UN rights experts appeal to Israel on house demolitions

The Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights on adequate housing and on the right to food issued the following statement today:

The Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, and on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, urgently appeal to the Government of Israel to respect United Nations Security Council Resolution 1544 and bring a permanent halt to the massive military operation by Israeli occupying forces, including the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes, the destruction of water sources and livelihoods in the Rafah refugee camp of the Gaza Strip. The Special Rapporteurs fully support the condemnation of these practices as expressed by, inter alia, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his official statement of 14 May 2004, by the statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory issued on 19 May 2004 and the statements from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The Special Rapporteurs are gravely concerned at the scale and human consequences of the recent destruction in Rafah and condemn in the strongest possible terms the military operation in Rafah that has resulted in the massive destruction of homes and livelihoods as amounting to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including obligations of the Occupying Power to respect the right to adequate housing and food of the Palestinian population. The United Nations estimates that between 18 May and 24 May 2004, 167 buildings in the Tel Sultan, Brazil and Salam areas of Rafah were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, leaving 2,066 Palestinian homeless in just one week. This adds to the demolitions carried out over the last month, that have left a total of 3,451 people homeless in Rafah since 1 May 2004. Since the start of the intifada, UNRWA estimates that 14,666 Palestinians have been made homeless in Rafah alone. The razing of land, including olive groves, and the destruction of waters sources and property, have similarly destroyed Palestinian livelihoods. All these practices exacerbate the tremendous difficulties already being faced by the Palestinians people, and have a disproportionate effect on women and on children and the elderly. These practices breach international human rights law, by which the Government of Israel is bound, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - particularly its provisions related to the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food and housing (article 11).

The Special Rapporteurs urgently appeal to the Government of Israel to refrain from taking any further actions that will lead to additional violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Special Rapporteurs are particularly concerned by reports that military operations will continue in Rafah, and by statements from officials of the Government of Israel suggesting that the army is considering demolishing another 2,000 homes in Rafah in order to widen the Philadelphi road security zone which runs the length of the international border between Gaza and Egypt. The Special Rapporteurs call on the Government of Israel and the Israeli occupying forces to refrain from the further confiscation of Palestinian land and resources to expand the Philadelphi road. The Special Rapporteurs are concerned that depriving the Palestinians of international borders will threaten the potential of any future viable Palestinian State to have a functioning economy that will be able to realize the right to food and housing of its own people.

The Special Rapporteurs welcome the outpouring of condemnations and concern about recent human rights violations from numerous actors. . The Special Rapporteurs, however, urge the international community, in the face of gross violations of the rights to food and housing in the Occupied Territories, to move beyond words to action. If the international community’s calls for respect of human rights and humanitarian law continues to be ignored by Israel the United Nations Security Council should consider the need to take further steps beyond its adoption of resolution 1544 of 19 May 2004 expressing grave concern at the recent demolition of homes. We recall, for example, previous recommendations from United Nations human rights mechanisms that urged the deployment of an international observer or protection force in the occupied Palestinian territories. Such an international force is urgently required to ensure that no further demolition of houses and destruction of livelihood of the Palestinian people take place.

The United Nations Charter entrusted the Security Council with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, acting in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, which include promoting and encouraging respect for human rights. In consistently failing to protect Palestinians from the violation of their human rights, including to adequate housing and food, we are failing to stand up to our responsibilities under the United Nations Charter.

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