Summary record of the 33rd meeting
Held at Headquarters, New York, on Thursday, 8 November 2001, at 10 a.m.
Chairman: Mr. Al-Hinai ……………………………………… (Oman)
Agenda item 119: Human rights questions
(b) Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms
(c) Human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives
(d) Comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
(e) Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The meeting was called at 10.20 a.m.
Agenda item 119: Human rights questions
26. Sir Nigel Rodley (Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the question of torture), whose resignation would take effect on 12 November 2001, presented his report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/56/156) and spoke about the main topics he had addressed in that report. Firstly, he said that all intimidation measures, including threats, could be considered, because of the mental suffering of the victim, as equivalent to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or even torture, especially when the victim was in the hands of law enforcement officials. Noting with appreciation that the Commission on Human Rights had made reference to intimidation in paragraph 2 of its resolution 2001/62, entitled “ Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, he stressed how difficult it was to secure evidence of non-physical forms of torture.
31. After concluding the presentation of his report by encouraging Member States to reflect upon the recommendations included in it, he gave an update concerning missions that should be made to certain countries. He expressed regret that the Government of China had not confirmed by the end of July 2001 the possibility of a visit in September of that year. It was thus up to the Government of China to indicate if and when it was willing to permit such a visit. The response of the Government of the Russian Federation to his joint request with the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, its causes and its consequences to visit the Republic of Chechnya had been negative despite the fact that he had been informed that such a visit could be envisaged at a later stage, once security was ensured. Regarding Israel, the Special Rapporteur had reiterated his request to visit the occupied Palestinian territories, including places of detention and interrogation, within the framework of a fact-finding mission, but had not yet received any response. His requests to visit India (1993), Indonesia (1993), Egypt (1996), Algeria (1997), Bahrain (1998), Tunisia (1998), Uzbekistan (2000) and the Kingdom of Nepal (2001) remained unanswered. Since the most recent session of the Commission on Human Rights, he had also sought an invitation to Georgia.
32. In conclusion, he emphasized that, within the context of counter-terrorism following the tragic events of 11 September 2001, any temptation to resort to torture or similar ill-treatment or to send suspects to countries where they would face such treatment must be resisted.
48. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that his mandate had been criticized by a number of States on the ground that it singled out Israel for special attention as a violator of human rights, despite the fact that, since the implementation of the Oslo Accords, control over 90 per cent of the Palestinian population had passed to the Palestinian Authority. He recalled that Commission resolution 1993/2 A had given him the mandate of investigating violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel as the occupying Power.
49. The military occupation, the root cause of the current conflict in the region, should be brought to an end. Until that was done, Israel was obliged to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Whether caused by Israelis or Palestinians, the violence violated the right to life that featured pre-eminently in all human rights conventions. Yet 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.
50. Since the start of the second intifada in September 2000, some 600 to 700 Palestinians had been killed and over 15,000 injured. More than 180 Israelis had been killed. Most of the victims had been civilians.
51. Israel’s practice of selective assassinations could not be reconciled with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which guaranteed the protection of persons not taking a direct part in hostilities. The practice also violated human rights norms that confirmed the right to life and prohibited extrajudicial executions of civilians. Moreover, many innocent civilians had been killed in circumstances indicating a disproportionate use of force.
52. The violence carried out by Palestinians — for example, the shooting of settlers and the attacks in public places in Israel — was also contrary to international law, as codified in 1998 in the International Convention for Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. Nevertheless, it seemed unlikely that the Palestinian violence was subject to the control of the Palestinian Authority, even though it could have done more to prevent it. In that respect, the violence differed from Israeli use of force.
53. Violence had escalated in recent months, with assassinations, exchanges of gunfire and invasions of Palestinian-controlled towns by the Israel Defense Forces. Ceasefires had repeatedly failed.
54. The most obvious and rational solution, namely, an international presence, advocated in particular by the G-8 foreign ministers, had been regularly set aside by the international community and especially by the Security Council. It was difficult to understand why no serious attempt had been made by the international community to persuade Israel to accept such a presence, for it had already been agreed to by the Palestinian Authority and had been employed elsewhere in less explosive situations.
55. The most visible manifestations of the occupation were the settlements, which now numbered 190 in the West Bank and Gaza. Those settlements, and the roads which linked them to each other, separated Palestinian communities and deprived them of part of their land. By destroying the territorial integrity of Palestine, they forestalled any possibility of creating a Palestinian State. They were a continuous obstruction to Palestinian self-determination. The Mitchell report of 20 May 2001 took the view that peace was impossible without a complete freeze on all settlement activity. In spite of the promise of the Israeli Government to limit the expansion of the settlements to their “natural growth”, and the illegality of the settlements under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel had continued to expand them. The Palestinians saw them as evidence of Israel’s unwillingness to accept the creation of a Palestinian State. Only an immediate and substantial dismantling of the settlements would convince the Palestinian people that Israel was genuinely interested in peace in the region.
56. In his report (A/56/440), he had recommended a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. He was pleased that the Swiss Government was offering to host the meeting.
57. Human rights had been the principal victim of Israel’s reaction to the second intifada. Lives and property had been destroyed, and the sealing off of Palestinian areas had had a serious impact on jobs, health and education. All such violations of human rights were a direct consequence of the occupation.
58. Ms. Barghouti (Permanent Observer of Palestine) said that the exhaustive description of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur was based on a clear conception of international humanitarian law and human rights. In view of the seriousness of the problem, she was glad that the Third Committee was now considering it for the first time. She noted with satisfaction that the Special Rapporteur, who had presided over the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, was condemning the targeted assassinations of public figures and the grave violations of economic and social rights committed by Israel, and was stating clearly in the report that the continuing occupation was a genuine obstacle to the re-establishment of peace. The report had made a valuable contribution by moving forward the debate on the question of Palestine, including in the Special Political and Decolonization Committee. She urged States Members of the United Nations to consider its recommendations in detail with a view to putting them into effect, thereby ensuring respect for international humanitarian law and an end to human rights violations and to the occupation as soon as possible. However, she regretted the fact that the Israeli Government rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and was refusing under that pretext to cooperate with him. A meeting in Geneva of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention would be a positive step towards solving those problems.
59. Ms. Khalil (Egypt) shared the view expressed in the report that the root cause of conflict in the region was the military occupation, which must be brought to an end without delay. Her delegation unreservedly endorsed the recommendations in the report for sending an international presence to monitor the ceasefire and to observe the continuing human rights violations, with a view to bringing them to an end.
60. Mr. Milo (Israel) said he could not share in the satisfaction expressed by previous speakers with the report. In his view, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was outdated and one-sided, and was not suited to the current situation. Moreover the report, far from dealing with human rights, was in the nature of a political statement. It was not unlawful in itself to resort to occupation in self-defence. By stating that the occupation was the root cause of the current problem, the report gave the impression that the protection of civilians was a more serious violation of international law than acts of terrorism. He also regretted that the report omitted to mention that a considerable part of the territories, and considerable power, had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority, and that Israel had offered to hand over the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a proposal which had been rejected by the Palestinians. That rejection, like the Palestinians’ refusal to accept the existence of Israel, was the root cause of the violence and of the current conflict.
61. There did not seem to be much sense in sending observers to maintain a peace and a ceasefire which did not exist. He wondered if they would be required to observe the bombers who attacked the civilian population of Israel. In his view the report made no constructive contribution to peace in the Middle East. On the contrary, it risked encouraging the Palestinian terrorists to continue resorting to violence. There was no need for reports that tended to prejudge the outcome of issues which ought to be negotiated between the parties. What was needed above all was to put an end to terrorism and persuade the international community to make a clear statement in favour of negotiations, that being the only lawful means of settling disputes in general, and those between the Israelis and the Palestinians in particular.
62. Ms. El Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) said she was pleased at the way the Special Rapporteur had defined his mandate and felt that the report contained much evidence of breaches of the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Several countries had suggested organizing a meeting in order to reaffirm the terms of the Geneva Conference of 1949; Switzerland, as the depositary of the Convention, had offered to host the meeting and said that it would welcome its convening before the end of the year.
63. Like the Special Rapporteur, she believed that the military occupation was the cause of the current conflict and human rights violations and reaffirmed that the settlements were illegal and that their existence and expansion constituted a breach of the Geneva Convention. She stressed the importance of having international observers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
64. Resolution ES-10/3, by which the General Assembly had decided in 1999 to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and had confirmed the applicability of the Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, remained a dead letter; in that context, she asked how the Special Rapporteur expected to implement the Convention in order to end the occupation.
65. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967) said, in response to the representative of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, that he was pleased about the decision taken by the Swiss Government to host a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention, which could mark a new phase towards the dismantlement of the settlements. That would also confirm the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories contested by Israel and reiterate that the settlements constituted a violation of the provisions of the Convention, as had been asserted by the various organs of the United Nations, including the General Assembly and the Security Council.
66. Responding to criticisms of his mandate made by the representative of Israel he explained that the mandate was linked to the military occupation and that he had to continue monitoring the situation until Israel withdrew from the occupied territories. He recognized that the Palestinian Authority currently had control over most of the Palestinians and that it was also committing human rights violations. However, his mandate applied to the numerous human rights violations stemming from military occupation, whether those violations were of civil, political, economic or social rights.
67. He refuted the allegation made by the representative of Israel, whereby the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist was the main reason for the military occupation, by pointing to the fact that the majority of the Palestinians he had met accepted the principle of the existence of two States.
68. As for the concerns of the representative of Israel concerning the security of his country, he recognized the importance of the problem but stressed that there could be no security as long as the Israeli army occupied the Palestinian territories.
69. A military occupation could admittedly be legitimate under international law; however, the case at hand represented a prolonged and particular form of occupation which had not been foreseen at the time of drafting of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and which should be brought to an end.
70. Concerning the offer made by the Israeli Government to return the occupied territories, he observed that Israel had not made any specific statement on that topic. First of all, it must dismantle all the settlements built in the Gaza Strip and the territories, and it must withdraw from all the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.
71. With regard to the role that observers and an international presence could play on the ground, he said that since the two parties were deadlocked, with neither of them being inclined or able to ensure security in the region, it would be appropriate to seriously consider the possibility of having such observers.
72. In conclusion, he pointed out that everyone he had spoken to had agreed that the occupation was the cause of the conflict and that there could be no peace in the region as long as it continued. While recognizing the complexity of a situation which necessarily called for a negotiated solution, he urged Israel to take a courageous step to prove its good faith and its determination to settle the problem and seriously envisage the end of military occupation.
73. Mr. Al Thani (Qatar) said that the report submitted by the Special Rapporteur described the seriousness of the human rights violations committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and rightly reiterated that the only possible option to end those inhuman practices was the Israeli withdrawal from those territories.
74. Mr. Hyassat (Jordan) said that he agreed with the statements made by the representatives of Egypt, Bahrain and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
75. Ms. Stevens (Belgium), recalling that the report mentioned that the closures impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid, asked the Rapporteur about the current situation and whether he had made contacts in order to remedy that problem.
76. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967), replying to the question posed by the representative of Belgium, confirmed that the closures had indeed had an effect on the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and that he continued to receive reports of the difficulties ambulances were having in reaching hospitals, as they were often stopped at checkpoints.
The meeting rose at 12.50 p.m.
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Corrections will be issued after the end of the session, in a separate corrigendum for each Committee.