18 March 2021

Human Rights Council Holds General Debate on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab Territories

/…

The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard the High Commissioner for Human Rights present three reports on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan, then held a general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.  It also started a general debate on follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory covered the period from 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2020 and provided an overview of violations of international human rights law by all three duty-bearers, namely Israel, the State of Palestine and the de facto authorities in Gaza.  The reporting period was marked by persisting human rights violations throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including violations of the right to life and physical integrity impacting men, women, children and people with disabilities; restrictions of freedom of movement and restrictions of the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

The second report was on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.  The third report was on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan.  Ms. Bachelet concluded by saying that these reports described the persistence of human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan, with a concerning lack of accountability.

Israel was absent.

State of Palestine, speaking as a country concerned, said Israel was continuing its practices of building the wall and restricting movements of Palestinians, in addition to excavations under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and usurping natural Palestinian resources, including water.  Israel targeted medical staff, journalists, human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations.

Syria, speaking as a country concerned, said the Israeli occupation entity continued to commit acts of aggression against the countries of the region, threatening their territorial integrity, and practising State terrorism against the Palestinian people and the people of the occupied Syrian Golan, taking advantage of absolute support from the United States and Western States, including through calls for the abolition of item 7 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda and boycotting its deliberations.

In the general debate, speakers stated that Israel was more interested in colonising Palestinian land than ensuring peace and security.  They opposed Israeli settlement activities and plans for annexing any part of the West Bank as actions that undermined the two-State solution.  Political, economic and humanitarian support must continue to be provided to the Palestinian people, as speakers welcomed the work of various United Nations agencies in this regard.  The Palestinian people deserved a free, sovereign and independent State, to finally achieve their inalienable right to self-determination.  Some speakers, pledging to continue speaking out against all actions that violated international law, unreservedly condemned all attacks on civilians, including the launching of rockets and incendiary balloons from Gaza which endangered Israeli civilians, and persistent acts of settler violence against Palestinians.  Some speakers said the reports “whitewashed the crimes of the Palestinians.”  Israel, though not obliged to do so, had vaccinated 90,000 Palestinians, some speakers pointed out.  Others said this was a relatively low number, given that Israel had vaccinated more than half its population.  One speaker criticised the Council’s bias against Israel, which explained why many countries refused to participate in the debate.

Speaking were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Libya on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Sudan on behalf of the Group of African States, Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Venezuela, Libya, Indonesia, Senegal, Russian Federation, Mauritania, Namibia, Pakistan, Bahrain, China, Mexico, Sudan, Cuba, Bangladesh, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, State of Palestine, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, South Africa, Iran, Egypt, Chile, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Oman, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Ireland, Tunisia, Yemen, Turkey and Luxembourg.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: World Jewish Congress; Organization for Defending Victims of Violence; International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights; Institute for NGO Research; Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture; United Nations Watch; Medical Aid for Palestinians; Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man; International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations; Jameh Ehyagaran Teb Sonnati Va Salamat Iranian; Norwegian Refugee Council; Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches; B’nai B’rith; Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy; Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling; Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights; Touro Law Centre, Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust; Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; International-Lawyers.Org; Human Rights Watch; Geo Expertise Association; International Federation for the Protection of the Rights of Ethnic, Religious, Linguistic and Other Minorities; Defence for Children International; Partners For Transparency; Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association; and Next Century Foundation.

/…

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

/…

Presentation of Reports of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab Territories 

Reports

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner A/HRC/46/63 on the implementation of HRC resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1 on the occupied Palestinian territory

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General A/HRC/46/64 on the situation of human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner A/HRC/46/65 on the consequences of settlement activity and other steps taken towards formal annexation in the occupied Palestinian territory

Presentation of Reports

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the thirteenth periodic report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory covered the period from 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2020 and provided an overview of recurring violations of international humanitarian law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups as well as violations of international human rights law by all three duty-bearers, namely Israel, the State of Palestine and the de facto authorities in Gaza.  The reporting period was marked by persisting human rights violations throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including violations of the right to life and physical integrity impacting men, women, children and persons with disabilities; restrictions of freedom of movement; and restrictions of the rights to a fair trial, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.  The report focused on the situation of Palestinian women and girls, who were subjected to multiple layers of violence and discrimination, in the public and private spheres.  It highlighted persisting serious concerns of unnecessary or disproportionate use of force against Palestinians.  In several incidents, Israeli Security Forces may have resorted to disproportionate or entirely unnecessary use of force resulting in arbitrary deprivation of life, including extrajudicial execution.

Israel continued to systematically use force and other means to suppress demonstrations by Palestinians and continued to hold human rights defenders under administrative or extended pre-trial detention.  The land, sea and air blockade of Gaza, which amounted to collective punishment, had entered its fourteenth year.  The pandemic had also put a greater pressure on the already-strained health system.  Ms. Bachelet said the report also highlighted human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza.  Invoking COVID-19 emergency measures, Palestinian Authority security forces had violently dispersed and detained protestors in July 2020.  On multiple occasions, security forces in the West Bank and in Gaza had summoned and detained journalists and social media activists, including women, for posting statements and videos criticizing the authorities.  In addition, extremely concerning cases of ill-treatment of detainees by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and Gaza de facto authorities’ security forces had been documented.

Ms. Bachelet said the second report was on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.  The announcement of tenders had accelerated, including in the strategic area of E-1, which was of particular concern as this would isolate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and threaten to fragment the contiguity of the West Bank.  Policies and acts contributing to a coercive environment, including the demolition of Palestinian property and the resulting displacement, had reached the highest levels since 2016, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.  The demolition of residences, as well as of health, water, and sanitation and hygiene facilities during a public health crisis had further exposed many Palestinians to associated risks.  During the reporting period, 339 incidents of settler violence were documented during which 142 Palestinians were injured, and a total of 8,700 trees and 477 vehicles owned by Palestinians were vandalized.

On a related issue and concerning the High Commissioner’s report stemming from the Council’s forty-third session issued under resolution 31/36 (A/HRC/42/71) and associated process, Ms. Bachelet said it was not possible for the Office to absorb, on an open-ended recurring basis into the future, the substantial resources that updating the database and reporting to the Council would annually imply.

The third report was on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan, and, as per usual practice, this report was based on information received from Member States.  For the present report, the Permanent Missions of the Syrian Arab Republic, the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, the Republic of Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Republic of Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the State of Kuwait, and the Russian Federation had responded to the request to provide information.

Concluding, Ms. Bachelet said these reports described the persistence of human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan, with a concerning lack of accountability.  The Office of the High Commissioner urged all duty-bearers to address these and other critical human rights concerns outlined in the reports.

Statements by Countries Concerned

The delegation of Israel was absent.

State of Palestine, speaking as a country concerned, noted that Israel, the occupying power, refused to cooperate with all United Nations mechanisms, continuing their practices of building the wall and restricting movements of Palestinians, in addition to excavations under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and usurping natural Palestinian resources, including water.  Israel targeted medical staff, journalists, human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations.  The Palestinian economy had sustained great losses, amounting to $ 6 billion.  In administrative occupation prisons, 230 prisoners had been exposed to many forms of torture.  The Palestinians suffered major collective punishment and as a result fuel and other resources were prevented from entering the entire Gaza Strip.  Unemployment had reached 46 per cent in the Gaza Strip.  The occupying authority still refused all General Assembly and Security Council and other resolutions, as well as the advisory opinion of the international tribunal.  Israel was also refusing to give any vaccines to the citizens of any country that had refused the movement of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem.  State of Palestine called for the updating of the database of companies working in the Israeli occupied territories.

Syria, speaking as a country concerned, said the Israeli occupation entity continued to commit acts of aggression against the countries of the region, threatening their territorial integrity, and practiced State terrorism against the Palestinian people and the people of the occupied Syrian Golan, taking advantage of absolute support from the United States and Western States, including through calls for the abolition of item 7 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda and boycotting its deliberations.  The Israeli settlements and associated measures included confiscating lands and properties, prohibiting construction and development in Syrian villages and preventing them from natural growth, stealing water and natural resources, and transferring settlers to the occupied Syrian Golan, a flagrant violation of international law and United Nations resolutions that affirmed the illegality of settlements and demanded that Israel stop changing the character, demographic composition, and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and end its occupation.  Syria called on the High Commissioner to pressure the Israeli occupation forces to open the Quneitra crossing for Syrian people in the occupied Syrian Golan who wished to visit their homeland and their relatives in Syria.

General Debate

Speakers stated that Israel was more interested in colonizing Palestinian land than ensuring peace and security.  They opposed Israeli settlement activities and plans for annexing any part of the West Bank as actions that undermined the two-State solution.  Political, economic and humanitarian support must continue to be provided to the Palestinian people.  Speakers welcomed the work of various United Nations agencies in this regard.  They condemned the violent arrests taking place in East Jerusalem.  Measures taken by Israel to change the demographic situation, such as demolitions of homes in East Jerusalem, were null and void.  Some speakers said it was important to ensure respect for the pre-June 1967 borders, and East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State.  The blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip must be lifted immediately.  Speakers condemned Israel’s lack of political will, which with impunity ignored the calls of the community of nations to stop the escalation of violence and the crimes it committed daily in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as in the Syrian Golan.

The discriminatory distribution of vaccines by the occupying power was of extreme concern to some speakers: it was beyond understanding why Israel distributed vaccines to illegal settlers but not to Palestinians who lived in the same territory.  The Palestinian people deserved a free, sovereign and independent State, to finally achieve their inalienable right to self-determination.  The absence of a sustained global political solution gave rise to despair in the entire region – States must not boycott the discussion of this agenda item at the Council.  Some speakers, pledging to continue speaking out against all actions that violated international law, unreservedly condemned all attacks on civilians, including the launching of rockets and incendiary balloons from Gaza which endangered Israeli civilians, and persistent acts of settler violence against Palestinians.  Item 7 reflected international interest in the Palestinian cause, speakers said, urging Israel to grant visas to the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Golan Heights were occupied territories, as per international law and United Nations resolutions.  Israel’s actions in the Golan Heights may amount to war crimes, which could possibly trigger individual criminal responsibility of those involved.  Some speakers said the reports “whitewashed the crimes of the Palestinians.”  Israel, though not obliged to do so, had vaccinated hundreds of thousands of Arab Israelis and 90,000 Palestinians, some speakers pointed out.  Others said this was a relatively low number, given that Israel had vaccinated more than half its population.  Further, by only vaccinating Palestinians who were in contact with Israelis, Israel continued to uphold its racist policies.  The Fourth Geneva Convention obliged Israel to ensure access to vaccines to Palestinians in the occupied territory.  One speaker criticised the Council’s bias against Israel, which explained why many countries refused to participate in the debate.  Palestinians had launched attacks against Israel from populated areas; in keeping silent, the United Nations was complicit in this grave and dangerous breach of international law.  Israel was committing the crime of apartheid.  Speakers encouraged the Office to publicly provide the annual update of the database of businesses facilitating Israeli settlements in the coming months as mandated by the Council and transmit it to the Council for discussion.

/…