Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
Sixty-first General Assembly
23rd & 24th Meetings (AM & PM)
THIRD COMMITTEE APPROVES DRAFT RESOLUTIONS ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING, LITERACY, AGEING,
CRIME PREVENTION, KIDNAPPING; CONTINUES CONSIDERATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
Experts Share Views on Rights to Health, Right to Development,
Migrants’ Rights, Human Rights in Occupied Palestinian Territory
Occupied Palestinian Territory
JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noted that there was nothing startlingly new in his report as it told the old story of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against an occupied people by a State that claimed to be committed to civilized legal values. It was worse than last year as the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had worsened and continued to worsen.
The situation in Gaza, in particular, had worsened since 25 June as it had been subjected to a brutal assault that still continued, he said. Israel’s actions had been excessive, with direct attacks on civilian targets and a failure to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians. The whole population had been terrorized. Property had been randomly destroyed without military purpose. A humanitarian crisis had been imposed on the population by the destruction of power plants, water supplies, bridges and schools; by restrictions imposed on the import of medical supplies and foodstuffs; and by the closing of borders. Poverty in Gaza stood at 75 per cent, which was mainly attributable to Israel’s siege. In short, the people of Gaza had been subjected to collective punishment in clear violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continued to build a 700-kilometer Wall, of which 80 per cent was built or would be built in Palestinian territory, he continued. The humanitarian impact of the Wall was severe, with Palestinians living in the so-called “closed zone” unable to freely access schools, hospitals and places of employment in the West Bank. Many Palestinians had abandoned their lands, resulting in a new category of internally displaced persons. In other countries the process would be described as ethnic cleansing, but political correctness forbade such language where Israel was concerned. He also noted a 40 per cent increase in the number of checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank. A serious humanitarian crisis prevailed in the West Bank, though not as extreme as in Gaza.
The humanitarian crisis was in large measure the result of termination of funding of the Palestinian Authority since Hamas was elected to office, he said. In effect the Palestinian people had been subjected to economic sanctions —- the first time an occupied people had been so treated. Israel violated international law as expounded by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and went unpunished. The Palestinian people were punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the United States and the European Union. Sadly the United Nations must share some of the blame for the humanitarian crisis as it effectively condoned the taking of measures against the Palestinian people in its role as a member of the Quartet.
During the discussion that followed, Mr. DUGARD first addressed the question posed by the observer of Palestine, who asked how the role of the United Nations within the Quartet could be reconciled with its international commitments. Mr. Dugard noted that the Quartet had in effect condoned the use of economic measures not against the Palestinian Authority but against the Palestinian people. He accepted that individual States had the right to discontinue support for a particular Government, but found it difficult to accept that the United Nations as a Quartet member went along without following normal procedures when deciding to impose economic sanctions. It would be helpful if the Security Council rather than the Quartet addressed that issue.
Asked by several delegations about the way forward, he repeatedly emphasized the need for the Security Council to reassert its role in addressing the Palestinian situation. It was unfortunate that the Security Council had delegated all authority to deal with the Palestinian situation to the Quartet when there was growing concern about the Quartet’s impartiality in the dispute. He believed that the Quartet was too influenced by certain powers and that the United Nations role had been undermined and minimized. He did not think the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly could achieve much in that respect. He appealed to members of the international community, acting through the General Assembly, to put pressure on the Security Council to assume its responsibility for finding a solution to the problem.
In response to questions about what might be an acceptable solution to the conflict, he recalled that his mandate concerned the respect for human rights. His criticism of the Quartet stemmed from its failure to pay adequate attention to human rights concerns. However, the goal should be the resumption of talks between the Palestinian people and the Israeli Government. Every effort should be made to secure that, he said. He agreed with the representative of the United States on a two-State solution to the conflict, but added that every effort should be made towards permanent status talks as soon as possible in order to take care of the welfare of the Palestinian people. He expressed misgivings about the “Road Map”, which was solely within control of the Quartet, which had not proved to be an impartial body in dealing with situation.
Responding to a question posed by the representative of Finland on the functioning of the Temporary Interim Mechanism intended to facilitate assistance to the Palestinian people, he said it had been very helpful and was working very well. Asked about what was needed to protect the right to health of the Palestinian people, he said it was essential to ensure that medical supplies were able to pass through Gaza crossings to reach hospitals. He said that the discontinued funding to the Palestinian Authority had impacted upon health services, noting that several non-governmental organizations working in the health sector were not able to continue with projects with the Palestinian Authority because of the restrictions imposed.
Responding to a question from the representative of Lebanon, he said that actions taken by Israel could be considered systematic violations of human rights.
Turning to the intervention of the representative of Israel, who had criticized his report as one-sided, he said it was understood that his mandate was limited to investigate human rights violations by Israelis and not by Palestinians. He agreed that it would be helpful if Corporal Gilad Shalit was released and hoped that Palestinian prisoners also would be released. He did not believe the security risks cited by the Israeli justified the closure of the border to goods and persons. He also expressed concern over the use of the terms “terror” and “terrorism” by both Israelis and Palestinians to describe the actions of the other. He spoke as a South African, where Nelson Mandela was once referred to as a terrorist by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Israel itself had two former Prime Ministers who were considered as “terrorists” by some. He urged both sides to discontinue the use of such language, which made it very difficult to negotiate with the other side.
Asked by the representative of Iran whether he would propose a change to his mandate, he said he did not think it would be helpful for the same person to investigate violations by Israelis and by Palestinians. A second rapporteur would be needed to investigate violations by the Palestinian Authority. In response to a follow-up point, he noted that a serious limitation on the effectiveness of his mandate was the failure of the Israeli Government to cooperate. He was able to speak to the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians freely, but had difficulty speaking to Israeli Government officials. He noted that when Israeli authorities accused him of being one-sided or biased, they had no one but themselves to blame. He did greatly appreciate that no obstacles were placed on his visits to the region.
He noted that the upcoming visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Palestinian Territory was an important step and wished her great success in her mission.
Commenting generally on the dialogue in the Third Committee this afternoon and over past years, he regretted that it often became an opportunity for Israel-bashing. The dispute should not be seen as one between Arab States and Israel, with the United States and the European Union also involved. The issue was a matter of concern to all Member States. He wondered what were the views of the great silent majority. He praised Cuba for regularly raising its concerns despite the fact that it had no clear and demonstrable interest in the dispute and wished other States would also contribute in this manner. The credibility of the whole human rights movement was at stake in the Palestinian Territory.
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For information media • not an official record
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Document Type: French text, Press Release
Document Sources: Department of Public Information (DPI), General Assembly, General Assembly Third Committee (Social Humanitarian and Cultural), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the OPT
Subject: Fence, Gaza Strip, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Humanitarian relief, Prisoners and detainees, Separation barrier, Wall
Publication Date: 19/10/2006