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SUMMARY RECORD OF THE 23rd MEETING
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Monday, 31 March 2003, at 3 p.m.
Chairperson : Ms. AL-HAJJAJI (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya)
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE (continued)
The meeting was called to order at 3.15 p.m.
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE (agenda item 8) (continued ) (E/CN.4/2003/27, 28, 29, 30 and Add.1, and 130; E/CN.4/2003/G/2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 33, 39 and 40; E/CN.4/2003/NGO/19, 34, 47, 128, 129, 133, 180, 211, 215, 221 and 261; A/57/207 and 366 and Add.1)
7. Ms. CHING (Amnesty International) said there was much discussion concerning the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories but little action. The resolutions passed by the Commission at its previous session had been disregarded. The conflict had escalated in the past year and her organization had repeatedly condemned the grave abuses committed by both sides.
8. The sweeping measures of collective punishment imposed by Israel, far from bringing security, had helped to fuel the spiral of violence and had not prevented Palestinian armed groups from carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians, including children. At the same time, Israeli soldiers who committed gross violations and war crimes enjoyed impunity, thereby encouraging further violations, while Israelis who refused to serve in the army in the occupied territories were imprisoned.
9. Her organization welcomed the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (E/CN.4/2003/30). The upholding of international human rights and humanitarian law must not be subordinated to political considerations. Concrete mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the concerned parties met their human rights commitments: the presence of international monitors could help save both Palestinian and Israeli lives; and the supply of weapons and equipment used in the course of actions that violated human rights and humanitarian law must be stopped.
10. Ms. SAHRAOUI (International Commission of Jurists) said that her organization strongly condemned the attacks on Israeli civilians by armed Palestinian groups. War crimes should not be committed in response to other war crimes, and the perpetrators of such serious violations of humanitarian law should be subject to criminal prosecution.
11. The State of Israel had a right to ensure its security, but not at the expense of its international human rights obligations. The disproportionate use of force and the use of heavy artillery in civilian areas violated the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. Other violations continued, including torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions; her organization was particularly concerned that the Supreme Court of Israel had endorsed the practice of targeted assassination and the deportation of the families of suspected suicide bombers. In addition, the blockade of the occupied territories entailed unacceptable denial of the freedom of movement and of economic, social and cultural rights. Moreover, the perpetrators of war crimes and of serious violations of the Geneva Conventions enjoyed total impunity in Israel, while Israeli conscientious objectors who courageously refused to serve in the occupied territories were sent to prison.
12. Her organization urged the Commission to remind both Israel and the Palestinian Authority that they had a duty to prosecute war criminals, including those responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian law and for crimes against humanity; to call upon the parties to take steps to put a stop to such violations; and to establish an international human rights monitoring presence in the occupied Palestinian territories.
13. Mr. FAYEK (Arab Organization for Human Rights) said that the Israeli policy of occupation and illegal settlement had been made possible by killings and assassinations, destruction of buildings, arbitrary arrest and confiscation of land, all of which fell into the category of war crimes. Israel had refused to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and had instructed members of the military not to talk about their actions, in order to avoid falling under its jurisdiction. His organization requested the Commission to confirm that the Fourth Geneva Convention applied to the occupied Palestinian territories, to set up a committee of inquiry to investigate Israeli practices and to call for an immediate end to the occupation.
14. Mr. LITTMAN (World Union for Progressive Judaism) said that the international community had shown little concern for the Arab occupation of the West Bank from 1948 to 1967, despite the religious cleansing of the Jews from Judaea, Samaria and Jerusalem and, indeed, throughout the Arab world. The end of the current war with Iraq would, he hoped, bring an opportunity for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, but the Palestinian Authority would become a genuine partner with Israel only if it broke with Hamas and similar organizations, in a new democratic spirit of mutual acceptance. The Commission should strongly encourage the development of such a spirit.
15. Ms. WERNER (Human Rights Watch) said that civilians were paying the price for egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian armed groups. She strongly deplored actions by the State of Israel that disproportionately harmed civilians. Such actions could not be justified by military necessity. The impunity with which IDF acted must come to an end. Her organization also condemned in the strongest possible terms Palestinian groups’ use of suicide bombings deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians. No matter how desperate or helpless the situation, such attacks must be brought to an end and the organizers apprehended and brought to justice.
16. The international community was currently reminding all parties in Iraq of the importance of the laws of war and the duties of an occupying Power. She urged the Commission to do likewise in respect of the crisis in the occupied territories. Her organization also requested the Commission to adopt a strong resolution calling on the international community to ensure, inter alia, the protection of civilians in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. Lastly, it should call upon the Security Council to authorize the establishment of an international observer mission in Israel and the occupied territories without further delay.
17. Ms. BLOMQUIST (International Save the Children Alliance) said that the escalating violence in Israel and the occupied territories was seriously affecting children. Their health also suffered as a result of the curfews, closures and incursions: mothers were afraid to take their children to receive health care, and there was often a lack of access to food. The Palestinian children’s right to education was also endangered and access to schools had become increasingly difficult. The basic rights of children with disabilities were denied or at risk, with some services having disappeared completely and others being disrupted.
18. She called on the Commission to insist that the Israeli Government act in accordance with its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law; to request that Israeli military forces withdraw from Palestinian areas and put an end to the policy of closures and curfews; and to support the establishment of an international human rights monitoring presence, including child protection monitors, to be deployed to the occupied territories.
19. Ms. DUSSOLLIET GOND (World Federation of Trade Unions) said that there was a deliberate policy to exterminate the Palestinian people of the occupied territories. The fact that workers and their families were dying every day went unreported in the media. Such a policy was used as the justification for electric fences, the expulsion of the families of presumed terrorists from the Gaza Strip and the destruction of houses. Meanwhile, Israel continued to refuse to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal of its troops from the occupied territories.
20. Her organization supported the Palestinian people’s demand for the right to an independent State, guarantees for their economic development, the dismantling of the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories and the right of refugees to return. She urged the Commission to request that Israel respect United Nations resolutions relating to the withdrawal of its troops and put an end to the violations of human rights.
21. Mr GILOLMO (Federación de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos) said that some States made use of force to ensure the application of Security Council resolutions, as currently seen in Iraq. The same pressure and intensity was not, however, being applied in the case of Palestine, an issue on which numerous resolutions had been passed by the Security Council. That undermined the credibility of the Security Council and the United Nations in international public opinion.
22. The Palestinian leadership had been attempting to resolve the plight of the Palestinian people for two decades through negotiations. It had accepted all the resolutions passed by the General Assembly and Security Council. Israel had demonstrated, however, that it had no intention of doing the same and had ignored every one of the established deadlines for withdrawing its troops from the occupied territories. The intifada was a reflection of the Palestinians’ desperation, faced with the impossibility of achieving a negotiated settlement. The use of violence against Israeli civilians could not be condoned but it in no way justified the Israeli “scorched earth” policy.
23. He called upon the United Nations to apply the necessary mechanisms to ensure Israel’s compliance with all the Security Council resolutions and to oblige it to withdraw from the occupied territories and end once and for all its occupation of Palestine.
24. Ms. GRAF (International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples) noted that all 73 of the resolutions passed by United Nations bodies between 1951 and 2002 on the subject of the occupied territories had been flouted by Israel. Israeli troops continued to occupy every Palestinian population centre and maintained checkpoints and curfews in the rest of the occupied territories. Military attacks against the Palestinian infrastructure continued and people were prohibited from leaving their homes. The international community, much too accustomed to images of violence and death, remained indifferent. It was very worrying that children and young people in both the societies concerned were being brought up in a climate of hatred where violence and retaliation were an everyday reality. Both parties to the conflict should reflect upon the impact of such a heavy legacy.
25. Lasting peace could be achieved only by re-establishing justice, equality and dignity and redressing the wrongs suffered by the Palestinians for more than half a century. At the same time, as a counterpart for recognizing and allowing the Palestinians the right to statehood, Israel should be guaranteed the right to exist in peace, within secure borders.
26. Mr. SHARAFEDDIN (International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) said he wondered what the United States of America and the United Kingdom were trying to achieve in Iraq and the other Arab countries and whether they wanted to control oil resources so as to achieve hegemonic domination. Iraq was currently being bombed, after having been subjected to a long and cruel embargo which had killed over 1 million children. Yet the warmongers chose to keep silent about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction, the fact that innocent Palestinian civilians were being killed and that over 30 resolutions passed by the Security Council were being flagrantly defied. The United States and the United Kingdom had had no interest in enforcing Security Council resolutions concerning the massacres and human suffering in the occupied territories. The representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom must justify their actions to the international community, actions which were an affront to the dignity of humankind.
27. Mr. ABU EISSA (Arab Lawyers Union) said that certain groups were profiting from the war in Iraq while violating the provisions of the International Covenants on Human Rights and all other human rights instruments. Similar violations were taking place in the occupied territories, but the international community chose to ignore them. The Israeli leadership was prepared to use any available means to bring the Palestinians to heel and to curb the intifada. No progress whatsoever had been made towards a lasting peace and the Israeli authorities were given a free hand by the Powers. Israel was determined not to return to the negotiating table and had no intention of withdrawing from the occupied Palestinian territories or the Golan Heights.
28. Mr. SAMUELS (Simon Wiesenthal Centre) said he wanted to focus attention on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as the key service provider in the Palestinian territories. He wondered whether it had not served to perpetuate Palestinian refugee status by discouraging self-development and preventing international efforts to provide the infrastructure for normalization. It had also served the policies of Arab neighbouring States opposed to the integration of the refugees, discouraged resettlement and provided patronage to the Palestinian administration. He urged that a full and thorough investigation be made of UNRWA expenditure and employment practices and requested that an independent committee be established with a view to restructuring the agency to achieve its defined objectives more effectively. Such an examination would determine whether UNRWA served the cause of peace through its statutory responsibility for relief works or whether it contravened its mandate by perpetuating the conflict and deprivation of human rights.
29. Ms. FERRY (Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies) speaking also on behalf of the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), said that her organization supported the position adopted by the Special Rapporteur that it was the military occupation of Palestinian territory which was responsible for most of the violations of humanitarian law and human rights. Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation violated the rights of the Palestinians, including their right to self-determination. Israel’s illegal annexationist designs on Palestinian territory were evidenced by its refusal to acknowledge the legal position that it could not claim sovereignty over the occupied territories. The unlawful confiscation and expropriation of land and water supplies and destruction of crops continued, as did the establishment and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. The occupying forces had also committed grave violations of humanitarian law against civilians and crimes against humanity.
30. She urged the Commission to reaffirm the illegality of the occupation; to call for an end to Israeli denial of Palestinian rights by withdrawing its troops, dismantling the illegal settlements and allowing the establishment of an independent and viable State of Palestine; to ensure Israel’s respect for international law by calling for effective measures such as economic sanctions; and to provide an international protection force in the occupied territories.
31. Mr. SRULEVITCH (United Nations Watch) said that Israel alone was scrutinized and condemned under agenda item 8 and that there was no justification for such treatment. The existence of item 8 took valuable time and attention away from more serious and less political human rights concerns and demonstrated that the Commission had strayed from its purpose. If the Commission was concerned with the right to life, it should pay more attention to the pandemic of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa rather than discussing it under one of four sub-headings under agenda item 14. There were 25 million internally displaced persons and 20 million refugees in the world who were also discussed as a subsection of item 14. There were 860 million illiterate adults in the world and 113 million children who did not attend school. Illiteracy prevented the enjoyment of many political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights, but it was given a very low priority. He urged the Commission to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in a non-political manner under agenda item 9.
32. Mr. DIENER (Society for Threatened Peoples) said that his organization condemned all violations of human rights by both parties to the conflict. The Israeli economic blockade and the restriction of freedom of movement were in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The destruction of houses and agricultural land by the Israeli Defence Force was a violation of article 53. The construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories ran counter to article 49. The killing of Palestinians by Israeli settlers was a breach of article 27 and the extrajudicial execution of Palestinians was a violation of article 32.
33. He urged the Commission to call on the Government of Israel to observe its legal obligations under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as required by Security Council resolution 1322 (2000), and to provide compensation for the reconstruction of the destroyed Palestinian infrastructure. The Commission should also call on the international community to review military and intelligence cooperation with Israel and trade in goods produced by facilities established in illegal settlements. The Palestinian Authority should be urged to prosecute those responsible for criminal actions and suicide attacks.
Statements in exercise of the right of reply
34. Ms. KAMINSKY (United States of America) said that, on 14 March 2003, President Bush had reaffirmed his commitment to the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living at peace and had announced his readiness to present the “road map” developed by the Quartet of international mediators to the parties as a starting point and framework for progress.
35. The actions of the Commission, which cast all blame on Israel, were not balanced, fair or helpful to the cause of peace, nor was the devoting of an agenda item solely to the situation in the occupied territories when other human rights violations did not receive the same attention. Another imbalance was the Commission’s appointment of a Special Rapporteur with an open-ended mandate to report on the Israeli Government’s actions in the occupied territories. It was essential that the mandate be extended to human rights abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority if it was to advance the cause of peace. Such a lack of balance weakened the Commission’s own credibility and undermined its progress towards peace.
36. The Chairperson had requested the members of the Commission to use diplomatic language when discussing difficult issues. However, the Commission had failed to live up to that basic standard and inflammatory, repugnant and reckless language had been heard. Such language could inflame public opinion and make it harder to restore trust and confidence. If there was to be peace, the use of such language must stop.
37. Mr. LEVY (Observer for Israel) said that the assertion by the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic that Israeli Arabs were not allowed to build houses was ludicrous. He invited that representative to come and see for himself how 1 million Arab Israelis lived, how they were represented in Parliament and how their voices were heard on television or radio.
38. He deplored the double standards used in matters concerning Israel. Self-determination, for example, seemed less desirable to many delegates when it was a question of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Human rights violations were discussed under agenda item 9 in respect of all Member States, except Israel, which had an agenda item exclusively devoted to it. When a special rapporteur’s mandate concerned Israel, it was open-ended, one-sided and inherently flawed. Despite the statement by the spokesman for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that there would be no naming and no shaming, that precept had been forgotten where Israel was concerned. Another double standard related to regional groupings: only Israel was excluded from full and equal membership of any such grouping.
39. When other countries implemented United Nations resolutions, they received due commendation; but not Israel. It had fully implemented Security Council resolution 425 (1978) calling on it to withdraw from Lebanon but no commendation had been forthcoming. The double standard also applied to the definition of terrorism: when Israeli children were blown to pieces, that was described by some as legitimate resistance, while any retaliation was called terrorism. Above all, double standards applied to his country’s national movement, which had repeatedly been slandered and denied its right to exist.
40. Mr. SALLOUM (Syrian Arab Republic), having noted that the Palestinians had just celebrated Land Day, in memory of the land confiscated by Israel, said that the houses that the Arabs were living in had been built a long time ago. Not a day passed, however, without television pictures of Israeli bulldozers destroying Arab houses. A young American woman had recently been killed trying to prevent such destruction. The observer for Israel could hardly be surprised or aggrieved therefore at being targeted. What the international community was, in fact, targeting was the apartheid regime in Israel. When, like its counterpart in South Africa, it was removed, the international community would be happy to deal with Israel on terms of equality.
41. The observer for Israel had made a number of misleading assertions. He had accused the Syrian Arab Republic of welcoming terrorists and of selling weapons to Iraq. Neither assertion was true. It was not true either that Security Council resolution 425 (1978) had been implemented in full: the Shab’a farms had still not been returned. Moreover, farmers continued to meet their deaths because the Lebanese authorities had not been given a map of the minefield locations. He urged the observer for Israel to state that his Government wished to make peace with the Arab world which had set out a comprehensive peace plan at the summit meeting of the League of Arab States.
42. Mr. LEVY (Observer for Israel) said he freely acknowledged that Israel wanted to make peace with the Arab world, including the Syrian Arab Republic, but not on unilateral terms. Peace was a matter of dialogue and compromise; Israel could not simply accept the Arab peace proposal wholesale. As for the question of Land Day, he noted that it had been marked by a public demonstration by Israeli Arabs - not Palestinians in the territories - who disagreed with Israeli Government policy. He wondered when the last public demonstration directed against the regime had been held in the Syrian Arab Republic or when a press conference had been held by an opposition member of parliament there. With regard to the refuge given to terrorists, the Syrian Government should arrest the leaders of the 10 major terrorist organizations based in its country and close their offices.
43. Mr. SALLOUM (Syrian Arab Republic) said that the observer for Israel, by talking about “Israeli Arabs”, was denying them their identity: they were Palestinians who had lived in the country before the State of Israel had been established and were deprived of the right to build houses by the occupying Power. Israel did not recognize their existence and therefore omitted to provide them with proper power supplies or basic necessities.
44. As for the assertion that Israel wanted peace, it wished to make peace on its own terms only, not on the basis of United Nations resolutions. Israel was still seeking to negotiate its withdrawal from the lands it had occupied since 1967.