible, as the lives taken by terrorists were not. Israel was clearly aware of the impact of the Wall on lives of Palestinians, and from thence had already implemented changes in its route, and wished only to protect lives without causing unnecessary hardship to the people of Palestine. Israel was committed to the Road Map, and considered the Wall as part of the self-defense of its population, and thus as a part of the protection of the right to life of its people.
NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine) said the Representative of Israel had just said that the Palestinians were terrorists. Palestinians were living under occupation and they had to resist that situation. The Special Rapporteur had said that Israel was committing terrorism against Palestinians. When Palestine was refusing the Wall, it was for the only reason that it was built on Palestinian territory, but Israel could build it on its own territory. The Wall, as it now stood, was a violation of international law.