23 JULY 2018


Delegates Elect Cheick Niang of Senegal Chairman by Acclamation

The top United Nations human rights official voiced acute concern today over developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, warning that any further violence risks inflaming the already fragile situation and may pose threats “across a far broader region”.

Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People via video conference from Geneva, following that body’s election, by acclamation, of Cheikh Niang (Senegal) as its new Chairperson.  Noting that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — including the Gaza Strip — has escalated dramatically in recent months, he described two heavy exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and armed groups in Gaza within the past two weeks.  On 20 July, he said, the situation “almost exploded into a serious conflict” triggered by the killing of an Israeli soldier and the subsequent killing of four Palestinian civilians, while during the weekend of 14 July, air strikes by Israeli security forces killed 2 Palestinian children and injured some 35 others.

During the same period, he continued, Palestinian armed groups fired 184 rockets and mortar shells towards Israel — injuring three people — and deployed burning kites and incendiary balloons.  “I remind all parties that any disproportionate or indiscriminate use of weapons which lead to the death and injury of civilians is prohibited by international law,” he stressed, noting that, while efforts by Egypt and the United Nations have led to a ceasefire, the situation remains extremely fragile.  The parties and all those with influence over them should do their utmost to avoid another round of violence and misery, he said, pointing out that skyrocketing unemployment and poverty, crumbling infrastructure and other challenges — including a bleak political horizon — are already creating a massive, devastating and multifaceted deprivation which is both “entirely man-made and entirely preventable”.

Recalling that the Human Rights Council decided to dispatch an international commission of inquiry to examine the recent violence at the Gaza border — which led to the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians — he called upon Israeli authorities to cooperate fully with its work.  He also voiced concern that the situation may be aggravated in the coming months by the funding crisis being experienced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as well as by Israel’s adoption last week of its “Nation‑State Basic Law”, which anchors discrimination against non-Jewish communities.  Also of concern is the continued construction of Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank, restrictions on movement, daily intimidation, threats against and arrests of human rights defenders, and the holding of some 440 Palestinians, including children, under Israel’s so-called “administrative detention” system.

“Although they are of a different magnitude, I also have concerns about restriction on civil society by the Palestinian authorities,” he continued.  Such assaults on fundamental rights dismantle trust in institutions, strip away the social structures that enable the peaceful resolution of disputes and “create a tinderbox” in which any flash of conflict may ignite severe and unpredictable consequences, he warned.  Above all, only an end to the occupation can bring about lasting peace and establish the conditions in which the human rights of all people can at last be fully respected — and in which each side respects the humanity and equality of the other.  “All States have a responsibility to realize this hope, too long promised and too long denied.”

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, also briefed the Committee on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and developments in the political process.  “We have just witnessed a latest round of aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip” in which the Israeli forces unleashed firepower on the population there, he said, adding that his delegation has appealed to the good offices of the Secretary-General, resulting in the latter issuing an appeal to Israel for an end to those attacks.  What the people of Gaza really need is an end to the blockade and the occupation, leading to economic development.  The Palestinians had gone to the Security Council and the General Assembly, authorizing the Secretary-General to submit a report identifying ways and means to protect the Palestinian civilian population, including an international protection mechanism, he added.

Noting that those issues are likely to be discussed during the Security Council’s upcoming quarterly open debate on the Middle East — to be held on 24 July — he expressed hope that the Secretary-General’s protection proposals will he both practical and realistic.  He noted that, in a dangerous recent development, Israel has legislated that the State does not belong to all its citizens, but, instead, to the Jewish people.  “Shame on them for giving preference if you belong to a certain religion,” he stressed, describing the move as racist and yet another step towards apartheid.  Spotlighting parallels between the new law and the historic “equal but different” policies of the southern United States, he called upon States to expose and defeat such racist policies, asking the delegates of South Africa and Namibia in particular — as experts in fighting apartheid — to share their experiences.

Following those briefings, delegates took the floor to voice grave concern over the deteriorating situation on the ground, with many emphasizing the need for redoubled efforts to end the Israeli occupation and push the two-State formula forward.

Venezuela’s representative expressed concern over Israel’s repeated violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, which results in violence, economic, social and cultural marginalization while pushing the prospect of a political solution further away.  Israel must cease its policy of demolishing Palestinian homes and end the occupation, he emphasized, calling on the United Nations to welcome Palestine as a full Member State as soon as possible.  The recent decision by the Governments of the United States and others to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem — in contravention of international law — is further exacerbating the challenges on the ground, he added.

Indonesia’s delegate also expressed concern over violations of international law, describing recent events that have killed more than 100 Palestinians and injured tens of thousands more as extremely tragic.  When considering the conflict, the international community must recognize the distinction between the actions of the occupying State and those of a population under occupation, she stressed, welcoming efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Namibia’s representative said the High Commissioner’s report “paints a bleak picture” of the situation of human rights on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  “We certainly cannot continue to go on like this,” he stressed, asking the Committee how long it will keep meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation and ultimately do nothing.  “The time has come for us to take the situation up in the Security Council with more vigour” resulting in action on the ground, he said.

South Africa’s representative described the situation in Palestine as “the tragedy of our times”.   Recalling the origins of the crisis — the 1917 Balfour Declaration — he underlined that the United Nations itself has failed subsequently to establish a free and independent State of Palestine.  “We are to blame,” and the United Nations must take full responsibility, he said.  South Africa embraces the notion that all people are born equal and have the right to be free, he said, pointing out that many nations around the globe have undergone struggles related to colonialism and self-determination.  Palestinians are not demanding anything that most other States have not also demanded, he emphasized.

Lebanon’s representative, expressing serious concern over UNRWA’s funding crisis, called upon the international community to ensure that lack of funds did not negatively impact the ability of Palestinians to exercise their right of return.  The economic and social impacts of the occupation and the blockade are worsening, and the de facto annexation of lands continues to stand in the way of a holistic global solution to the question of Palestine.

Saudi Arabia’s delegate voiced concern over Israel’s adoption of the Nation‑State Law, saying it enshrines different rights for Israelis on the one hand and for other communities on the other.  He asked the United Nations and the international community to deliver on protection for the Palestinian people.

Mr. Mansour of the State of Palestine took the floor a second time, asking the High Commissioner whether he would make his briefing available to the Security Council during its 24 July open debate.  Agreeing that no solution to the conflict will be possible unless the occupation is brought to an end in accordance with the two-State formula, he called upon Member States to transmit to the United Nations information on their relationships with Israeli settlements — including the importation of goods produced there — in order to bring more pressure to bear on that Government.  Finally, he expressed concern over the slow pace of the formation of the Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry, asking the High Commissioner when that that body would be dispatched and when it planned to submit its report.

The High Commissioner responded by stating that his statement will be made available on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), adding that his colleagues will make Security Council members and others aware of it.  Regarding the establishment of the commission of inquiry, he said his Office has nearly completed its secretariat, but “it always takes more time that we hope” due to logistical challenges.  He expressed hope that the commission will be in a position to issue its report in March 2019.

In other business, Carmelo Inguanez (Malta), Rapporteur of the Committee, presented reports covering its recent activities, including its visit to Panama; the convening of the United Nations Forum on the Question of Palestine under the theme “70 Years after 1948:  Lessons to Achieve a Sustainable Peace”; and the holding of the International Conference on “The Question of Jerusalem after 50 Years of Occupation and 25 Years of the Oslo Accord” in Rabat, Morocco.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Ecuador, Afghanistan, Turkey, Nicaragua, Cuba and Tunisia.  The representative of the Israel-Palestine Non-Governmental Organization Working Group also participated.