The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its first special session to consider the latest escalation of the situation in the Palestinian and other occupied Arab territories. The Council will vote tomorrow morning on a draft resolution.
The special session was held following a request made by 21 Council members at the end of the first session of the Council, which concluded on Friday, 30 June. The request for the special session, presented by Tunisia, was supported by the following Member States: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.
John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said that he had visited the occupied Palestinian territory in mid-June, shortly before the present crisis erupted, but then, too, the human rights situation had been appalling. In the past week the situation had worsened. In Gaza, people were without water, food was scarce and medicines were running out. Operation “Summer Rains”, as Israel had cynically labelled its siege of Gaza, offended the prohibition on collective punishment. It likewise violated the prohibition on “measures of intimidation and terrorism” contained in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while the arrest of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators seemed to constitute the “taking of hostages” prohibited in Article 34.
Speakers expressed deep concern about the continuing deterioration of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, in particular as a result of the current Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip, and the use of force by the Israeli troops against the Palestinian civilian population, as well as the devastating air raids on Palestinian vital public infrastructure and utilities. Many recalled that addressing urgent human rights situations promptly was part of the Human Rights Council’s mandate, and called upon the Council to take urgent and effective measures to live up to its responsibility. Several speakers noted that the international community was looking to the Council for its appropriate response to violations of human rights of the Palestinian people, and that if it did not respond not only was it failing its first test, there was also a danger that the violence could escalate into wider conflicts and instability in the region.
Several speakers said the current developments taking place on the ground suggested a systematic pattern of violations of human rights law by Israel, in targeting civilians and civilian infrastructures. Such acts served as collective punishment, war crimes, and a violation under international human rights law.
Many speakers specifically called for the release of the kidnapped[*] Israeli soldier, as well as the numerous Palestinian ministers and other officials that had been arrested. Some speakers felt the safe release of Corporal Shalit would be the best way to progress towards lasting peace round. Indeed, a return by the parties to the peace process was seen by most speakers as the only option to allow for a durable peace based on a two-State solution.
The overwhelming majority of speakers appeared to favour the call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a special mission to investigate the situation on the ground and report back to the Council.
Only two speakers appeared to challenge the need to hold a special session on the situation, the United States and Israel. The United States felt that a special session should not focus only on one aspect of the situation, precipitated by the kidnapping of a young Israeli soldier, while ignoring the role of Hamas in the kidnapping, and the failure of the Palestinian Authority Government to denounce terror, while Israel said the Palestinians themselves had provoked the current situation by abducting an Israeli soldier.
Taking part in the debate were the representatives of Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Tunisia, on behalf of the Arab Group, Algeria, on behalf of the African Group, Mali, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Zambia, Japan, South Africa, the Russian Federation, Morocco, Senegal, India, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, Switzerland, Bahrain, Finland, on behalf of the European Union, France, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Israel, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the League of Arab States, New Zealand, Chile, Egypt, Colombia, Norway, Sudan, the United States, Libya, Australia, Yemen, and Nicaragua.
When the Human Rights Council reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 6 July, it will immediately move to take action on the draft resolution on the situation in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, before adjourning its first special session.
Presentation by Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said that, at the outset he wished to make it clear that he had every sympathy for Corporal Gilad Shalit; and indeed, for all Israel’s young soldiers compelled to serve in the army of the occupying power. He had visited the occupied Palestinian territory in mid-June, shortly before the present crisis erupted, but then, too, the human rights situation had been appalling. Both the West Bank and Gaza were impoverished as a result of Israel’s unlawful withholding of Palestinian tax revenues and the Quartet’s decision to withhold aid. Since 1994 the occupied Palestinian territory had become heavily dependent on foreign aid. Consequently, the withholding of aid, coupled with the prohibition on the transfer of money to the Palestinian Authority, its agencies and projects, imposed by the United States-controlled international banking system, had in effect amounted to economic sanctions. Israel was in violation of countless United Nations resolutions and refused to comply with the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. The Quartet had taken no action against Israel and had failed to even remind Israel of its obligations under the Advisory Opinion. But now it had, in effect, imposed economic sanctions – not only on the Palestinian Authority, but on the Palestinian people.
In the past week the situation had worsened, Mr. Dugard said. In Gaza people were without water, food was scarce and medicines were running out. Two hundred thousand households were without electricity due to the destruction of power plants. Over 1,500 rounds of artillery had been showered on Gaza. Operation “Summer Rains”, as Israel had cynically labelled its siege of Gaza, offended the prohibition on collective punishment. It likewise violated the prohibition on “measures of intimidation and terrorism” contained in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while the arrest of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators seemed to constitute the “taking of hostages” prohibited in Article 34. Israel portrayed the military offensive against Gaza as a response to Kassam rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. Deplorable as such Palestinian actions might be, they did not warrant the disproportionate retaliation they had prompted. Here, too, Israel was in violation of humanitarian law.
Mr. Dugard had two final points: first, it had to be reiterated that it was not the Hamas Government that was being punished, but the Palestinian people; second, there was a desperate need for a minimum respect for human rights and humanitarian law. That could only be achieved by a resumption of peace talks. There was a need for honest brokers in the present crisis; the European Union and the United Nations were the bodies best qualified for such a task. Whether they could act as honest brokers while remaining members of the Quartet, however, was questionable.
[*]Editor’s Note: The dictionary definition of the word “kidnap” necessitates that the abduction of a person is illegal. As the Israeli soldier was part of an occupying force, captured during a military raid against a military target, in international law he is considered to be a “prisoner of war”, not a kidnap victim. The rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war are spelled out in the third Geneva Convention of 1949, article 13 of which requires that POWs “must at all times be treated humanely”.