UNGA requests International Court of Justice to issue opinion on Separation Wall

Early September 2003. Two Palestinian schoolgirls cross a part of the Wall in Abu Dis, Jerusalem district. The holes have since been sealed. (PENGON)

The tenth emergency special session of the 191-member United Nations General Assembly this morning adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank.

Adopting the text by a recorded vote of 90 in favour, to 8 against (Australia, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 74 abstentions, the Assembly also expressed grave concern at the commencement and ongoing construction of the wall in and around East Jerusalem — a departure from the Armistice “Green Line”, disrupting the lives of thousands of protected civilians and the de facto annexation of large areas of territory.

The Hague-based ICJ, established in 1946, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations with the dual role of settling legal disputes between Member States and issuing advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by international organs and agencies.

In a separate action, the Assembly adopted, by a recorded vote of 111 in favour, 7 against (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States) with 55 abstentions, a decision requesting the world body to remain seized of the matter (see Annex II).

Arab delegations called for today’s vote following the release of a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which said that Israel was not in compliance with the General Assembly’s past demand that it halt construction of the barrier and take it down.

Following the voting, the Observer for Palestine described the barrier as a wall of shame, built on a foundation of killings and human rights violations, which must be removed immediately. The entire world stood against the building of the “expansionist wall” and countries had been subjected to “immense pressures” not to vote for the resolution.

But Israel’s representative said the near-even split in the voting could be seen as a victory for his country. More than half the Assembly membership had not voted for the “biased resolution”, rejecting it in one way or another. And among those voting for and against the measure, there was a clear distinction between tyrannical dictatorships and corrupt regimes on one side, and those with enlightened regimes on the other. Israel regarded the vote as a moral victory for the enlightened, civilized world over the dark forces of tyranny and corruption.

Many delegations taking the floor before the vote strongly urged a halt to the construction of the barrier, which Israel says is being erected for security reasons. Malaysia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that adopting the text would send a powerful message to Israel and that it would be most unfortunate and tragic if the Assembly were to fail in its responsibility to uphold justice and peace for the Palestinian people.

The representative of the Russian Federation, meanwhile, said that as a member of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process, alongside the United States, European Union and United Nations, his delegation continued to support and promote efforts to ensure the immediate and full implementation of the “Road Map”. Russia also hoped that as efforts to actualize that plan got on track, direct Palestinian-Israeli dialogue would be restored.

Kuwait’s representative introduced the draft resolutions on behalf of the Group of the Arab States.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Senegal, Iran (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Italy (on behalf of the European Union), South Africa, Uganda, Cuba and the United States.

Turkey’s representative spoke in explanation of position before the vote, while the representatives of the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Japan, Canada, Switzerland and Singapore spoke after the vote.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the Observer for Palestine, as well as the representatives of Syria, Israel, Libya and Senegal.

The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene at 3 p.m. today to take up the reports of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), as well as matters relating to information technology for development.

Background

Resuming its tenth emergency special session on illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory today, the General Assembly is expected to consider the issue of Israel’s construction of a separation wall in the West Bank.

The Assembly’s discussions will be guided by Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s report (document A/ES-10/248), in which he says that Israel is not in compliance with the 191-member body’s demand this past October to halt and take down a barrier on occupied Palestinian land. The report adds that in present circumstances the construction cannot be seen “as anything but a deeply counterproductive act”, particularly in the midst of the “Road Map” peace process, which aims at a two-State solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace by 2005.

Citing reports from United Nations staff on the ground in the region, the Secretary-General notes in his conclusion, among other things, ongoing construction along the north-east boundary of the West Bank and Jerusalem; levelling of land; issuance of land requisition orders; release of the first official map showing the planned route and a declaration of intent to complete the barrier by 2005.

While recognizing Israel’s “right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks”, and noting that it began the barrier after a sharp rise in Palestinian terror attacks in 2002, he adds: “That duty should not be carried out in a way that is in contradiction of international law, that could damage the longer-term prospects for peace by making the creation of an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian State more difficult, or that increases suffering among the Palestinian people.”

The Secretary-General also notes Israel’s repeated statements that the barrier is a temporary security measure and does not represent a “political or other border”, but says that its scope and the amount of occupied land being requisitioned, or that will end up within the barrier, are of serious concern and have implications for the future.

The tenth emergency special session is also set to consider two draft resolutions, including one text (document A/ES-10/L.16), which would have the Assembly express its grave concern at the commencement and ongoing construction of the wall in and around East Jerusalem, which is a departure from the Armistice “Green Line”, disrupting the lives of thousands of protected civilians and the de facto annexation of large areas of territory.

Further, that text would have the Assembly express grave concern at the even more devastating impact of the projected parts of the wall on the Palestinian civilian population and on prospects for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and establishing peace in the region. It would, therefore, have the Assembly ask the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on whether Israel should cease construction of the barrier and dismantle the existing parts.

The second draft (document A/ES-10/L.17) would have the Assembly adjourn its emergency special session temporarily and authorize the Assembly President to reconvene it at the request of Member States.

This is the third time during its fifty-eighth session, which opened on 19 September, that the world body’s Arab Member States have called for the resumption of the long-running emergency session. In late October, following the Security Council’s failure to act, the Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a measure demanding that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the wall being built in the West Bank. The vote was 144 in favour, to 4 against (Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, United States).

The tenth emergency special session dates back to 1997, when Israel began construction of a new settlement south of East Jerusalem. The Security Council met twice on that issue, but failed to adopt resolutions. Using the “Uniting for Peace” formula, a special emergency session of the Assembly was convened in April and again in July and November of 1997. It also resumed in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.