COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE DISCUSSES SITUATION
IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
The Committee against Torture this morning discussed the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and decided to consider the third periodic report of Israel in its November session.
The Committee said it would send a letter to the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva to inform it of the decision and to advise it that the Experts would raise questions concerning the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories during the review of the report.
By a show of hands vote, the Committee also decided to ask for legal counsel concerning Israel's juridical responsibility for the situation in the occupied territories with regards to application of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
On 22 November 2000, the Committee considered a proposal presented by one of its members to request Israel to submit a report on the activities of its armed forces in the occupied Palestinian territories. Following a discussion on the issue, the Committee decided to postpone the debate to its current session.
Committee Expert Sayed Kassem El Masry, who presented the proposal, said that since the last time the Committee had discussed the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, conditions had deteriorated to the detriment of the peace process. He said that Israel was breaching the provisions of the Convention. Excessive force had been used by Israeli forces in the occupied territories and casualties were high.
The Committee also decided to consider the reports of the following States during its November session: Zambia, Indonesia, Benin, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. it will discuss matters related to its mandate in private session before considering organizational and other matters in public. Its concluding observations on the situation in Costa Rica, Brazil and Kazakhstan will be issued on Thursday, 17 May.
SAYED KASSEM EL MASRY, Committee Expert, said that since the last time the Committee had discussed the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, conditions had deteriorated to the detriment of the peace process. Israel was breaching the provisions of the Convention. There had been reports confirming gross violations of human rights in the territories. The Commission of Inquiry, set up by the Commission on Human Rights, had reported that most of the deaths and wounds inflicted on Palestinians were by the use of live ammunition. The Israeli security forces were using rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition.
Excessive force was being used by Israeli forces in the occupied territories, Mr. El Masry said. Casualties were high in the present intifada; according to conservative estimates, as of 21 February 2001, 311 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli security forces and civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories; 47 Israelis had been killed by Palestinian civilians and security forces; 11,575 Palestinians and 466 Israelis had been injured; 84 Palestinian children under the age of 17 years had been killed and some 5,000 injured; and 1 Israeli child was killed and 15 injured.
Mr. El Masry said that the Commission of Inquiry had concluded that the use of lethal weapons had resulted in the high rate of death and injuries among Palestinians. Israel was using heavy weapons such as helicopters and missiles against the Palestinian intifada. The weapons were used not only against violent demonstrations but also at peaceful gatherings by civilians. The Israeli casualties were less because of the army's fortified positions.
Twenty-seven percent of the Palestinian deaths were children. Israel had said that children were being indoctrinated to participate in the intifada. But could that justify their killing, Mr. El Masry asked. Children were detained together with adults and they were abused physically. In addition, the humiliation and inhuman and degrading acts of long years of occupation of Palestinians were continuing. The Palestinians had just been marking the 'catastrophe of the creation of Israel in 1948'. Many Palestinians had been living in refugee camps for generations. They were living in a very humiliating manner, while the Israeli settlers were living very differently.
Mr. El Masry said that the closure of the Palestinian territories amounted to a collective punishment which contravened article 16 of the Convention which said that each State party should undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which did not amount to torture as defined in article 1 of the Convention.
Extra-judicial killings of Palestinians had been committed by Israel and they were defended by the highest echelon of the State, Mr. El Masry said. At least 13 Palestinians had been killed in that manner. Complaints regarding the use of lethal force or the excessive use of force which had caused death or serious injury should be investigated and persons found responsible should be held accountable and should not enjoy impunity.
The major United Nations human rights conventions were applicable to territories occupied and controlled by Israel, Mr. El Masry said. Israel had to end it breaches of the Convention against Torture. It also had to desist from collective punishment and to stop impeding the movement of patients and pregnant women to hospital centres.
Mr. El Masry said that Israel should be held responsible for its breaches of the provisions of the Convention within the occupied territories. The Committee should request Israel to submit a special report with regard to the occupied territories replying to the different allegations received by the Committee.
In the debate that followed, Committee Chairperson Peter Burns said that there was a danger of converting the Committee into a political instrument. The Committee had never dealt with such issues in the past. Other Experts noted that there were various situations in the world which were as grave or worse than the situation in Israel, yet the Committee was not considering them. An Expert said what needed to be determined was whether or not Israel was juridically responsible for the situation in the occupied territories with regards to the applications of the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
While Mr. El Masry said it was clear that Israel was juridically responsible for the situation in zone C of the territories which it had total control over; shared juridical responsibility with the Palestinian Authority for the situation in zone B; and controlled certain parts of the territories in zone A which were not totally under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
By a show of hands vote, the Committee decided to ask for legal counsel concerning Israel's juridical responsibility for the situation in the occupied territories with regards to application of the Convention.
The Committee also decided it would send a letter to the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva to inform it of the decision to consider the third periodic report of Israel in its November issue and to advise that the Experts would raise questions concerning the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories during the review of the report.