18 December 2014

Bureau of Committee on Palestinian Rights Welcomes Declaration of Conference of High Contracting Parties to Fourth Geneva Convention on 17 December 2014

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People issued the following statement today:

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People expresses its appreciation to the Government of Switzerland, the depository of the fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, for the convening on 17 December of the Conference of High Contracting Parties on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It wishes to acknowledge all participating High Contracting Parties, including for the first time the State of Palestine, for this important initiative.

The Bureau of the Committee has repeatedly called for such a Conference to take place.  It considers the holding of this Conference an important step in ensuring respect for the provisions of the Convention, bearing in mind the numerous and ongoing violations by the occupying Power that have caused such suffering and hardship for the Palestinian people under occupation and have obstructed a peaceful and just solution to this prolonged conflict.

The Bureau welcomes the Declaration reflecting the common understanding reached by the participating High Contracting Parties to the Conference, which reiterates the need “to fully respect the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, according to which all parties to the conflict, and as such also non-State actors, must respect, at all times, inter alia, (1) the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives, (2) the principle of proportionality, and (3) the obligation to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects.”  The Declaration also emphasizes that “no violation of international humanitarian law by any party to a conflict can relieve the other party from its own obligations under international humanitarian law.”  The Bureau strongly supports this position.

Last summer’s so-called “Operation Protective Edge” carried out by Israel against the Gaza Strip resulted in the death of more than 2,205 Palestinians, among them 1,483 civilians, including more than 521 children and 283 women, a clear violation of Israel’s obligations as the occupying Power to protect the civilian population under its occupation and to ensure their dignity and well-being.

Grave breaches of the Convention also took place against the wounded and the sick and against hospitals, medical and humanitarian personnel, including 11 staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and established safety zones on the compounds of UN schools, violating Articles 14, 16 and 18.  More generally, Israel’s so-called “Operation Protective Edge” has severely exacerbated an already dire socioeconomic and humanitarian situation for the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, deepening the suffering inflicted by the nearly eight-year Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, constituting collective punishment in direct violation of Article 33 of the Convention.

The Bureau further welcomes the participating High Contracting Parties’ recalling “the primary obligation of the Occupying Power to ensure adequate supplies of the population of the occupied territory and that whenever it is not in a position to do so, it is under the obligation to allow and facilitate relief schemes.”  This is especially applicable to Gaza, where the reconstruction efforts, under the umbrella of the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, have begun, but transfer of materiel via the Israeli-controlled access routes are still significantly below what is both necessary and practicable to address the urgent needs of the population, especially for shelter, in light of the widespread damages caused by the Israeli military operations, which resulted in the destruction of at least 20,000 Palestinian homes, rendering 110,000 people homeless.

The Bureau also wishes to point to the Declaration’s reaffirmation that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, including the closure of the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands are illegal, as is the transfer of Palestinian prisoners into the territory of Israel, the occupying Power.  The Declaration also affirms that the construction of the Wall on occupied land is contrary to international law, as determined by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004.

The Bureau considers that Israel, as the occupying Power, is in direct violation of the Convention’s provisions and must be held to account by the High Contracting Parties.  Abrogating this responsibility has direct consequences for the global application of the rule of law and the credibility of international law at a time when High Contracting Parties are seeking to strengthen these very institutions.  In this regard, the Bureau welcomes that the Declaration by the participating High Contracting Parties calls for an investigation of all serious violations of international humanitarian law and that “all those responsible should be brought to justice”.

The Bureau calls on the High Contracting Parties to assume their responsibility and to take effective measures to respect and ensure respect for the Convention under all circumstances.

For information media. Not an official record.