UN expert: Occupation, rights violations main source of violence against Palestinian women

GENEVA, 24 June - Yakin Ertuerk, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, its causes and consequences, issued the following statement today following her recent visit to the occupied Palestinian territories:

“I visited the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) from 13 to 18 June 2004 to gather first-hand information on the specific ways in which the occupation and conflict impacts on violence against women. I would like to thank the Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority for their respective cooperation. I would also like to thank the United Nations agencies for their assistance in facilitating my visit to the OPT.

“During my mission to the OPT I had meetings with representatives of the Israeli Government, representatives of the Palestinian National Authority, non-governmental organizations, as well as United Nations agencies in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. I undertook a number of field visits to refugee camps and to villages near the separation wall to interview victims of human rights violations and their families. I also visited Neve Tertze (Ramleh) Prison and spoke to both prison authorities and female detainees. I regret that I was unable to visit Rafah as Israel Defence Forces (IDF) closed the road on the day I was scheduled to travel there.

“While the persistent situation of conflict has an adverse impact on the daily lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike, the burden by far falls on the Palestinian people, who have been living under occupation for too long. This has generated an atmosphere of legitimized violence as a method of conflict resolution. As a consequence, an integrated system of violence which disproportionately singles out women in both the public and private spheres has emerged. Women are both direct and indirect victims of the occupation: they may be killed, targeted for arrest, detained and harassed for being related to men suspected of being linked to armed groups; women suffer demolitions of their homes, which are also often accompanied by loss of lives, arrests and harassments. The frequency, arbitrariness and unpredictability with which the attacks are conducted exacerbate the trauma of a life in constant uncertainty.

“Restrictions on the freedom of movement; differential residency status and travel permits, military check points and the construction of the wall, separate families and fragment identities; undermine traditional support systems; constrain access to health services and education; and destroy sources of water and livelihoods. Women are also subjected to heightened violence in the home and stringent patriarchal control by their family, the wider kinship network, local power groups and the community at large. The conflict has left many women as heads of their households, with the sole responsibility of raising their children, providing care for the elderly and the disabled without the benefit of a reliable support system and the right for independent initiative.

“Israel and the Palestinian National Authority must comply with their obligation towards the achievement of peace and a mutually acceptable settlement of the conflict. Until then, they must ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of Palestinian people, particularly women and girls.

“The Israeli Government should strengthen their relationship with the United Nations system by facilitating access for humanitarian assistance in the OPT; cooperating with the special mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights; and including information on compliance with their obligations in the OPT in their reports to the treaty bodies. With regard to the last point it would be welcomed if Israel, in presenting its report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, could report on how they are protecting and promoting the rights of women in the OPT.

“The Palestinian National Authority must encourage the participation of women in the upcoming local and national elections; and provide political and financial support to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

“Last but not least, the international community must develop an enhanced and coordinated focus on women’s rights in their activities in the OPT and continue monitoring the human rights situation and its impact on civilians.

“These preliminary observations and concerns will be elaborated in more detail in my report to the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights in 2005.”

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    This press release was issued under a different title that was shortened for brevity