Fifty-sixth General Assembly
33rd Meeting (AM)
PARTICIPATION OF AFGHAN PEOPLE MUST BE CENTRAL TO POLITICAL RESTRUCTURING THERE,
THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD, AS HUMAN RIGHTS DELIBERATIONS CONTINUE
Committee Also Hears That Root Cause
Of Middle East Conflict Is Israel’s Military Occupation
Continuing its deliberations on matters related to human rights questions, including the situations of human rights in various countries, the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) devoted its meeting this morning to a dialogue with three Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights covering issues related to Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel and the question of torture. The aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States was highlighted as a matter of grave concern by all the experts.
Having paid an emergency visit to the region from 22 to 30 October, Kamal Hossain, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said even as the coalition’s ultimatum to hand over perpetrators remained unmet, the military air strikes continued. The number of internally displaced persons had increased to more than one million, as people rushed from one place to another seeking safety. Borders to neighbouring countries were closed and the withdrawal of humanitarian aid workers disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
There was a widely shared expectation that the United Nations could play a vital role in facilitating a transition from war to peace, in Afghanistan, he said. It was imperative that the Afghan people be central to political restructuring, and that the human rights long denied them, as well as their legitimate expectation to live in freedom, be realized.
He added that the international coalition against terrorism needed to review the conduct of its military operations to strictly comply with international humanitarian law and to demonstrate that those actions were not directed against the Afghan people.
Regarding the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, insisted the root cause of the present conflict was Israel’s military occupation. That occupation should be brought to an end, as by its very nature, military occupation was a temporary phenomenon pending an acceptable peace settlement. The violence in the region, whether caused by Israeli rockets or Palestinian suicide bombers, was to be deplored and condemned.
The most visible manifestations of the occupation were the settlements, he continued. Today, there were some 190 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, inhabited by approximately 380,000 settlers, of whom 180,000 lived in the East Jerusalem area. Settlements were linked to each other by a vast system of bypass roads, from which Palestinian vehicles were excluded. Those settlements and roads, which separate Palestinian communities and deprive them of agricultural lands, had in effect, foreclosed the possibility of a Palestinian State. Peace was impossible without a complete freeze on all settlement activity.
Concerning another threat to the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Sir Nigel Rodley, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, said the single most important factor in the proliferation and continuation of torture was the persistence of impunity. Causes of impunity of a de jure nature encompassed measures relieving perpetrators of torture of legal liability by, among other things, adopting acts of indemnity or by granting amnesty.
He went on to say that one of the main factors constituting a condition of impunity de facto was the prevalence of the opportunity to commit the crime of torture in the first place. In that respect, one recommendation would be external supervision of all places of detention by independent officials, such as judges, prosecutors, ombudsmen and national or human rights commissions, as well as civil society.
Mr. Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced reports on several matters of central importance to the human rights programme, including those addressing the impact of globalization, the promotion of minority rights, human rights and disability, and the role of national institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Participating in the dialogue with the special rapporteurs were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Liechtenstein, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Syria, Libya, Singapore, Australia, Senegal, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Jordan.
Also speaking was the observer of Palestine.
The Committee will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m., to continue its dialogue with special rapporteurs. It is also expected to take action on draft resolutions related to items on advancement of women and social development.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of human rights matters, including implementation of the provisions of human rights instruments and alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of those rights and fundamental freedoms.
The meeting will be devoted to a dialogue with three Special Rapporteurs and Representatives of the Commission on Human Rights, including Mr. Kamal Hossain, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan; Sir Nigel Rodley, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and Mr. John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
Also this morning, the Director of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was expected to introduce several relevant reports, including those addressing the impact of globalization, the promotion of minority rights, human rights and disability, and the role of national institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights. For details please see Press Release GA/SHC/3656 of November.
To guide the Committee’s discussions, members had before them a host of relevant documents and reports, including several notes from the Secretary-General transmitting detailed summaries of the rapporteurs’ work over the past year.
The reports on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan (document A/56/409 and Add.1) were prepared by Mr. Hossain. While the main report highlights Mr. Hossain’s activities throughout the year and concludes that peace might flow from the emergence of a truly representative and broad-based government through a process enabling the Afghan people to freely exercise their choice, the Addendum notes that while the need to achieve that goal remains more urgent than ever, the situation in Afghanistan has changed dramatically since the tragic events on 11 September.
To examine the impact of those events and their implications for the human rights of the Afghan people, Mr. Hossain visited Pakistan and Iran on an emergency basis from 22 to 30 October. Meetings were held with governmental representatives, United Nations agencies, NGOs and Afghan refugees, particularly those that had arrived in Pakistan and Iran only recently.
According to the report, the shock and horror caused by the terrorist attacks of 11 September had placed terrorism high on the international agenda. An international coalition was formed with the declared objective of combating terrorism. The efforts to identify its perpetrators and causes brought Afghanistan into central focus, as suspected links were reportedly tied to elements within that country. Even as the coalition’s ultimatum to hand over perpetrators remained unmet, the number of internally displaced persons increased to more than one million, as people rushed from one place to another seeking safety. Borders to neighbouring countries were closed and the withdrawal of humanitarian aid workers disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Further to the report, the people of Afghanistan were extremely vulnerable as a result of years of military action even before 11 September. But following the coalition’s decision to take measures against persons determined to be involved with terrorist actors, military operations involving air strikes began on 7 October. The air strikes remain ongoing and on 12 October the President of the United States declared that the global war against terrorism was not a war against the people of Afghanistan, noting that those people were victims of oppression and that there were few places on earth that faced greater misery.
The intensity of the bombardment and the targeting of cities had led to large-scale evacuation from urban areas and to the loss of civilian lives, including women and children and their sources of livelihood. In Kabul, warehouses in which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stored food were repeatedly struck. Humanitarian agencies estimated that in the coming months the number of vulnerable persons in Afghanistan would increase from 5.5 million to six million; internal displacement would significantly increase; and perhaps an additional 1.5 million refugees would attempt to cross borders into neighbouring countries.
The report notes that while the humanitarian situation had been aggravated in some areas, it has provided opportunity and space for the Afghan people to become active participants in bringing about fundamental change. There is also a widely shared expectation that the United Nations can play a vital role in facilitating a transition from war to peace and enabling the Afghan people to involve themselves in a process through which a comprehensive and inclusive political plan could be devised. It is imperative that the Afghan people be central to any political plan and that the human rights long denied them as well as their legitimate expectation to live in freedom be realized.
The report states that while efforts to ensure the emergence of a broad-based government may take some time, the failure to take immediate interim measures promptly to meet the urgent security needs and deliver emergency humanitarian assistance could well jeopardize that process. To reduce fear and uncertainty, the United Nations should, in broad consultation with the Afghan people at all levels, project the basic goals to which the international community is committed, namely restoring a unified Afghanistan to all its people. The international coalition needs to review the conduct of its military operations to strictly comply with international humanitarian law and to demonstrate that those actions are not directed against the Afghan people. Access should be provided to the media, including the possible establishment of a United Nations-sponsored radio station, through which the voice of the people can be heard.
A note by the Secretary-General transmits the interim report of Mr. Rodley on the Question of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/56/156) which contains the Rapporteur’s observations on recent relevant overall trends or developments. According to the report, he believes that the issues addressed at the World Conference Against Racism are all too relevant to issues falling within his mandate. He further recommends that the highest authorities should publicly condemn torture in all its forms wherever it occurs.
The report includes a section which emphasizes issues of special concern to Mr. Rodley, including intimidation as a form of torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance as a form of torture, torture and discrimination against sexual minorities, torture and impunity, and prevention and transparency. He urges all countries not party to the Convention against Torture to ratify or accede to it as soon as possible. He also urges ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report contains many recommendations concerning places of detention and interrogation practices. Among those is the call for those responsible for law enforcement activities to make public the fact that those in charge of places of detention, at the time abuses are perpetrated, will be held personally responsible for those abuses.
The Committee would also consider the report of the Committee against Torture (document A/56/44), which notes that the Committee had held two sessions since the adoption of its last annual report; from 13 to 24 November 2000 and from 30 April to 18 May 2001. According to the report, as at the closing day of the Committee’s final session, there were 124 States parties to the Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. An annex to the report contains a full list of States that have signed or ratified the Convention, which entered into force in 1987.
The report also contains a list of States parties that have declared that they do not recognize the competence of the Committee under Article 20 to the Convention. [According to Article 20, if the Committee receives reliable information which appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced by a States party, the Committee would invite that State to cooperate in the examination of the information and to that end submit observations on the information concerned.]
The report also contains a summary of the Committee’s activities under various articles of the Convention, including Articles 19, 20 and 22. To that end, it contains an account of the results of the proceedings concerning an inquiry on Peru under Article 20. Under Article 19, the Committee considered 14 reports of States parties. The report also includes a discussion of the situation of the occupied Palestinian Territory in light of Article 16 of the Convention. Also included in the report is a summary of communications received by the Committee from persons recounting allegations of torture or other degrading treatment.
A note by the Secretary-General on the Question of the Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine (document A/56/440), provides an overview of Mr. Dugard’s mandate as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
The note addresses the root causes of the conflict, which is attributed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. The violence in the area during the past several months tends to obscure the fact that the root cause of the present conflict in the region is military occupation. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, more than 530 Palestinians and 150 Israelis have been killed, and over 15,000 were injured. Most of those killed or injured were civilians.
The report concludes that it is clearly necessary to bring the present violence to an end. Targeted killings of selected Palestinians by guided missiles, terrorist bombings in Israel, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians by both sides had to cease. International humanitarian law and human rights norms have been seriously violated in the present conflict. Both Israelis and Palestinians should make every endeavour to promote respect for the rule of law. Israel's violation of the freedom of movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories requires particular attention.
Statement of Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan
KAMAL HOSSAIN, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, introducing reports on his work there said an addendum to his main report had been issued this week in light of the events of 11 September. Where his main report had concluded that peace might flow from the emergence of a truly representative and broad-based government through a process enabling the Afghan people to freely exercise their choice, the Addendum detailed the dramatic changes in the situation in Afghanistan.
Even before 11 September, few people in the world suffered like those of Afghanistan, he said. They were virtually hostages in their own land, trapped in situations not of their making and targets of lawless violence and massacres.
A joint statement issued on 25 September by six heads of United Nations agencies appealed to the international community -- especially countries in the region -- to help prevent further tragedy by supporting humanitarian relief efforts, he continued. That appeal also called for the global community to press for safe international humanitarian access to all populations in need.
He went on to say the shock and horror caused by the terrorist attacks of 11 September had placed terrorism high on the international agenda. An international coalition had been formed with the declared objective of combating terrorism. The efforts to identify its perpetrators and causes had brought Afghanistan into central focus, as suspected links were reportedly tied to elements within that country. Even as the coalition’s ultimatum to hand over perpetrators remained unmet, the number of internally displaced persons had increased to more than one million, as people rushed from one place to another seeking safety. Borders to neighbouring countries were closed and the withdrawal of humanitarian aid workers had disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Mr. Hossain said that while the humanitarian situation had been aggravated in some areas, it has also provided opportunity and space for the Afghan people to become active participants in bringing about fundamental change. There was also a widely shared expectation that the United Nations could play a vital role in facilitating a transition from war to peace and enabling the Afghan people to involve themselves in a process through which a comprehensive and inclusive political plan could be devised. It was imperative that the Afghan people be central to any political plan and that the human rights long denied them as well as their legitimate expectation to live in freedom be realized.
He believed that the international community would expect the United Nations to rise to the challenge of improving the lot of the Afghan people, and he appealed to the Assembly to commit the Organization to take up its historic role and support the efforts of the Afghan people to rebuild their war-ravaged country and ensure a future where they might live in peace and freedom.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan
Following the Special Rapporteur’s opening statement the floor was opened for questions from the Committee.
The representative of the Russian Federation said Mr. Hossain’s report had highlighted the atrocities committed by the Taliban, including massacres, indiscriminate torture and skinnings. Was a part of the overall strategy in dealing with the actions of the Taliban ignoring the impunity with which they were allowed to continue committing such horrible acts?
The representative of Liechtenstein wondered what contribution the Committee could make, in cooperation with the Assembly and the Security Council or other United Nations bodies, to improving the situation in Afghanistan? What was Mr. Hossain’s relationship with Mr. Lahkdar Brahimi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General?
In response, Mr. HOSSAIN said the international community should ensure that appropriate measures and actions were taken against all persons that breached international humanitarian law. It was imperative that the rule of law would prevail and the people of the country could feel secure. Therefore, the allegations or incidents of arbitrary taking of life and massacres needed to be placed high on the international agenda. As the country moved toward peace, he hoped that the proper institutions would be established to properly address such actions. He noted that in some post conflict situations, the input of truth and reconciliation bodies had been helpful in dealing with situations of impunity and individuals accused of gross violations of humanitarian law.
As for the Third Committee’s contribution to solving the problem, Mr. HOSSAIN said the people of Afghanistan and the wider international community had high expectations of all the United Nations bodies. All wanted to see conditions improve, particularly ensuring the return of refugees to situations in which they could feel safe and secure. He said solving the problem of the deepening humanitarian crisis required bold initiatives and he expected that the Assembly could support the broader work of the organization to ensure a response commensurate with the nature of the task.
He went on to say that he had had a very good working relationship with Mr. Brahimi and had been disappointed when his departure had been announced. He said that Mr. Brahimi had achieved great success in promoting dialogue and raising awareness of the situation of the people of Afghanistan. When Mr. Brahimi had announced his departure, Mr. Hossain had asked him to whom could the people of the country turn. Mr. Brahimi had assured him that he was not abandoning the people and that when new conditions were created, he would return. Mr. HOSSAIN said that he had recently contacted Mr. Brahimi and said that the time was now for his return.
Opening the second round of questions, the representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked what could be done in order to strengthen the role of women’s civil society organizations in Afghanistan?
The representative of Syria noted the vulnerable situation of the people of Afghanistan prior to the events of 11 September, and added that such a tenuous existence, particularly for women and children, could only worsen during the air strikes. She asked if the Special Rapporteur would be investigating violations of humanitarian law?
Responding to those comments, Mr. Hossain said that the interesting part of the Afghan reality was that women in urban areas had always been educated, many even worked in universities and other educational forums. Those were the women -- who’s role had been often overlooked -- that could play an important role in improving the human rights situation for all women and girls in the country. By example, he said he had also met some teenage girls in refugee camps that were highly educated. Those girls had told him that they did not want to return to an Afghanistan where their education and professional abilities could not be put to good use. He believed that, contrary to the feeling of some of the country’s authorities, women in civil society would play an active role in rebuilding Afghanistan that was consistent with cultural values. There was no reason to believe that progress and empowerment for women meant that they would disrespect their religious heritage.
He said that his job concerned, among other things, the full protection of human rights of all residents of the country. Within his mandate, he would continue to gather all relevant information, particularly on violations of humanitarian law and to recommend appropriate measures when necessary. He added that adherence to the Geneva Conventions was monitored by the ICRC, with whom he had been working closely. He hoped, however, that discussions about Afghanistan could turn from violations and breaches to reconstruction and improvement in human rights.
A sign that such improvement was underway would be increased evidence that displaced persons were ready to begin their return home, he continued. During his visits to the region, he had found that refugees were yearning for the days when they could return to their lands. It was important to create conditions allowing them to restart their lives in safety and security. He hoped that the situation would soon change, particularly now that Afghanistan was on television every day, and people all over the world were able to see beautiful Afghan children and women suffering from malnutrition and denial of educational opportunities. He urged the Assembly to take action. The international community owed the women and children of the country the opportunity to finally live in peace.
Sir NIGEL RODLEY, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on Torture, said a number of decisions by human rights monitoring mechanisms had referred to the notion of mental pain or suffering, including suffering through intimidation and threats, as a violation of the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Similarly, international humanitarian law prohibited, at any time and any place, any threats to commit violence to the life, health and physical and mental well-being of persons. Serious and credible threats, including death threats, to the physical integrity of the victim or a third person could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or even torture, especially when the victim remained in the hands of law enforcement officials. The problems posed in respect of securing evidence of non-physical forms of torture made it difficult to confirm the allegations of those forms of torture.
He said that for some years, information had been received regarding victims of torture and other forms of ill-treatment who were said to have been subjected to violence of a sexual nature, such as rape or sexual assault, and other abuse relating to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity could contribute to the process of the dehumanization of the victim, which was often a necessary condition for torture and ill-treatment to take place. Furthermore, discriminatory attitudes to members of sexual minorities could mean that they were perceived as less credible by law enforcement agencies, or not fully entitled to an equal standard of protection, including protection against violence carried out by non-State agents. Members of sexual minorities, when arrested for other alleged offenses or when lodging a complaint of harassment by third parties, had reportedly been subjected to further victimization by the police, including verbal, physical and sexual assault, including rape. Silencing through shame or the threat by law enforcement officials to publicly disclose the birth sex of the victim or his or her sexual orientation could keep a considerable number of victims from reporting abuses.
He said the single most important factor in the proliferation and continuation of torture was the persistence of impunity. Causes of impunity of a de jure nature encompassed measures relieving perpetrators of torture of legal liability by, among other things, adoption of acts of indemnity or by granting amnesty. One of the main factors constituting a condition of impunity de facto was the prevalence of the opportunity to commit the crime of torture in the first place. In that respect, one recommendation would be external supervision of all places of detention by independent officials, such as judges, prosecutors, ombudsmen and national or human rights commissions, as well as civil society.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Torture
The representative of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, said combating torture was high on the political agenda for the entire European Union. What advice would the Special Rapporteur give to his successor?
The representative of Liechtenstein asked, whether the warning about not committing acts of torture in combating terrorism was based on observation, or was it a preventative comment?
Sir NIGEL RODLEY said he had had a distinguished predecessor, who had been careful to not be seen as looking over his shoulder to judge his work. He would be careful to take the same approach to his successor. He would convey information about the mandate, and the challenges in meeting it. As welcome as the invitations to visit countries were, the mandate could be better served with more visits to more countries. Those visits should not be seen as inquisitions, but rather as experiences of the outside world that could be shared with governments facing this problem.
Regarding the question from Liechtenstein, he said the comment about not ordering torture in the fight against terrorism was largely preventative. But there was talk in media circles about resorting to torture. Fortunately, no government had articulated ordering practices of torture. That said, governments were often subjected to various pressures. It was hoped that they would keep their non-contemplation of such measures. The protections against torture included not holding people for long periods of time from the outside world. It could not be said definitively that that was not happening today.
The delegate of Singapore asked which human rights monitoring mechanisms were being referred to in the report. Also, there was another question requesting information on how the Special Rapporteur decided what countries to visit. Another question concerned his relationship with the Committee against Torture and easing the backlog of documents before the Committee.
The representative of Australia asked how cooperation could be facilitated between two mandates when there were overlaps.
The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about impunity and amnesty laws, as well as intimidation and death threats.
The delegate of Senegal asked for more information about considering sexual mutilation as an act of torture, and if certain traditions and practices were considered practices of torture.
Sir NIGEL RODLEY said the mechanisms referred to in the report were the Commission on Human Rights, the Committee against Torture and the working group on disappearances. Concerning how visited countries were chosen, he said he normally did not seek to visit a country in which there was already a country-specific special rapporteur. He also would not seek to visit a country that was subject to a fact-finding visit by the Committee against Torture. He would not visit a country that only had the occasional isolated case of the practice of torture. It tended to be countries where information suggested there were more than isolated instances.
Regarding the interaction with the Committee against Torture, he said there was less overlap than one would think. The biggest chance for overlap was with respect to missions, and efforts were taken to avoid that. The Special Rapporteur on Torture did not seek to come to conclusions on individual cases, while the Committee, when invoking the Optional Protocol, examined and decided on individual cases. The Committee’s inquiry was much more detailed. He did not know much about the case backlog before the Committee, and it was not a matter of discussion between the Special Rapporteur and the Committee. On the concern about overlap with the working group on disappearances, he said that issue had been taken up in the meetings of Special Rapporteurs.
About death threats and intimidation, all the outside world could do was to encourage governments not to ignore them. The message had to be that law enforcement authorities should not refuse to acknowledge that there was a problem just because there was no physical evidence. On impunity, the focus had to be on the element of torture. But it was no accident that some years ago there had been a joint appeal on behalf of several special rapporteurs to a government -- Peru -- in respect to an amnesty for members of the military forces.
Answering the question of the delegate of Senegal, he said he was not referring to female genital mutilation. That was a separate issue that was taken up by another special rapporteur, and there was scepticism about bringing up criminal proceedings in such cases. He was seeking to address the kinds of abuses that people, such as homosexuals or transvestites, faced. There was a tendency for them to be singled out for abusive treatment, and possibly torture.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Occupied Territories
JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel during the past month had tended to obscure the fact that the root cause of the present conflict in the region was military occupation. It should not, however, be forgotten that Israel had occupied the West Bank and the Gaza by force in 1967. That occupation should be brought to an end as, by its very nature, military occupation was a temporary phenomenon pending an acceptable peace settlement. Until that occupation was terminated, Israel, an occupying Power, was obliged to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention. The violence in the region, whether caused by Israeli rockets or Palestinian suicide bombers, was to be deplored and condemned. It was the immediate cause of the loss of life, of the violation of the right to life, that featured pre-eminently in all human rights conventions. But it was not the ultimate explanation for the violation of basic human rights in the region. That must be found in the military occupation of a people by an occupying Power.
Since the start of the second intifada, Mr. Dugard said, between 600 and 700 Palestinians had been killed, and over 15,000 were injured. More than 180 Israelis had been killed. Most of those killed and injured had been civilians. Both Israelis and Palestinians had violated important norms of humanitarian law and international law, as the second intifada had changed its character from protest to armed conflict. Israel's practice of selected assassination or targeted killing of Palestinian activists could not be reconciled with the Fourth Geneva Convention. The force employed by Palestinians was also contrary to the norms of international law. The shooting of settlers could not be justified. The planting of bombs in public places in Israel, resulting in loss of life of innocent civilians, was contrary to emerging norms of international law on terrorism.
He said the principal cause of the second intifada was the continuing occupation. The most visible manifestations of the occupation were the settlements. Today, there were some 190 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, inhabited by approximately 380,000 settlers, of whom 180,000 lived in the East Jerusalem area. Settlements were linked to each other by a vast system of bypass roads, from which Palestinian vehicles were excluded. Those settlements and roads, which separate Palestinian communities and deprived them of agricultural lands, had fragmented both land and people. In effect, they foreclosed the possibility of a Palestinian State, as they destroyed the territorial integrity of Palestine. Peace was impossible without a complete freeze on all settlement activity, which was emphasized by the Mitchell Commission Report of May 2001. Understandably, Palestinians saw the settlements as evidence of territorial expansion on the part of Israel, and an unwillingness to accept a Palestinian State. Only an immediate and substantial dismantling of settlements would convince a sceptical Palestinian people that Israel was genuinely interested in peace in the region. Yesterday, the Swiss Government announced it would convene at meeting to explore the role the Fourth Geneva Convention could play in the conflict.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Occupied Territories
The observer for Palestine said the report showed that Israel's occupation was a violation of all relevant international human rights instruments. An exhaustive report criticized Israel for assassinating Palestinian officials. The Palestinian delegation hoped the international community and the United Nations would take seriously the report’s recommendations, which very much stressed that Israel should soon end the occupation. Israel, however, did not wish to cooperate in any way, and did not work with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
The delegate of Egypt said the main theme of the report was that the root cause of the problem was military occupation, and that occupation should come to an immediate end. Egypt supported the call for monitors to ensure that ceasefires that were agreed upon were respected.
The representative of Israel said he was unable to share the sentiments of the previous speakers on satisfaction with the report. Professor Dugard had undertaken an impossible mission. He did his best to defend his mandate, but the mandate was obsolete and one-sided, and was inapplicable to the current situation. The report blamed Israel, but did not address the provocation by the Palestinian side. It also did not refer to the extensive territories and powers that had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The report was not a human rights report -- it was a political statement. He said military occupation was the root of the problem. That was not the case. The military action was because of self-defence. The report ignored the fact that Israel had offered to transfer almost all of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian control. It was difficult to see how monitors and peacekeepers were relevant when there was no ceasefire to monitor, and no peace to be kept. What would the monitors monitor? The terrorist strapping a bomb to himself to kill civilians? Occupation was not at the root of the current violence. In fact, the report might encourage Palestinian extremists to carry out further violence. What was necessary was a total end to terrorism, and the recognition that peaceful negotiations were the only legitimate means to settle disputes.
The representative of Libya said the Special Rapporteur's mandate was one which had drawn criticism from various sides. There were a number of countries that had expressed their interest to holding a meeting regarding the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), and Switzerland’s organization of such a meeting was welcomed. Military occupation was the very root of the conflict in the Middle East and was behind the violation of human rights in that region. That was a fact. The expansion of the settlements, which was being done by Israel, also violated the Fourth Geneva Convention. Those settlements were a kind of camp, or military colonies, created by Israel. Libya supported sending observers to the region. How did the Special Rapporteur envisage the implementation of the 1949 Convention?
Mr. DUGARD said the representative of Libya had confirmed what the report was about -- that military occupation was the root cause of the problem. The Swiss decision to hold a meeting was an important step, and it was possible that the meeting could confirm the fact that the 1949 Convention was applicable to the region. That was a fact already affirmed by the Security Council and the General Assembly.
Concerning the comments by Israel, he said the representative had called the mandate obsolete. That was not true -- the mandate would only be obsolete when the military occupation ended. The mandate required a pursuing of this matter until the occupation was over. Today, the lives of most Palestinians were subject to the control of the Palestinian Authority, and it was understood that the Palestinian Authority had also violated human rights. But that was not within the Special Rapporteur's mandate. The mandate here concerned the military occupation. The representative said the root cause of the problem was the Palestinian peoples' refusal to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. That was not the root cause -- in
many conversations, the Special Rapporteur was convinced that the people welcomed a two-State territory.
Mr. DUGARD said he accepted that the concerns about security were genuine, but it was a fact that there would be no security in the region until the military occupation ended. As far as the legality and legitimacy of the occupation, it was true that some military occupations were recognized as lawful. But this occupation was now in its thirty-fourth year, and it should end by negotiations.
He said the representative asked about the effectiveness of monitors. It was expected that monitors would face some difficulties, but some progress had to be made in that area. Right now, there was a stalemate. Right now, an international presence could not do any worse. Serious attention should be given to some sort of international presence in the region. Palestinians, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens all said the occupation was the cause of the conflict. Until that humiliating occupation was brought to an end, there would be no peace. That was the unanimous view of the people who had been interviewed. It would not be easy to withdraw, but it was hoped the Government would take a bold step forward, for example, dismantling the settlements in Gaza.
The delegate from Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about the freedom of movement and the impact of shutting down portions of the territories to humanitarian aid. The report said the blockade of the occupied territories had a negative affect on ambulances and other humanitarian activities from getting into the occupied areas.
The representative from Qatar said the report recognized the seriousness of Israel's inhuman practices and massive violations.
The delegate from Jordan said it supported the statements of Libya and other States in the region.
Mr. DUGARD said reports continued to come in about how difficult it was for Palestinians to have access to ambulances, hospitals or other kinds of medical care.
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