Sp. Rapporteur (Falk) on human rights situation in the OPT – Press conference at UN Headquarters

Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The prolonged occupation of Palestinian territories presented extraordinary problems for the protection of the human rights and required stronger protection measures, particularly for the welfare of children, a United Nations expert told correspondents at Headquarters this afternoon.

“International law and human rights law are not really equipped to deal with the special circumstances that arise when an occupation is not short term,” Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 said, following the presentation of his yearly report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this morning.  “Whole generations of children have grown up and have known nothing but occupation,” he added.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4016)

Mr. Falk said that his latest report focused on the repercussions of the continuing blockade of Gaza, the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and abuses and hardships related to children.  In addition, it looked at settler violence, which he said was widespread and had taken a variety of forms, including attacks on children on the way to school, interfering with their right to education.  

In addition he said that he had addressed accelerating pressure on Bedouin pastoral communities in what was referred to as “Area C” of the West Bank — the section that was totally under Israeli security administration — due to efforts to move them into towns, which he called a serious threat to their culture.

On recent developments, he said there was disappointment over resolution of the 2010 flotilla incident, through the findings of the so-called Palmer report on the investigation of the matter.  In addition, he pointed to the importance of the Palestinian statehood bid in relationship to the core right of Palestinian self-determination.  He said that such a right was inalienable and therefore was not subject to negotiations; it must be determined through authorities in the international community in structures such as the United Nations, and through other States deciding whether or not to recognize that state.  

The recent prisoner exchange demonstrated negotiation possibilities between Israel and Hamas, but had also raised issues of deportation of Palestinians outside of the territories, he added.  

Asked why his reports did not provide some balance by looking at the reasons for Israeli policies and abuses by Palestinians, he said that his mandate was focused only on Israeli violations of human rights; it had been generated by problems associated with occupation.  “It is not something that is, in my view, susceptible to balance,” as the Israeli’s occupation policies were abusive to the rights of the Palestinian people.  “And if you make balanced something that is imbalanced, you are really distorting the reality,” he said.  To scepticism about his reports of abuse of children, he said he got his information from Israeli civil society organizations and United Nations personnel on the ground.

There was no question, he said, that some critical perspective would be appropriate, but it was not appropriate for his mandate.  He added that he had attempted to report fairly and truthfully while under the limitations of not being able to visit the areas in question.  He said that he was not able to visit Gaza because United Nations security officials felt they could not provide adequate security there.  Pressed on the issue, he said that when he first assumed his mandate, he had tried to broaden it — wanting to comment, for example, on the firing of rockets from Gaza — but that was not acceptable to the Human Rights Council, which was concerned that, if changed, the mandate might be terminated.  There was also fear that violations of the occupier would be equated with the violations of those under occupation.  “They are not equal,” he stated.  

Asked about reports of threats from Hamas officials to kidnap more Israeli soldiers and to “sweep Israelis out of the land,” he commented that they represented an extremely irresponsible kind of talk, but that Hamas, at this point, did not represent the Palestinian people in the United Nations system, and that kind of discussion could also be found in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.  

On his views of a desirable resolution, he said he favoured a just and sustainable peace that acknowledged the rights of both peoples, which could not be attained without respecting the rights of Palestinians.  He added that it was very difficult to envision just how such a peace could be reached because of Israeli practices, including settlements, wall-building and other activities.  A stalemate could be seen by Israeli leaders as serving their national interest.

Following further questions on the bid for statehood, he replied that either Palestine was a State or it wasn’t, and that question should be determined by authorities in the international community.  Palestinians had a right to seek that determination.  Negotiations could determine, on the other hand, final status issues such as borders, refugees and water.  

To additional questions, he said that both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court required political actors to be a State, but not necessarily a United Nations Member.  Those bodies could determine statehood for their purposes in the same way that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was now attempting to determine it.  It was a complicated issue in terms of the courts and there was room for discretion; there was no precedent that would provide a guide.  

Asked if he still believed controversial views on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he said his views had been distorted beyond recognition through “off-the-wall” attacks against him, but he did think that there were some unanswered questions that merited further examination.  “I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” he said, adding that he had every right as an American citizen to raise questions, particularly when there were so many unanswered ones in the official narrative.  To a further question, he said, no, he did not like the criticism levelled against him from United Nations officials on the matter.

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For information media • not an official record

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