Question of Palestine home
Economic and Social Council
24 February 1995
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
SUMMARY RECORD OF THE 7th MEETING
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Thursday, 3 February 1994, at 3 p.m.
: Mr. van WULFFTEN PALTHE (Netherlands)
Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine (
This record is subject to correction. Corrections should be submitted in one of the working languages. They should be set forth in a memorandum and also incorporated in a copy of the record. They should be sent
within one week of the date of this document
to the Official Records Editing Section, room E.4108, Palais des Nations, Geneva. Any corrections to the records of the public meetings of the Commission at this session will be consolidated in a single corrigendum, to be issued shortly after the end of the session.
The meeting was called to order at 3.10 p.m.
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE (agenda item 4) (
THE RIGHT OF PEOPLES TO SELF-DETERMINATION AND ITS APPLICATION TO PEOPLES UNDER COLONIAL OR ALIEN DOMINATION OR FOREIGN OCCUPATION (agenda item 9) (
) (E/CN.4/1994/22, 23; A/48/385)
Mr. DEGUENE KA
(Observer for Senegal) said that the world continued to experience far-reaching changes in the process of establishing international relations based on the primacy of law and preserving the fundamental values of human dignity. It was certainly from that angle that the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, should be considered. For decades, the Israeli-Arab conflict had been a threat to international peace and security, although the protagonists appeared finally to have overcome mistrust, prejudice and the desire for domination. On 13 September 1993, events had taken an unexpected turn with the historic signing, by Israel and the PLO, of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements for Gaza and Jericho. The prospects for an agreement leading to autonomy for the Palestinian people, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the establishment of a framework for negotiations to achieve a final settlement of the issue on the basis of Security Council resolutions
had belonged, barely a few months previously, to the realm of fantasy. Even though there were still some abuses, a new era was dawning for Palestine and the Middle East.
13. It was the responsibility of the Commission to encourage the arduous process which had begun some months previously, and which had to be complemented by measures whose essential purpose was to ensure full respect for the rights of the peoples concerned. In that regard, Senegal welcomed the measures already taken by the Israeli authorities, such as the release of some of the Palestinian prisoners. In its capacity as Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and as a member of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, Senegal truly appreciated the action by the various international agencies on behalf of the populations of the occupied territories.
14. By ensuring that the current peace process was irreversible, the parties involved would respond to the expectations of the international community and permit the different peoples in the Middle East to coexist in peace and harmony. Action by the Commission should be set in that context.
(Nigeria) said that the twentieth century had witnessed great changes, the most dramatic and welcome of which was perhaps the creation of new States through the exercise of the right to self-determination, first of all under the aegis of the League of Nations and then under that of the United Nations. The exercise of that right by colonial and dependent territories under foreign occupation was embodied in the Charter of the United Nations. In the case of post-colonial States, the right to self-determination could be exercised through the devolution of power to local governments or through federal arrangements, as in Nigeria. However, in the case of multi-ethnic States, failure to prevent each ethnic or cultural group from endlessly demanding to exercise the right to self-determination could lead only to anarchy.
16. The signing, in September 1993, by Israel and the PLO, as a result, in particular, of the efforts of the Foreign Minister of Norway, Mr. Johan Jorgen Holst, of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements for the Palestinian people was a decisive step forward. All the parties to that agreement should henceforth do everything necessary to ensure its speedy implementation. For its part, Israel should release all the Palestinian detainees, lift the curfew and abandon the use of force, in strict compliance with the fourth Geneva Convention. The peace process should be given universal support in order to avert a prolongation of the agonies of the Israelis and Palestinians.
(Republic of Korea) welcomed the signing, on 13 September 1994, by the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements for the Palestinian people, followed by the mutual recognition of both parties, and lastly the signing by Jordan and Israel of a Common Agenda. It was to be hoped that despite the many difficulties that lay ahead, the spirit of compromise would be sustained through future negotiations.
18. However, the situation in the occupied territories, as described in the report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. René Felber (
) remained disturbing. Israel should, as had repeatedly been requested by the Commission, ensure the protection of human rights in the occupied territories in conformity with the provisions of the fourth Geneva Convention, by cooperating with the representatives of UNRWA and under international monitoring. The Republic of Korea hoped that the emerging political settlement in the Middle East would make it possible to implement the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, and in particular resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) of the Security Council, and would guarantee the sovereignty and security of all countries in the area, including Israel. The Republic of Korea was prepared to contribute to the economic development of the Palestinian people pending a comprehensive solution to the Palestine question. The human rights situation in the area should change to reflect new political developments.
Mr. KHALILUR RAHMAN
(Bangladesh) said that the signing of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements for the Palestinian people was a historic first step towards the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable national rights. It was to be hoped that those efforts would lead to the withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied Arab territories and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. Bangladesh congratulated, in particular, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Mr. Yasser Arafat, for the steps taken towards that end after decades of confrontation and mistrust. Determination and courage would be necessary for the future negotiations.
20. Unfortunately, it was clear from the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Arab territories that, since the Declaration of Principles had been signed, the violence and abuses attributable to Israel had continued, including extrajudicial executions, disproportionately violent reprisals, the continued detention of over 11,000 Palestinians, collective punishments, demolition of homes, the curfew and restrictive economic measures. It was imperative that Israel should desist from all forms of human rights violation in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, and respect international law and the principles of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
21. As the suffering of the Palestinian people continued despite the numerous resolutions adopted not only by the General Assembly and the Security Council, but also by the Commission, the latter should continue to monitor the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories until the Palestinian people was truly able to exercise its inalienable rights.
(Russian Federation) emphasized the difficulties the world was experiencing and said that the wind which had blown down the Berlin Wall had brought a wintry blast to many countries, totalitarianism having made way for nationalism, xenophobia and intolerance. The situation carried the threat of an outbreak of fratricidal wars and the development of fear, poverty and despair. Faced with those challenges, the international community should certainly not renounce its responsibilities, but redouble its solidarity and patience in order to break out of the vicious circle of confrontation and mistrust.
23. The wind was also blowing through the Middle East, and in particular along the banks of the Jordan, the cradle of the three great civilizations: Christian, Jewish and Muslim. The success of the current process to settle the conflict in the region would demonstrate that coexistence was truly possible in the world. For its part, the Russian Federation considered that the Declaration of Principles signed the previous year was a major step forward, and was gratified that the international community, including the General Assembly at its previous session, had subscribed to that Declaration. The Commission should join that consensus by encouraging the parties concerned to adopt the requisite measures to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as Mr. Yasser Arafat had advocated in his statement to the Commission. In view of the new climate that was developing between Israel and the Arab States, it would also be desirable, as suggested by some, for the Commission to redirect its activities by abandoning a number of outdated stereotypes. Such a step would facilitate the integration of the concept of human rights into relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
24. The Russian Federation expected a great deal from the forthcoming meeting in Cairo between Mr. Yasser Arafat and Mr. Shimon Peres. The question of the transfer of authority within the occupied Palestinian territories, the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the extension of the process to the whole of the West Bank still had to be settled. The negotiations between the PLO and Israel should be inspired by a spirit of compromise, to prevent the process from being jeopardized by those elements who wished to see it fail.
25. The Middle East problem posed the overall question of the exercise by peoples of their right to self-determination. The twentieth century had been described as the century of technology or of the atom. It could more properly be described as the century of self-determination, which had seen empires crumble, States accede to independence - often by force - and the cold war and blocs disappear. The current renaissance was, however, not exempt from difficulties, as ethnic groups attempted to impose their will through force, as in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in some parts of the former USSR. The concept of the right to self-determination was exploited by some elites, who sought to establish dictatorship and had no hesitation in trampling on human rights and fundamental freedoms. As the political landscape evolved, dangerous forms of separatism emerged.
26. In his "Agenda for Peace", the Secretary-General of the United Nations had emphasized that if each group wished to impose its sovereignty and secede, there would be no possibility of peace. However, although it had been possible in the case of the colonized territories to assimilate the concept of self-determination with that of sovereignty, that no longer applied and the ultimate objective should be to ensure that everyone had the possibility of living in accordance with his wishes under democracy.
27. The international community was responsible for devising without delay formulas to permit the peaceful realization of the right to self-determination and to instil substance into the principles set out, in particular, in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, so as to determine to whom the right to self-determination extended, to assess the compatibility of that right with the other human rights principles, to develop suitable machinery in accordance with the norms of international law and to elaborate appropriate monitoring procedures. The Special Rapporteur responsible for examining the issue of the exercise of the right to self-determination and the recently appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights would undoubtedly be able to make valuable contributions to that topic, within the framework of their mandate.
28. In the face of the tragedies that characterized the twentieth century, it was more than ever necessary to ensure respect for the most fundamental right of everyone, the right to life, and to avoid war in order to ensure international security and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms in the century to come.
(United States of America) said that the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington on 13 September 1993, was an act of political courage and wisdom that gave life to the hope that lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab States could be obtained and transform the region's political and psychological landscape.
30. The United States of America saluted the new spirit of dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis; both parties had demonstrated that everything was possible for those who were willing to put aside suspicion and hatred and to show confidence. Her delegation had listened with great satisfaction to Chairman Arafat who, when he had addressed the Commission, had spoken not only of the difficulties that still existed, but also of the progress made and of his hope of success.
31. The United States would continue to encourage the peace process and would do its utmost to ensure that the promises held out by the first phase materialized, and was proud to have sponsored the recent General Assembly resolution on the situation in the Middle East. The United States was gratified that for the first time in many years the discussions accompanying that resolution had been free from the pointless vituperation which in the past had itself constituted an obstacle to negotiations. The United States ardently hoped that the Commission would acknowledge the new reality resulting from the dialogue between Arabs and Israelis.
32. The progress in the peace process in the Middle East would certainly have concrete effects for human rights in the occupied territories. A Palestinian governing authority could be expected shortly in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, as well as a Palestinian police force to ensure public order. Her delegation had welcomed the announcement by Chairman Arafat that the Palestinians had established an independent authority for human rights, under the leadership of Mrs. Hanan Ashrawi. It also noted with satisfaction that for the first time a Special Rapporteur with a mandate from the Commission had been authorized to visit Israel and the occupied territories.
33. The human rights violations that continued to occur on both sides should be condemned, although the time had come to turn away from empty rhetoric and to seize the historic opportunity presented. It was vital not to remain prisoners of the past, but to build the future on the basis of the Madrid and Oslo discussions and the Declaration of Principles. It was necessary to work towards peace in accordance with the principles to which each Member of the United Nations had subscribed. An era of economic cooperation should be ushered in in the Middle East, and the first step towards that was to set aside the Arab League boycott.
34. Thus, under the impetus of the Vienna World Conference and of the recent decisions by the General Assembly, the United States would like to see the Commission on Human Rights adopt a resolution affirming that a just and comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflict was vital for the full implementation of human rights there.
35. The United States of America had a long history of supporting the struggle to defend human rights, and it had been Eleanor Roosevelt who had provided the spark behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the creation of the Commission itself 50 years previously. President Clinton was an ardent defender of human rights, who had said to Chairman Arafat and to Prime Minister Rabin, during their stay in Washington, that "a peace of the brave is within our reach". Chairman Arafat had for his part spoken before the Commission of a peace which turned the pages of the past. No effort should be spared to ensure that the new pages in the history of the Middle East were among the finest.
(Mauritania) said that the signing of the Declaration of Principles by Israel and the PLO, on 13 September 1993 in Washington, was undoubtedly a major event which marked the beginning of a new era and held out hope that the Palestinian people would finally recover all their rights. However, the agreement in no way diminished the responsibility of the United Nations and the role incumbent on the international community in finally resolving that tragedy.
37. The human rights situation in the occupied territories had barely improved, as was testified by the various documents submitted on the issue and by the reports from human rights organizations. The persistence of serious violations of the fundamental rights of the Palestinians was contrary to the spirit of Washington. For that reason, the Commission should continue to monitor the situation through the Special Rapporteur it had appointed for that purpose, who should receive cooperation in keeping with his mandate. Clearly, such violations would continue to be a source of concern to the international community and the Commission until their causes had disappeared. The essential conditions for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region, which had frequently been set out in numerous resolutions of the United Nations and of other international organizations, in other words, the restoration of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, the creation of a Palestinian State and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Syrian Golan and South Lebanon, remained unchanged. The question was simply one of respect for the right of peoples to self-determination and for the principle that territories should not be acquired by force, in other words, the obligations laid down by the Charter of the United Nations and by the norms of international law. Any Member State that failed to discharge those obligations was in violation of the Charter, and to permit such a violation to persist was tantamount to casting doubt on the c redibility not only of the Charter, but also of the United Nations itself. That danger should be avoided at all cost, both in the Middle East and elsewhere.
(Bulgaria) said that, owing to its geographical situation, Bulgaria had always been extremely concerned by events in the Middle East. His Government therefore welcomed with great satisfaction the establishment of a negotiating process in Madrid in 1991, and in particular the signing, by Israel and the PLO, of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements. It was to be hoped that that agreement would contribute to a significant improvement in the human rights situation in the region. He reaffirmed the importance Bulgaria attached to the strict application of the fourth Geneva Convention and the pertinent resolutions of the Security Council to the occupied territories. Among the recent positive developments was the fact that Mr. René Felber, Special Rapporteur of the Commission responsible for investigating the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, had been able to go to the region and meet representatives of all the parties.
42. The firm commitment undertaken in Davos by the Chairman of the PLO, Mr. Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Shimon Peres, to carry out their plan and rapidly reach a final agreement was extremely encouraging. They should be congratulated on their efforts towards peace, and the Commission should take those positive developments into account in its corresponding resolutions.
(Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) said that, contrary to what had occurred in previous years, no speaker had mentioned the human rights violations in the Arab territories, including Palestine, or in Syrian Golan, occupied by Israel. Did that imply that decisive changes had taken place in the region, namely, that Israel had committed itself to respecting the resolutions of the United Nations and international instruments by deciding to renounce its annexation of the territories or the establishment of Jewish settlements, had ceased to expel Palestinians or had agreed to the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes? Unfortunately, such was not the case, as attested by various reports on the question and by the statement made by Mr. Arafat himself to the Commission. In fact, the agreements signed in Washington had still not been implemented. Yet the international community did not say a word; it seemed to feel that peace was already established in the region or would be in the very near future and that it was therefore no longer necessary to speak at length of the problems in the Middle East.
44. The very term "Middle East", which was widely utilized to designate that part of the world, warranted some consideration. It tended to be forgotten that the term referrred not merely to a geographical region or the inhabitants of that region, but rather to a group of countries with a common civilization, language and culture, as well as a people - the Arab people - whose lands were occupied and whose wealth and resources had been usurped. One should therefore speak not of the conflict in the Middle East but of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The widespread use of the term "Middle East" was intended to make the existence of the Arab people be forgotten, to cause them to lose their national identity and to suppress their traditions and culture. To use that term was to falsify geographical, human and historic reality, in violation of the Universal Declaration and other international human rights instruments.
45. Furthermore, the whole world had rejoiced at the opening of negotiations between the parties to that conflict, while forgetting that it was under the pressure of the United States that Israel had agreed to take part in those talks, and that the United States had previously allowed Israel to pursue its well-known policy for years in the occupied territories. As to the Washington agreement, he asked what it really amounted to. The Palestinians had not in fact achieved their long-standing demand to be able to exercise their right to self-determination. They had had to accept limited self-rule for Gaza and Jericho, because Israel had not wanted to go beyond that and the international community had been careful not to say anything.
46. Of course, the Israelis claimed that they wanted peace, but that was obviously to enable them to obtain without difficulty what they had been unable to obtain through the use of force. Peace in the region would enable them to pursue their expansionist policy and to give themselves the necessary means to exercise their military supremacy over all the Arab countries. They also wanted to keep the Golan and Jerusalem, to take everything that was offered to them without giving anything in exchange. The tragedy of the Arabs was that they were too trustful and had always believed the promises that had been made to them, starting with those of Lawrence of Arabia. That was how they had come to be deprived of their national identity. Only unity among the Arabs would bring about a change in the situation in the region, independently of the false promises that would be made to them and the pressure that would be exerted on them. Their demands were perfectly legitimate and that was why the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya refused for its part to be silent because it was unacceptable for the Arabs to give everything to their adversary without obtaining anything in return.
(Observer for Israel) said that a page had been turned in the history of the Middle East on 13 September 1993 with the signing by Israel and the PLO of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements. That event should be viewed in the light of the visit made to Jerusalem in 1977 by Anwar El-Sadat, the then President of Egypt, who, in addressing the Knesset and all its members, had expressed his willingness to sign a global peace agreement with Israel. That was how he had succeeded in convincing the Israelis of his sincerity and how, in return, he had obtained the restoration of occupied Sinai. It was important to recall that historic episode because Israel was waiting for signs of a similar commitment on the part of its partners in the current negotiations as well as of other countries.
48. The numerous statements which had referred to the political changes in the region since the previous session of the Commission should be stressed. Likewise, Mr. René Felber, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, had demonstrated his intellectual honesty in his written report. Israel hoped that the efforts being made by certain countries with a view to the adoption of a "positive resolution" taking account of the events in the region and encouraging the parties to pursue their endeavours in that direction would be successful.
49. Israel none the less deplored the fact that a number of statements, including that by a certain organization of jurists, had been totally negative. How could such partial speeches contribute to the peace process?
50. The common objective of Israel and the PLO was currently to implement the Declaration of Principles. In addition to those bilateral efforts, 47 countries and international organizations, including the United Nations, were participating in multilateral talks. Five working groups were discussing refugees, arms control, regional economic cooperation, water and the environment. For the first time, all States participating in the negotiations on regional economic development had agreed on a plan of action, comprising 35 projects, workshops and study groups. It was also the first time that multilateral negotiations on the Middle East, in which the countries of the region were involved, had been held in the Middle East itself.
51. There was no question of minimizing the suffering that both parties to the conflict had had to endure, but simply of appreciating that the point of no return had been passed. It was time to realize that the only choice before the parties to the conflict was between painful compromises or a perpetual conflict. In that connection, it was appropriate to ask what was the proper role of the Commission on Human Rights in that process. Was it going to contribute to the new reality that was being forged or was it going to tread the worn path of one-sided, unbalanced resolutions?
(Observer for Oman) said he was gratified that the efforts made during the peace negotiations on the Middle East had led to the signing of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements. That development was a major step along the path towards respect for the rights of the Palestinians and the principle of the exchange of land for peace. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders had acted realistically, in order to achieve a just and global peace in the region. That development would moreover exert a positive influence on the negotiations between Israel and the other Arab countries. Oman hoped that Israel would adopt as positive an attitude towards the latter.
56. None the less, Oman had always believed that the human rights violations committed in Palestine were a major problem with potentially serious consequences for security in the region. It had to be recognized that Israel attached no importance to the resolutions adopted by the Commission on Human Rights on that question. However, the situation in the occupied territories remained disturbing and, as was confirmed by the reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories and the report of the Special Rapporteur appointed to investigate the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, the practices of the occupation forces were unlawful under international law. Oman deplored the continuation of those violations when the peace process was under way and the Declaration of Principles had been signed. Israel should demonstrate its goodwill by putting an end to such acts and by releasing the Palestinian prisoners it was holding.
57. The international community's efforts were beginning to bear fruit and it was important to continue along the same path in order to attain a just and global peace, based on the interests and rights of all the peoples of the region, on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and on the principle of the exchange of all the occupied Arab territories for peace. Oman hoped that in the future Israel would comply with the resolutions of the United Nations and believed that, until it did so, the international community in general and the Commission on Human Rights in particular should continue to assume their responsibilities.
(World Islamic Call Society) said that the international community could not but rejoice at the signing, by Israel and the PLO, of the Declaration of Principles which, if it was actually implemented, would mark a first step towards the establishment of peace and the settlement of a conflict which had claimed so many victims in almost 50 years. It was unfortunate that most of the violations of the right to self-determination took place in the Islamic world, whether in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Myanmar, Algeria or elsewhere. Every day Muslims were killed in Kashmir or in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the promises and declarations by Western leaders and the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council. Moreover, despite the Indian Independence Act and the resolutions of the Security Council, the inhabitants of Kashmir, most of whom were Muslim, were denied their right to self-determination. He himself was an Afghan and was deeply concerned by the question of Kashmir on account of the historical, cultural and political links between Afghanistan and Kashmir, and he personally supported the proposals made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, to settle the question of Kashmir.
The meeting rose at 6 p.m.