HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS PRESENTS REPORT ON SITUATION
IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES TO THE COMMISSION
Commission on Human Rights
24 April 2002
Commission Concludes General Debate on
Specific Groups and Individuals,
Report of the Subcommission, Promotion and
Protection of Human Rights, All Other Items
Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, this afternoon presented to the Commission on Human Rights her report on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying that there was an urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law in the territories.
Mrs. Robinson said that peace would not be found through military means or violence but through dialogue and the building of empathy; and the international community should salute those who worked in quiet ways across the divide to build that dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
The High Commissioner said that in calling on the parties to return to negotiations and the search for peace, the report exhorted all sides to uphold the principles of human rights and humanitarian law. In concrete terms, she said, that meant that the military occupation should end and that those who had planned and executed terrorist acts aimed at Israeli civilians should stop that heinous policy.
A human rights approach also required that there be accountability for what had happened in recent weeks in the occupied Palestinian territory, Mrs. Robinson added. There was an urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law, an investigation that would be independent of the parties but conducted with their full cooperation.
The Palestinian representative said that his delegation would have wanted the High Commissioner to go to the occupied territories to witness herself the atrocities that had been committed by Israeli armed forces. Israel had prevented the High Commissioner from going to the territories, and had announced that it would not cooperate with the Security Council's fact-finding mission. That seemed to be a systematic policy of the Israeli Government – to prevent the truth coming out and to hide the profanity to humanity that had taken place.
The representative of Israel said even a cursory glance at the report could not fail to see its defects; while Israel was singled out in the report dozens of times, there was not even one mention as to the clear incontrovertible responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, its institutions, and its leaders to what brought about Israel's strike against terror, to the suicide-bombing, to the roadside shootings, and to the dynamite charges placed in Israeli towns and villages in recent months. All those had resulted in over 450 Israelis being killed and thousands being wounded.
A draft resolution on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories was tabled by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Commission is expected to act on it tomorrow. If adopted, the Commission will, among other things, endorse the High Commissioner's proposal for a comprehensive investigation into the breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law.
Also this afternoon the Commission concluded its general debate on its remaining agenda items: specific groups and individuals; indigenous issues; the report of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights; the promotion and protection of human rights; effective functioning of human rights mechanisms; advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights; and rationalization of the work of the Commission.
Rights of Reply on all the Remaining Agenda Items
A Representative of Iraq said he was speaking in right of reply in response to what he said were the lies of a certain David Littman who was scattering unfounded allegations about Jewish persecutions in some countries. By doing so, he was covering up the actual situation in the occupied Palestine, where Israeli forces were committing untold atrocities. In Iraq, people with Jewish origin held important posts, even up to the rank of ministers. The crimes committed by Israel were similar to those of the Nazis; Israel had been cutting down life supporting sources, such as interrupting the water supply and preventing the transport of food to the occupied Palestinian territories.
Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Before the Commission is the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (E/CN.4/2002/184). In presenting her observations, the High Commissioner states that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory remains grave. She appeals to everyone in a position to do so to help the two sides to return to negotiations for a peaceful outcome consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law. The military operation must be brought to an end, urges the High Commissioner. Equally, all attacks against Israeli civilians must end. All actors on the ground must bear in mind their responsibility for ensuring respect for international human rights standards. In particular, such responsibility is vested in those with positions of power who, by virtue of international norms, should be held accountable for its abuse. The High Commissioner states that a peaceful and stable future in the region can only be achieved on the basis of international human rights and humanitarian law. Full application of the Fourth Geneva Convention is vital to guarantee respect for the fundamental human rights of civilian populations in time of war and occupation.
The High Commissioner continues to observe that it is essential for both parties to halt the conflict and to immediately launch a process that will eventually lead to peace. The Secretary-General has offered United Nations assistance in this regard, including a proposal for a cease-fire to be monitored by international armed forces. This proposal should be implemented without delay. She also stresses that there needs to be accountability on all sides for what has happened, as well as steps taken to ensure that in the future proper rules and safeguards are in place to prevent violations of the human rights of both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis. In this context, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law, an investigation that would be independent of the parties but conducted with their full cooperation. Failure to investigate and to seek accountability for widespread allegations of serious human rights violations risks undermining the integrity of the international human rights system.
The High Commissioner concludes her observations by stating that her Office stands ready to facilitate a human rights dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli NGOs and other civil society representatives in order to enhance mutual understanding.
Statement of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
MARY ROBINSON, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing her report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, said that it was a matter of regret that the visiting mission to the occupied territories could not take place. The report before the Commission was based on accounts received and focused on the immediate human rights emergency in the occupied Palestinian territory. It had not been easy to prepare. Part of the task had been to summarize a wide range of materials referring to serious allegations of human rights abuses and to note that many of the claims were contested. Great care had been taken to provide the Commission with a fair and accurate account of the current situation.
The High Commissioner said that the report summarized the main allegations of human rights violations reported from the occupied Palestinian territory and gave brief illustrations of some of those allegations and of the Israeli viewpoint. It also addressed three particular situations of special concern to the international community – the Jenin refugee camp; the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the situation in Ramallah, including the continuing blockade of President Arafat's Headquarters in Ramallah.
The High Commissioner said that in calling on the parties to return to negotiations and the search for peace, the report exhorted all sides to uphold the principles of human rights and humanitarian law. In concrete terms that meant that the military occupation must end and that those who had planned and executed terrorist acts aimed at Israeli civilians must stop that heinous policy. A human rights approach also required that there be accountability for what had happened in recent weeks in the occupied Palestinian territory. There was an urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law, an investigation that would be independent of the parties but would be conducted with their full cooperation.
The High Commissioner said that it was not possible in a short report to convey the depth of pain, suffering, humiliation and despair which came when reading the accounts from the occupied Palestinian territory. Nor was it possible to convey adequately the level of trauma, fear and anger experienced by Israeli citizens in the aftermath of a terrible series of suicide bombings.
The High Commissioner said that it had been very heartening to receive so much human rights material from NGOs based in Israel who had the courage and integrity to voice their concern about human rights violations in the occupied territories. The High Commissioner said that she was disturbed to note an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, dated 18 April, which reported strong criticism by the Attorney General of the approach of Israeli human rights organizations. The truth was that it was human rights defenders, peace groups and women's networks who could give leadership in a painful bridge building which must be fostered.
The High Commissioner said that the road to peace must be walked together by Israeli and Palestinians. It would not be found through military means or violence, but through dialogue and the building of empathy. The international community should salute those who worked in quiet ways across the divide to build that dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
Debate on the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine), speaking as a concerned country, said that all were aware that the Palestinian delegation had wanted the High Commissioner to go to the occupied territories to witness herself the atrocities that had been committed by Israeli armed forces. The High Commissioner had not been able to go and had not really explained why. One could only assume that the Israelis had not wanted her to go to the region to see the atrocities. It was impossible to accept that the visit had not taken place without an explanation as to why she had not gone. The visit, or lack thereof, had induced Mrs. Robinson to submit a weak report – it did not even cover 10 per cent of what was going on in the territories. It was inadmissible to report only 10 per cent of the facts. Israel had prevented Mrs. Robinson from going to the territories, and had announced that it would not cooperate with the Security Council's fact-finding mission. This seemed to be a systematic policy of the Israeli Government – to prevent the truth coming out and to hide the profanity to humanity that had taken place. The report spoke of the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes, but it did not show what this meant in terms of international humanitarian law. The report referred to the killing of hundreds and hundreds of Palestinians, but did not explain how this referred to crimes against humanity.
Buildings had been destroyed, the headquarters of UNWRA had been destroyed, and thousands of Palestinians had been tortured. In fact, anything moving in the streets had been fired at, including ambulances and the patients inside the ambulances. There was also the situation of President Yasser Arafat who had bombs landing all around his headquarters and the situation with regards to the Church of Nativity. The report had not qualified these incidents in terms of international humanitarian law. Had Mrs. Robinson not listened to Mr. Larsen's testimony or that of the Red Cross? The Israeli army had carried out a series of crimes against humanity for decades. It was unfortunate that there was not more in the report presented to the Commission at this time. Yet, it was hoped that the Commission would insist on the carrying out of its humanitarian tasks.
YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said that the Commission annually spent on average 26 per cent of its time discussing and passing resolutions regarding Israel and the Middle-East. This year, a rough calculation would indicate that more than 50 per cent of the time of the Commission was spent on one issue condemning one party alone. The report presented by the High Commissioner emphasized the humanitarian situation on the ground. It did not indicate what had caused those effects: the Palestinian decision to engage in terrorism and military action, rather than to follow the path of negotiation. The decision to brainwash men and women who were not mature enough to make a judgment, to misuse them to explode themselves together with innocent bystanders, and then blaming the actions on so-called "root causes", or "occupation", while blame should be squarely placed on those who brainwashed them.
With regard to the report, even a cursory glance could not fail to see its defects. While Israel was singled out in the report dozens of times, there was not even one mention as to the clear incontrovertible responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, its institutions, and its leaders to what brought about Israel's strike against terror, to the suicide-bombing, to the roadside shootings, to the dynamite charges placed in Israeli towns and villages in recent months. All those had resulted in over 450 Israelis having been killed and thousands wounded.
If the report had included what those most wanted men did, perhaps any impartial observer would have praised Israel for having arrested them and taken away their ability to brainwash young people, to misuse and abuse young women and children who would then detonate themselves in population centres. If Israel conducted house-to-house searches, it was in order to apprehend such terrorists. If the Palestinian Authority had lived up to its responsibility enshrined in all the accords it signed with Israel since 1993, there would have been no need for Israel to taken such action.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that as expected the report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights had confronted the grave and serious violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Nevertheless, it was clear that the report was not comprehensive in its coverage and the OIC believed this was because the High Commissioner had been unable to visit the territories and to witness first hand the grave situation there. Had she been able to visit, her words would have been stronger and the report would have been more poignant. The members of the OIC endorsed the call by the High Commissioner for a comprehensive investigation into the situation in the occupied territories following the Israeli invasion of Palestinian camps and cities.
It should be noted that there was a forced and false attempt at balance in certain parts of the report, equating the aggressor and the victim of the aggression. There would have been no violence if there had been no foreign occupation, blockade, humiliation of the Palestinian people, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the killing of innocent people. The root cause of the violence was the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian people were exercising their right to self defence. The OIC would table a draft resolution relating to the situation of human rights in the occupied territories.
MARIE GERVAIS-VIDRICAIRE (Canada) thanked the High Commissioner for the presentation of her report and added that as already stated, Canada was gravely concerned about the situation in the region. Canada was concerned by the appalling loss of life on both sides. Furthermore Canada expressed concern as to the loss of hope in a solution to the conflict. The loss of hope could only lead to fear, hatred and despair. Canada called on all parties to comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law and condemned in the strongest terms attacks on civilians, including suicide-bombing attacks, as violations of international humanitarian law. Access for emergency medical services must be respected on all sides.
Canada was also concerned about the ongoing situation at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. It was hoped that both sides would, as soon as possible, reach a mutually agreeable solution that would avoid further needless casualties. All the people inside the church must be afforded basic human sustenance. Canada understood the concern of members of the Commission on Human Rights with respect to the grave situation in the region. Canada noted that the current session of the Commission had already adopted seven resolution on the situation in the region and had held a special sitting as well as a number of other debates. Canada believed that the way out of the current impasse existed through resolution 1397, 1402 and 1403 of the Security Council, through the good offices of the Secretary-General, the State Secretary of the United States and through the helpful contribution of countries in the region, including the plan put forward by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the Arab League, and through constructive support of the international community. For its part, Canada had repeatedly offered to contribute in any way possible. In this context, Canada would urge the Commission not to take any further steps that would be unhelpful to the efforts undertaken by the Secretary-General, the Security Council and other interested parties. Australia associated itself with this statement.
JUAN ENRIQUE VEGA (Chile) said that the report of the High Commissioner had attempted to be balanced in reflecting the situation. The only solution for the conflict was for the two parties to respect each other. Historically, Chile had rejected any bias based on religion and had condemned any notion of anti-Semitism. Chile attached great importance to international instruments designed to protect and promote human rights. Chile further supported the development of a true culture of peace and mutual respect.
IVÁN MORA GODOY (Cuba) said that it was essential to find a just solution to the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self determination. The entire world had rejected and condemned the war crimes by Israel. Israel had ignored the voice of the international community and had shown contempt for peace initiatives, including that put forward by Arab countries that sought to bring about an agreement that would achieve peace in the region. The Government of Israel had been supported by the United States and had just one response: all-out war and State terrorism. This was a colonial war that could not be justified in our time. How could one try to manipulate the struggle of the Palestinian people and equate it with terrorism? Their struggle was for freedom and was recognized under the UN charter and international law. Cuba demanded firm action from the international community to put an end to the massacre of the Palestinian people and repeated its demand that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories.
JOAQUIN PEREZ-VILLANUEVA Y TOVAR (Spain), on behalf of the European Union, assured the High Commissioner that the European Union would study the report in-depth. The High Commissioner was thanked for her important work and for the preservation of the integrity of her Office. Human rights mechanisms were sometimes fragile and everything needed to be done to maintain these mechanisms that the international community had fought so hard to establish. It was reiterated that the European Union had the highest respect for the High Commissioner and her Office. In the past few days, the European Union had attempted to preserve the Human Rights Commission as an institution, and to free it of manipulation by any State or any group of States.
NAELA GABR (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Arab League, said that Israel was putting itself, once again, above the law and was hiding the crimes it had committed against the Palestinians. The report had referred to what was happening in the occupied territories as a "conflict", while it was repression under occupation. The self defence of those under occupation should be considered as legitimate. The occupying army had restricted the movement of people and had prevented the movement of food and medicine. The report had clearly indicated those incidents. The report was just a beginning to be followed by a profound investigative report. The Israel violations had to be exposed to the international community. In addition, the international community should impose its views on the occupation. The Office of the High Commissioner should continue its investigation.
NORA RUIZ DE ANGULO (Costa Rica) said that both sides in the conflict had to respect humanitarian principles. The dignity of all must be respected and this applied to both the population of the occupied territories and Israel. Everyone must be spared despair and death. The Commission had the responsibility for sowing a culture of peace for future generations.
ANTONIO ARENALES FORNO (Guatemala) said that members of the Commission might have different opinions as to the obligations of the Israeli side and Palestinian side. Some thought Israel was right to act and others believed that the actions of the Israeli Government were excessive and disproportionate. Some believed that the Palestinian Authority was guilty by omission and by inaction, and others believed that the Palestinian Authority had been prevented from acting because of Israeli action. What was really clear was that terrorist groups had given rise to and aggravated the situation in the region, giving rise to the Israeli Government's response. Failing to analyse the situation properly made it impossible to salvage the situation in the region. The High Commissioner was thanked for her hard work and for her report. Guatemala hoped that the initiatives taken in more appropriate fora would be adhered to by both parties in an attempt to resume the negotiating process.
MOHAMED-SALAH DEMBRI (Algeria) thanked the High Commissioner for reporting on the massacres that had taken place in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel had refused the mission which was composed of renown personalities of high quality. It was essential for it to be known that arsenals of destruction were being used against the Palestinians. What happened in Jenin did not need a Picasso to paint them. Was there a collective will to remember what had happened to the children of Palestine in Jenin, Gaza and the West Bank. The international community should clearly say what happened in the occupied territory. The international community could not keep silent in the face of Israel practices which were humiliating the Palestinian leader who had depicted the struggle for self determination.
SHA ZUKANG (China) said that the report of the High Commissioner was not comprehensive. China regretted that the High Commissioner was unable to visit the territories due to the obstruction by Israel. The situation in the occupied territories had caused great concern for the international community. The Government of Israel was responsible for the further deterioration in the occupied territories. China strongly condemned the killing of innocent civilians and supported sending a fact-finding mission to the area. The Commission should play a role in preventing gross violations of human rights. China supported the draft resolution put forward by the Pakistani delegate on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
TOUFIK SALLOUM (Syria) said his delegation endorsed the statement by Pakistan, expressed support for the draft resolution, and hoped that it would be adopted by consensus. Mrs. Robinson was commended for her efforts, even through they had been in vain due to Israel's failure to cooperate. Unfortunately her report only covered a minute part of the human rights violations being perpetrated by Israel. The war crimes being perpetrated by the Israeli war criminals would some day lead to Israel being brought in front of a court of war crimes. It was stressed that the current situation was not a reaction to Palestinian resistance, as some claimed. Sharon had made his inner convictions and hatred for the Palestinian people clear several decades ago. The Commission had spent time on the issue of the Middle East, that was true, however the only reason that more time had not been spent on this issue was because other countries needed to be heard as well. All members of the Commission had condemned terrorism, but not all shared the same definition of terrorism. The cure lay in the end of the Israeli occupation. It was stressed that the occupying power had no right to plead self-defense.
SVERRE BERGH JOHANSEN (Norway) said his delegation was shocked by what had happened in the occupied Palestinian territories and the actions taken by Israel. Also, Norway had clearly condemned Palestinian activities amounting to terrorism. The political issue was how to end the occupation; and a mechanism should be put in place to put an end to the conflict. It was time that the parties followed a strategy leading to a dialogue. Norway supported the creation of Palestinian State which could exist next to Israel.
JABER WISHAH, of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said that the report of the High Commissioner was not exhaustive and had not covered all the atrocious crimes committed against the Palestinian people. Israel had turned its back on the Commission and all its resolutions and had refused to cooperate with the High Commissioner. Israel considered itself above international humanitarian law. The Commission must refer to international law and international humanitarian law so as not to see the law of the jungle prevail. Israel was carrying out state terrorism. The Commission must not remain indifferent and be reduced to the role of a spectator in the face of the crimes perpetrated by Israel. The international conscience must be awakened in order to put an end to the systematic massacre perpetrated against the Palestinian people. The Government of Israel must know that the global conscience could not remain indifferent.
ANDREW M. SRULEVITCH, of the American Jewish Committee, speaking on behalf of other non-governmental organizations, said that when coming to the Commission, he had looked at the hallway in front of the cafeteria. On one side of the wall there were 8 posters telling the Palestinian side of the story. On the other side, there was nothing but a blank space. The hallway was a good metaphor for the suppression of the Israeli side of the story. In the report there was no mention of who were the wanted Palestinian men, they had murdered an Israeli Cabinet Minister. Concerning the recent events in the occupied territory, OCHA had been cited extensively except when it substantiated the Israeli side of the story. Other mischaracterizations bordered on the comic, such as the description of the Palestinian combatants who brought weapons into the Church of Nativity. It was hoped that the situation in the region would be resolved, but he stressed that both sides equally must adhere to their obligations.
GEORGE GORDON-LENNOX, of Reporters without Borders, condemned the violations of freedom of the press in Israel. The few investigations on these attacks had been superficial. He appealed to the Israeli authorities to investigate all incidents and attacks involving journalists. Having access to objective and independent information through the media was very important.
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