|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights
in Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967
Gaza was “at the point of near catastrophe”, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory told reporters today during a Headquarters news conference.
Richard Falk, whose briefing followed a presentation on Tuesday to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of his latest report on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (see Press Release GA/SHC/4080), said recent political developments in Egypt had worsened an already bad situation for Gazans. Fishermen faced increased monitoring, further curtailing their ability to fish, while closure of the Rafah crossing meant seriously ill patients could no longer cross into Egypt for emergency medical treatment that was unavailable in Gaza.
Without any further intensification of the pressure exerted on the “overcrowded, impoverished” territories, Mr. Falk noted that one United Nations report had concluded that Gaza would become unsustainable by 2020, adding that informed non-governmental organization workers had told him they believed that date was too optimistic. For them, 2016 was realistic, given the electricity and water problems Gaza faced.
The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the issue of corporate social responsibility as it related to companies operating in the West Bank. Stressing that Israeli settlements violated the Geneva Convention, he said efforts had been made to enforce that illegality by encouraging corporations to withdraw profit-making activities from settlements.
He welcomed the European Union’s guidelines on settlements and praised the Dutch company Royal Haskoning, which had withdrawn from East Jerusalem on the advice of the Dutch Government, who called settlements “problematic under international law”. That was a breakthrough in building consensus around the idea that engaging in profit-making activity in settlements was essentially complicity in illegal activity, he said.
Mr. Falk also discussed his recommendation that the Assembly seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice over the legality of prolonged occupation. He believed prolonged occupation ran counter to what had been envisaged by the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Convention was not intended to justify “decade after decade” of military administration of a territory, with discriminatory legislation and suppression of the occupied population’s rights. While the advisory opinion would be useful, he expected Israel to ignore it, as it had with the 2004 advisory opinion on the separation wall.
Responding to questions from the floor, Mr. Falk welcomed Israel’s re-engagement with the Human Rights Council, saying the country would not be exempt from critical scrutiny but that he believed Israel had received some assurance about the European Union’s participation. He hoped re-engagement would also lead to more willingness to cooperate with the next Special Rapporteur than he had received, he said, recalling his brief imprisonment and expulsion from Israel in 2008.
He responded also to questions that touched on Israel’s response to his report, Israel’s repeated claims of his bias against the country and the likely effect of his latest report on the resumed direct talks. He said Israel’s objections were examples of “the politics of deflection”, where the message was not questioned but the messenger was. He accepted that there was scope for debate on his conclusions but to reject them all outright was to refuse responsible, substantive engagement. Regarding the current negotiations, he was not confident they had a significant chance of success, irrespective of his report.
The issue of corporate social responsibility also raised questions and he responded by stating that the European Union was moving in the direction advocated in his report, while civil society, through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, was also engaged. Regarding Dexia, a company cited as profiting from work in West Bank settlements, he wished not to get into details of potential complicity and responsibility because it was not his area of expertise. Instead, he stressed the ethical dimension.
Several questions on international law followed, and he said he believed that representatives of the State of Palestine had given assurances that they would not seek accession to the International Criminal Court, which could help them to pursue claims against companies profiting from settlements. Tackling the issues of settlements and apartheid from the legal perspective, he said an authoritative body needed to assess the legal status of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, adding that politically and morally he believed the situation had the characteristics of apartheid as embodied in the Rome Statute.
Asked to clarify some of his comments about the “unsustainability” of Gaza, he said opening the crossing at Rafah would ease the immediate crisis but the longer-term structural crisis could be avoided only if exports were once again allowed. The blockade had destroyed Gaza’s economic self-sufficiency and he believed it an example of collective punishment. He accepted that Gazans could go to Israel for emergency medical treatment, but stressed that Israeli hospitals were much more expensive than Egyptian hospitals and that permits were required to cross the border. He added that concrete-lined tunnels that had been discovered may have used precious water resources but, given the blockade, were a reasonable undertaking for people subjected to an oppressive occupation.
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