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Mr. Wenaweser (Liechtenstein): ...
The development and universal acceptance of international humanitarian law is among the landmark achievements in the history of international law. Among its core principles are the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, proportionality of the use of force as well as the requirement to take all feasible measures to minimize civilian casualties. The applicable provisions of international humanitarian law must be respected in any armed conflict and by any party to it, under all circumstances and irrespective of the question of the legality of the use of force itself.
The repeated violations of these rules, such as in the conflicts in Sri Lanka and Gaza, warrant a clear response from the Council in order to promote the observance of international humanitarian law in practice. The Council must unequivocally demand compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to a conflict and call for accountability in cases where massive and systematic violations have occurred.
Mr. Mansour (Palestine): I express our appreciation to you, Mr. President, for convening this debate on a matter of immense importance to Palestine. The Security Council’s attention to the need for the protection of civilians in armed conflict is both appropriate and necessary. We also express appreciation to you and your country, Turkey, for your wise stewardship of the Council this month. I would also like to add that I am delighted to see you, as a good friend, presiding over the Security Council.
I also wish to thank Mr. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, for his presentation of the Secretary-General’s report (S/2009/277) and for his compelling statement. We hope that the Council will continue its efforts to address this issue in an effective manner until serious protection of civilians in armed conflict is ensured in all cases, without selectivity or inaction based on political considerations.
While the past 10 years of Security Council efforts have contributed to increased awareness among Member States and the broader international community of the need to provide protection and to respond to protection issues, the situation confronting civilians in today’s conflicts is tragically similar to that which prevailed a decade ago. That can be primarily attributed to the failure of parties to respect, and to ensure respect of, their legal obligations to protect civilians and spare them from the cruel consequences of war and aggression.
The Palestinian people are all too familiar with the failure of the international community to guarantee the protection accorded to them under international law, including humanitarian law and human rights law. For more than four decades, the Palestinian people have endured appalling levels of human suffering at the hands of Israel, the occupying Power, in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. We reiterate our call, as we have in previous debates on this issue, that the protection of peoples under foreign occupation must be a priority undertaking of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council, which has clear responsibilities in that regard.
The international community’s repeated inability to hold Israel accountable for its violations and war crimes has regrettably reinforced Israel’s impunity and lawlessness, permitting it to continue using military force and collective punishment against the defenceless Palestinian people under its occupation and, in essence, absolving it from its legal obligations as an occupying Power.
In that regard, it should be recalled that protection provisions can be found in many instruments of law, including the Geneva Conventions, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, the provisions of which explicitly aim to ensure the safety of civilians in armed conflict, including specific provisions for civilians under foreign occupation; the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions; the human rights Covenants; the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and numerous United Nations resolutions.
Never has the absence of protection for the Palestinian civilian population been more evident than it was during Israel’s three-week aggression against the Gaza Strip. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli onslaught, the overwhelming majority civilians, including hundreds of children and women; and more than 5,500 Palestinians, including more than 1,800 children, were injured as a result of the use of excessive and indiscriminate force and lethal, and even illegal, weaponry and ammunition by the occupying forces against the civilian population. Civilian areas and objects, including United Nations schools where civilians were known to be sheltering from the violence, were directly targeted by the occupying Power, as confirmed by the number of casualties and the extent of the destruction, as well as by several investigations, including by the Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry, the League of Arab States Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza and many human rights and humanitarian organizations on the ground.
Among countless other violations, the occupying Power also attacked humanitarian personnel and clearly-marked ambulances, wantonly destroyed public and civilian infrastructure, including thousands of homes, targeted United Nations schools and buildings and obstructed humanitarian access and access to medical treatment for the wounded and sick, while continuously denying an entire population their most basic rights, including their rights to food and water. Not only do all such actions constitute serious, systematic violations of international law, but many amount to war crimes, for which accountability must be pursued.
In that regard, as the report rightly states, the absence of accountability and, worse still, the lack in many instances of any expectation thereof, are what allow violations to thrive to a large extent. We thus fully agree with the recommendations in the report, in particular the recommendation that the Council mandate commissions of inquiry to examine situations where there are concerns regarding serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including with a view to identifying those responsible and prosecuting them at the national level or referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.
In this regard, the aforementioned independent inquiries and investigations into Israel’s military aggression against the Gaza Strip clearly confirm that Israel committed grave breaches of international law, as it continues to do with its ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip in collective punishment of the entire civilian population, and other illegal measures, including colonization activities, throughout the occupied Palestinian territory.
We persist in our calls for serious steps to pursue accountability and justice with regard to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian civilian population. That is imperative for healing the deep physical and societal wounds and trauma inflicted upon the Palestinian people.
The international community, including the Security Council, must follow up on the findings and recommendations from United Nations-related investigations, including the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry and the investigation being undertaken by the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding commission. The Palestinian people will never forget what happened, but, at the same time, the international community must never let it happen again. That can be guaranteed only if accountability and the duty to make reparations for violations are enforced.
At the same time, urgent measures must be undertaken to end the unlawful Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has driven socio-economic conditions to deplorable levels. For two years now, since June 2007, Israel, the occupying Power, has deliberately obstructed humanitarian access, the movement of persons, including sick persons needing treatment unavailable in Gaza, and the movement of all goods, including the most essential goods such as food and medical and fuel supplies. This inhumane blockade has perpetuated the dire humanitarian crisis, especially among the most vulnerable, who continue to live amid the destruction and trauma of Israel’s aggression due to its refusal to allow even the entry of materials essential for reconstruction, leaving over 50,000 people homeless and with wholly inadequate health care, clean water, electricity and sanitation. This situation has deepened the hardships and indignation of a civilian population that is unquestionably entitled to protection under humanitarian law and should not be left to the mercy of the occupying Power.
As long as Israel continues to breach its legal obligations towards the Palestinian civilian population, the Security Council must act to uphold its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations and ensure compliance by Israel with international law and United Nations resolutions. If Israel as the occupying Power continues to defy the Council’s calls, the Council must take appropriate and concrete measures to protect the civilian population and ensure respect for the instruments of international law that are supposed to provide civilians with protection from human rights violations and crimes, including in situations of foreign occupation. We are convinced that the international community has no choice but to make progress in this regard and create a different and safer situation than that faced today by the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation.
Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
We continue to see civilians paying the heaviest price in armed conflicts. The world has seen remarkable progress in the legal field and through international agreements in addressing the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and the many subsequent resolutions adopted by the Council. However, the striking paradox here is that the gap is widening between the texts and their application on the grounds, in other words between what is legal and the practices on the ground regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Ten years have elapsed since this Council first debated this important theme. Delegations participating in this debate, Council members, the Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the special rapporteurs are all demanding greater respect for international norms and laws that guarantee protection for civilians in times of armed conflict.
In that regard, let us recall the Security Council’s most recent deliberations on this matter, on 14 January 2009 (see S/PV.6066). Those deliberations coincided with events witnessed by the entire world: brutal and flagrant aggression by Israel against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. At that time, most delegations demanded that Israel, the occupying Power, comply with international law and norms relating to the protection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza; they stressed the need to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those people and the need for an independent international investigation of the war crimes committed by Israel during that aggression.
Unfortunately, however, despite repeated demands by the Security Council and the international community that Israel cease its illegitimate policies and practices forthwith, Israel not merely ignored all those pleas and demands but escalated its aggressive action targeting unarmed civilians who were virtual hostages in that vast collective prison. To this day, Israel continues its policies of aggression against the Palestinian civilian population by imposing a siege, closing border crossings, carrying out detentions, forbidding movements by sick people and students, impeding the delivery of international aid in the form of supplies and medicine to the people of Gaza, imposing collective punishment, confiscating land, engaging in settlement activities, demolishing homes and burning farmland, in addition to its oppressive and arbitrary practices against the civilian Syrian population of the occupied Syrian Golan. It thus blatantly thumbs its nose at international legitimacy, international law and international humanitarian law.
Israel’s criminal acts are a unique instance of the systematic and comprehensive breach of all international norms and principles set forth in international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Protocols. Israel’s aggressive behaviour is marked by a stain that no other usurper of land in history has borne: it breaches, en masse and without exception, the entire cumulative historical body of human law.
In a series of statements, most recently that of 14 January 2009 (S/PRST/2009/1), on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Security Council has condemned all violations of international law against civilians and has called on all parties concerned to put an end forthwith to such practices. The Council has also stressed that parties to armed conflict bear the primary responsibility to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians and to meet their basic needs, including by giving special attention to the specific needs of women and children. The Council recognized the needs of civilians under foreign occupation and stressed further, in this regard, the responsibilities of the occupying Power. It stressed the importance of safe and unhindered access for humanitarian personnel in order to ensure the delivery of assistance to civilians in armed conflict, in conformity with international humanitarian law. The Council also emphasized the responsibility of States to comply with their obligations to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Furthermore, in his most recent report, the Secretary-General stated grave concern at the high number of casualties in Gaza, in particular among children, and at the damage to homes and schools, including schools operated by the United Nations itself, as a result of the Israeli aggression. The Secretary-General also expressed concern at Israel’s wide-scale use of cluster munitions and explosive weapons against civilian populations in Gaza. In his report, the Secretary-General states that Israel has persisted in imposing restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza and noted the broad impact on the lives of civilians. The report states that “[t]he cumulative effect of these restrictions and their unpredictability contribute to the protracted suffering of Gaza’s civilian population” ( S/2009/277, annex, para. 16).
My delegation carefully studied the Secretary-General’s summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry he dispatched to Gaza. That report documents crimes committed by Israel against United Nations premises and against Palestinian civilians in those premises, including women and children. It documents Israel’s use of white phosphorus bombs and its responsibility for deaths and injuries within United Nations buildings, along with the damage caused to those premises.
Those are all war crimes, and the Security Council is obliged, more than ever before, to implement the recommendations of the Board of Inquiry, which was chaired by Mr. Ian Martin, and to hold Israeli leaders accountable for their repeated crimes, which are legally defined as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Here we ask the Security Council to tell us: What international obligations has Israel met since the Council added this item to its agenda? Another important question to which an answer would be much appreciated is this: Why do we have a double standard for the implementation of international law, with Israel exempt from fulfilling the norms of international law? Or is there a crisis in the understanding of legal terminology, by which Palestinian civilians are considered to be unlike any other civilians in the free world?
The situation of Syrian civilians in the occupied Syrian Golan does not differ greatly from that of the Palestinians. The Israeli occupation authorities continue to pursue practices such as confiscating land, stealing water resources, laying mines and expanding illegal settlements. Israel also persists in oppressing the Syrian civilian population in the occupied Golan and throwing civilians into prisons and detention centres, without justification, in life-threatening conditions. Let me also cite in particular the case of a Syrian citizen, Bishr al-Mukt, with respect to whom my Government has appealed to the Secretary-General and to the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international institutions, urging them to intervene to save his life.
The most recent such practice in the occupied Syrian Golan was the imposition by the Israeli authorities of two years of house arrest against a two-year-old child, Fahid Lu’ay Shuqeir, on the excuse that he was born outside Israel when his parents were studying in Syria. In the same context, Israel persists in its policy of disrupting all forms of communication among Syrian families that have been torn asunder as a result of occupation. Also, the Israeli occupation authorities confiscated the Syrian identity cards of Syrian students studying at Damascus University when they returned to their towns and villages in the occupied Golan.
To lend credibility to this special debate, Syria demands that this Council bring pressure to bear on Israel in order to allow the immediate resumption of family visits by Syrian citizens through the Quneitra crossing. My country addressed letters on this matter to the Secretary-General, the President of the Security Council and the President of the General Assembly and to international governmental and non-governmental organizations, requesting that they intervene to resolve this matter. It is our sincere hope that all these parties will translate their positions that we have heard in this debate into realities on the ground, especially since international law considers that Israel’s occupation of the Golan is double occupation, which requires double criminalization by this Council.
Israel was not satisfied by having occupied the Syrian Golan since 1967 but enacted an unjust and provocative decree to annex it. The Security Council unanimously rejected that decree in resolution 497 (1981), which considered Israel’s annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan null and void and demanded that Israel rescind it forthwith.
Mr. Al-Allaf (Jordan) (spoke in Arabic ): ...
The suffering of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip did not stop with the end of the Israeli aggression, but persists under the restrictions on the delivery of relief and assistance imposed by Israel. This ongoing suffering has had an impact on social, economic and human activities in Gaza. Israel continues to prevent the delivery of basic construction materials for rebuilding the infrastructure and water and sanitary facilities. The border crossings remain restricted, hindering early recovery efforts. If for some reason all of this did not fall under the principle of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the principle itself would have to be reviewed and redefined.
Mr. Hermida Castillo (Nicaragua) (spoke in Spanish ): ...
The Secretary-General, in the report before us for consideration (S/2009/277), describes a way to strengthen compliance with the relevant international norms, but it is obvious that the Council has been selective in its approach and decisions in that regard. In fact, in its resolution 1674 (2006), the Security Council reaffirmed that it was essential to end impunity so that a society in conflict or recovering from conflict could come to terms with past abuses and prevent future such abuses.
Where then is the Council’s resolve when it comes to the humiliated and tormented Palestinian population? Unfortunately, the day when the long-awaited justice for which the Palestinian people have been calling becomes a reality seems very uncertain and distant. Applying a double standard with regard to the protection of civilian populations inevitably undermines the credibility of this Council. It is that double standard that fuels, inter alia, the despair of a people who see no future other than that of the missiles launched against them by a Power with crushing military technology.
Mr. Bouchaara (Morocco) ( spoke in French ): ...
The instruments of international law, including the obligation to protect civilians in situations of armed conflict, are reflected in the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Additional Protocols, the human rights covenants and the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council.
Nonetheless, in spite of the existence of this legal arsenal, the Palestinian people continue to suffer terribly. The Council will recall that, last December, the Palestinian people in Gaza suffered military attacks and were the victims of the disproportionate use of force by Israel without any international protection leaving hundreds dead and thousands wounded, including many children, in violation of international law and international humanitarian law. This situation is all the more disturbing in that it is accompanied by unacceptable restrictions on humanitarian access, thus depriving the most vulnerable sectors of the Palestinian people of their most basic rights.
Mr. Valero Briceño (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) ( spoke in Spanish ): ...
Our State has had the responsibility of protecting civilians displaced by the internal conflict being experienced by our Colombian neighbours and have received them as brothers and sisters and as though they were citizens of our country. These are civilians who flee from their lands and their homes to escape the internal war. Many of them settle in our country, and we welcome them and integrate them into our society. Other displaced persons return to their homes in Colombia when they see the opportunity for a fresh start. In these circumstances, they have been treated in strict compliance with humanitarian law and in keeping with our constitutional responsibility to respect human rights.
Nonetheless, that has not been the fate of other peoples in the world, and here I must refer to the specific case of the long-suffering people of Palestine. The illegal occupation of Gaza by the Government of Israel towards the end of 2008 and in early 2009 gave rise to the criminal imposition of a curfew on the civilian population, which still persists. On that occasion, over 1,300 Palestinian children and women were killed and 5,300 were wounded or mutilated for life by these undesirable practices. This situation must not go unpunished. Otherwise, some countries waging war would be encouraged to engage in the perverse practice of targeting civilians and the people for military attacks. Practices such as these must be the subject of the most rigorous consideration by this body, fully backed by the General Assembly, and the necessary legal measures to avoid more civilian lives being lost because of the impunity syndrome must be taken.
Wrongful practices against civilians also include the detention of children, adolescents and women in military conflicts for the alleged purpose of obtaining information about the conflict and its protagonists, a situation that is in clear violation of the human rights of civilians. Another practice consists in attacking humanitarian missions, such as the Red Cross and the Red Crescent and United Nations peacekeeping operations, as we have seen in Gaza in recent months, with the destruction of infrastructure for public services, housing, schools and United Nations buildings where staff of this Organization who were on a humanitarian mission lost their lives.
The President : I now give the floor to Mr. John Holmes to respond to the comments made.
Mr. Holmes : I have listened carefully to all of today’s debate, and I welcome the clear commitment to the protection of civilians agenda shown both by the number of speakers and their obvious commitment in their comments to this issue. I also welcome the recognition by virtually all speakers of the need to do much more to ensure that our words and actions make a tangible difference on the ground for civilians affected by armed conflict.
I listened carefully to what the distinguished representative of Israel said, and I of course take seriously the points he made, while not necessarily agreeing with him. I have one or two specific comments to make in response. The brief factual paragraph that was devoted to the conflict in Gaza at the beginning of this year could not, of course, cover all the points or all the nuances of a complex situation in the same way that references to other situations did not pretend to be comprehensive, while still aiming to be balanced. The report did not mention on this occasion the rocket attacks against southern Israel, but the Secretary-General, I and many others from the United Nations have strongly and systematically condemned such intentional targeting of civilians in the past, so there should be no question about our position on this.
As to the manner in which the report refers to the conduct of Hamas during the conflict, we are unfortunately not in a position ourselves to verify reports of improper use of civilian objects or civilians themselves as shields — inter alia, for some of the reasons given by Israel — and therefore cannot speak with a greater degree of certainty. However, the information we do have does raise extremely serious concerns in this regard. The fact-finding commission currently being conducted by Judge Goldstone under the auspices of the Human Rights Council is aiming to clarify this question, as well as others raised in this context. It is a matter of regret that the Government of Israel has not so far been willing to cooperate with the inquiry.
The President : There are no further speakers inscribed on my list. The Security Council has thus concluded the present stage of its consideration of the item on its agenda.
The meeting rose at 6.35 p.m.
This record contains the text of speeches delivered in English and of the interpretation of sp eeches delivered in the other languages. The final text will be printed in the Official Records of the Security Council . Corrections should be submitted to the original languages only. They should be incorporated in a copy of the record and sent under the signature of a member of the delegation concerned to the Chief of the Verbatim Reporting Service, room C-154A.