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(c) Human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives (continued ) (A/61/276, 349, 360, 369, 374, 469, 470, 475, 489, 504 and 526)
23. The Chairman invited the Committee to continue its general discussion of agenda items 67 (b) and (c).
24. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967), introducing his report (A/61/470), said that the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories had worsened over the past year. Gaza had been subjected to a protracted assault since 25 June 2006, when a group of Palestinian militants had attacked an Israeli military base near the Israeli-Egyptian border, killing two Palestinians and two Israelis. In retreating, the militants had captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit and had demanded the release of Palestinian women and children being held in Israeli jails in return for his release. That act, and the continued launching of Qassam rockets into Israel, had unleashed a savage response from the Israeli Government which had taken several forms, including repeated military incursions into Gaza, in which militants and civilians had been killed, houses destroyed and agricultural land bulldozed. To date, some 280 people had been killed, including 60 children, and over 900 injured. At least half those victims had been civilians. Israeli forces had also subjected Gaza to relentless bombardments and sonic booms, inflicting a reign of terror on Gaza’s population. Poverty in Gaza had reached levels such that three quarters of the population were unable to feed themselves without assistance, mainly as a result of the Israeli siege.
25. While the Israeli Government justified its actions as a security operation designed to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel and as pressure aimed at securing the release of Corporal Shalit, those actions had been excessive. Israeli forces had attacked civilian targets directly and destroyed property randomly, with no military justification. The population was facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of the destruction of power plants, water supplies, bridges and schools, the restrictions imposed on imports of medical supplies and foodstuffs and the closure of Gaza’s borders. In short, Israel had subjected the people of Gaza to collective punishment, in clear violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
26. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli Government was continuing to build a 700-kilometre security wall, 80 per cent of which was in Palestinian territory. It now acknowledged openly that the wall served the political purpose of incorporating some 190,000 settlers into Israel itself, in complete disregard of the 9 July 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stating that the wall was illegal. The wall’s humanitarian impact was severe, in that it prevented Palestinians living in the “closed zone” between the Green Line and the wall from having free access to schools, hospitals and places of employment in the West Bank, while those living alongside the wall in the West Bank could not gain access to their farms in the “closed zone” without permits from Israel, which were often refused arbitrarily. Many Palestinian farmers had thus been forced to abandon their land, becoming a new category of internally displaced persons. The staggering increase in the number of checkpoints and roadblocks had fragmented the West Bank and, in many cases, their purpose was not to enhance security but to make Palestinians continually aware of Israeli power. Israel was extending its control over the Jordan Valley. The wall being built in south Hebron separated Palestinian homes from grazing and agricultural lands, while in East Jerusalem it attached more Palestinian land to Israel.
27. Violence towards Palestinians and their property continued, as military incursions, targeted assassinations, arbitrary arrests and house demolitions continued to characterize the Israeli occupation. There were also more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.
28. While not as severe as in Gaza, a serious humanitarian crisis prevailed in the West Bank as a result largely of the suspension of funding for the Palestinian Authority since Hamas had been elected to office. As the occupied Palestinian territories had been heavily dependent on foreign funding since 1994, the suspension of funding had had a severe impact on Palestinian society. In effect, the Palestinian people had been subjected to economic sanctions, the first time that an occupied people had been treated in that way.
29. Thus, the Israeli Government flouted international law with impunity, while the Palestinian people was severely punished for having elected democratically a regime that was unacceptable to Israel, the United States and the European Union. As a member of the Quartet, which had in effect condoned the economic measures taken against the Palestinian people, the United Nations, and hence Member States, bore some of the blame for the humanitarian crisis.
30. The litany of violations of human rights and humanitarian law was difficult to reconcile with Israel’s stated commitment to the rule of law and could not be justified in terms of the war on terror. Israel was an occupying Power in an age in which military occupation of territory was no longer acceptable and it wielded its power arbitrarily, showing little compassion for those it occupied and denying them the right of self-determination.
31.31. Ms. Rasheed (Observer for Palestine) said that the Palestinian people were being subjected to economic sanctions while Israel continued to flout countless Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and the ICJ Advisory Opinion. She would therefore welcome the Special Rapporteur’s views on how the United Nations could reconcile its role as a member of the Quartet, which had recently imposed conditions on the Palestinian people that increased their suffering and hardship, with its role as an organization intended to protect the human rights of all peoples. She also wished to know what action the United Nations could take during the critical period currently faced by the Palestinian people and what the international community should do if the United Nations failed to take appropriate measures.
32. Ms. Pato (Togo) said that it seemed that certain human rights violations were considered acceptable, while others were not. He wondered what the international community’s position would have been had the situation described by the Special Rapporteur arisen in a developing country. He asked the Special Rapporteur whether he had any specific suggestions to make for securing an end to Israeli bombings and resolving the current crisis.
33. Ms. Yetken (United States of America) said that any resolution on the civilian impact of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict must include a condemnation of Palestinian acts of terror, including the numerous rocket attacks launched from Gaza into Israel following the Israeli withdrawal. Referring to the Special Rapporteur’s report, she stressed that it was her Government’s policy to support the Road Map, which imposed obligations on both parties and was the only international peace plan endorsed by them. Concerning the situation in Gaza, her Government had joined with its Quartet partners in calling on the parties fully to implement their obligations on movement and access.
34. Her Government took a different view of several issues raised in the report: the United States did not consider the ICJ Advisory Opinion to have made a useful contribution to the parties’ efforts to resolve their differences and felt that the security wall should not be construed as predetermining final status issues between them. It disagreed with the suggestion that the Road Map was out of date and needed revision. What was important was not the dates suggested for attaining individual steps, but the parties’ commitment to the steps and to the process leading to a two-State solution through dialogue and the parallel implementation of obligations. The Quartet had recently reaffirmed that commitment and welcomed the prospect of a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas in the near future.
35. Mr. Israeli (Israel) said that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which called for examining only one side of the issue, undermined honest dialogue and politicized his report. The report ignored the context of events, oversimplified the situation and was characterized by omissions and distortions. It ignored the fact that Israeli checkpoints were targets of Palestinian terrorism and that was what led to border closures which, in turn, led to the difficult humanitarian situation in which the Palestinians were living. The Palestinian leadership had stated unambiguously that their aim was bloodshed. Meanwhile, the Road Map accepted by the Quartet and the United Nations offered the best hope for a settlement.
36. Mr. Huimasalo (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked what were the most meaningful measures that could be taken by both parties to the conflict. He also requested details of the operation of the Temporary International Mechanism created to facilitate needs-based assistance to Palestine and asked whether the Special Rapporteur had any recommendations for its functioning.
37. Mr. Ramadan (Lebanon) said that there was nothing new in the Special Rapporteur’s report and that the story was the same every year. The Israeli occupation was the root cause of the problems in the occupied Palestinian territories. In the current year, many civilians had been killed, in particular, by cluster bombs dropped by Israeli forces. Two months after the end of the conflict in Lebanon, such devices were killing an average of four Lebanese civilians a day. He asked whether, in the opinion of the Special Rapporteur, those acts were gross and systematic violations of human rights.
38. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967) said that it was difficult to reconcile the United Nations role in the Quartet with its international commitments. The Quartet had condoned economic measures against the Palestinian people, which was not the same as condoning economic measures against a government. As a member of the Quartet, the United Nations had failed to follow its normal procedures in imposing economic sanctions. The Security Council should look into the matter, as there was growing concern that the Quartet was subject to the influence of certain Powers.
39. The most significant measure that the two parties could take would be to resume talks. He was not opposed to a two-State solution, but felt that the Road Map did not inspire confidence because it was under the control of the Quartet, which had not proved impartial. The issue should be returned to the Security Council as soon as possible.
40. The Temporary International Mechanism was helpful to the Palestinian people and was functioning well. It was necessary to ensure that medical supplies got through Israeli checkpoints into Gaza. Palestinian medical authorities had indicated during the summer that supplies were not being received. Funding to the Palestinian Authority had been discontinued and since the Palestinian Authority controlled health care in the Palestinian territories, that had an impact on health funding.
41.41. Israeli human rights violations were indeed systematic. His mandate was limited to investigating violations committed by Israelis, not Palestinians, although in the past the Special Rapporteur’s reports had referred to abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority. It would be helpful if Corporal Gilad Shalit was released and Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange. The Israeli argument that checkpoints were targeted by Palestinian terrorists was not a convincing one. It would also be helpful if all parties stopped using the word “terrorism”, which was not conducive to finding a political solution. The Sixth Committee had been unable to define terrorism and many people who had gained reputations as statesmen had, earlier on in their careers, been called terrorists. Israel’s use of the term risked painting the Israeli authorities into a corner, because once people were labelled terrorists, it was difficult to negotiate with them. The Road Map was indeed the only solution, but it did not give sufficient consideration to issues of human rights and self-determination.
42. Ms. Halabi (Syrian Arab Republic) said that the principal cause of the problems in the Palestinian territories was the Israeli occupation, which was supported by a super-Power. The Palestinian and Lebanese peoples were the object of State terrorism. The Israeli blockade was total and human rights, including the rights of women, were being violated under the occupation.
43. Mr. Saeed (Sudan) said that the report painted a tragic picture of human rights violations. A super-Power was using its vote in the Security Council to block resolutions that would put a stop to the violations being committed by Israel. Thus, there was a selectivity in the way in which countries were cited for human rights violations that threatened the credibility of the United Nations. The General Assembly had requested a report on Israel’s separation wall. The wall was being built, but no report had been produced. It was hard to see what measures could be taken if the occupying Power was being protected by another Power and the recommendations and proposals of the Security Council and the General Assembly were not being implemented.
44. Mr. Amorós Núñez (Cuba) said that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories was a clear example of double standards in human rights. A hypocritical silence on the Palestinian situation was typical among many of those who spoke up most often about human rights violations elsewhere. It was clear why the super-Power in question supported Israel; occupation was a component of its foreign policy. It was the aggressors who must be condemned, not the victims.
45. Mr. Hayee (Pakistan) asked whether, given the Security Council’s inability to act, the General Assembly could step in to fill the gap.
46. Ms. Gendi (Egypt) congratulated the Special Rapporteur on his strenuous efforts to address the intolerable human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. She wondered why the entire international community was not making a concerted effort to end the Israeli occupation and protect the human rights of Palestinian women and children. Not only had there been an unmistakable slackening of international political will, but human rights criteria were being applied differently from region to region. She agreed with the representative of the Sudan that United Nations credibility was at stake. Neither the in-depth study on violence against women (A/61/122/Add.1) nor that on children (A/61/299) prepared by independent experts appointed by the United Nations had made any reference to such violence perpetrated under foreign occupation.
47. Increased political will was needed to end the Israeli occupation, demolish the separation wall and start working towards a two-State solution in which Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side in peace, thereby bringing peace to the entire Middle East region, for years the indirect victim of that unjust conflict. International partners must be induced to reactivate the Road Map and assume their responsibilities. She asked the Special Rapporteur what he felt should be the next step towards a settlement of the conflict.
48. Mr. Westmoreland (Malaysia) commended the Special Rapporteur on his principled position in favour of human rights and a political solution that would allow Palestinians to exercise their right of self-determination free from human rights violations. He felt that the Special Rapporteur could be forgiven for appearing biased and having a political agenda and encouraged him to continue to discharge his mandate objectively until a just, lasting and comprehensive solution was found enabling Israel and Palestine to co- exist peacefully.
49. Ms. Hastaie (Islamic Republic of Iran) asked whether the Special Rapporteur had given any thought to seeking an expansion of his mandate to allow greater use to be made of his vast expertise and whether there was any possibility of his accompanying the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her forthcoming mission to the Middle East.
50. Mr. Al-Moqhim (Saudi Arabia) said that the Special Rapporteur’s report had portrayed honestly the plight of the Palestinian people as a result of Israel’s persistent policy of blockades and human rights violations. The Arab States had demonstrated their goodwill consistently at every level, as attested by many important initiatives, not least the Arab Peace Initiative, based on a Saudi initiative, adopted by the League of Arab States Summit in Beirut in March 2002. In view of the current situation, the international community needed to define “terrorism” and uphold peoples’ defence of their rights. Given the obstacles and difficulties faced by the Palestinian people, he would like to know what the Special Rapporteur saw as the solution, in the light of the many international resolutions adopted in support of the Palestinian people’s exercise of their rights.
51. Mr. Alakhder (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) said that the Special Rapporteur’s presentation had shown him to be the epitome of honesty, a virtue hard to find in the twenty-first century. His delegation wished to associate itself with the statements made by the representatives of the Sudan, Egypt and Lebanon.
52. Ms. Abdelhak (Algeria) said that the Special Rapporteur’s report had painted a picture of flagrant human rights violations against the Palestinian people, as well as breaches of international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel. There had been no follow-up to the strongly worded resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2002 at its tenth emergency special session on illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
53. Ms. Rasheed (Observer for Palestine) said that the Israeli delegation’s practice of attacking the work of United Nations officials should not be allowed to continue in the Third Committee. The representative of Israel must remember that the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was restricted to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and that Israel was the occupying Power. The Israeli Government had inflicted untold suffering on the Palestinian people and if it objected to the Special Rapporteur’s work, it should end its violations. Had Israel not been occupying Palestine, there would be no need for a Special Rapporteur.
54. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967), replying to the representative of Iran, said that he did not consider it helpful for his mandate to be expanded or for the same person to investigate violations by Israelis and Palestinians. Should a decision be taken to investigate violations by the Palestinian Authority, another special rapporteur would have to be appointed.
55. He hoped that the High Commissioner’s forthcoming mission to the occupied territories would succeed where he had failed. He was not so deluded as to think that his mission had been successful and he would not accompany the High Commissioner on her mission, lest it be tainted by his presence.
56. Regrettably, the dialogue in the Third Committee and in the Commission on Human Rights had been used over the years as an opportunity for “Israel-bashing”. The dispute should not be seen as one between the Arab States and Cuba on the one hand and Israel on the other, often backed by the United States and the European Union. The situation in the Palestinian territories was a matter of concern to all Member States, which led him to wonder what the silent majority thought and whether they shared the views of the Arab States. The international community as a whole was concerned at the treatment meted out to the Palestinian people and the credibility of the entire human rights movement was at stake in Palestine. A similar situation in South Africa had long since been resolved, the Northern Ireland question appeared to be on course for a solution and it was to be hoped that the Israel-Palestine conflict would also be settled in the near future.
57. He could not endorse the rebuke levelled at the representative of Israel by the Observer for Palestine. Freedom of speech being the order of the day, he accepted any criticisms that that representative might wish to make. However, he felt that other delegations should participate more actively in the debate, with a view to finding a solution. As for what he saw as the solution, he was not an expert on international politics, his mandate being restricted to human rights. His criticism of the Quartet had stemmed from its failure to pay adequate attention to human rights concerns. He appealed to members of the international community, acting through the General Assembly, to bring pressure to bear on the Security Council to become more involved in the issue and to assume its responsibility for finding a solution.
58. Mr. Cumberbatch (Cuba) said that Cubans did not go in for Israel-bashing but that, because they had themselves suffered under conquest and occupation, they felt enormous solidarity with the Palestinian people, the same solidarity that they had shown when apartheid forces had invaded Angola and impeded the self-determination of Namibia. His Government’s firmly held convictions had not changed since January 1959.
59. Ms. Hastaie (Islamic Republic of Iran) said that the Special Rapporteur had misinterpreted her question regarding a possible expansion of his mandate. She had merely wished to know whether the limitations of his mandate, to which he had referred, undermined his effectiveness and whether its expansion would afford him a better grasp of the international community’s concerns.
60. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that he was relieved to hear that clarification. What did place serious limitations on his mandate was the Israeli Government’s refusal to cooperate with him. While he acknowledged that Israel had placed no obstacles in the way of his visits to the region, it had only itself to blame when it accused him of partiality and bias. He had never been able to speak to any Israeli Government officials, although he had addressed the Knesset and had communicated at length with Israeli non-governmental organizations. Conversely, he had been able to speak freely to both the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. The problem was not his mandate, but his inability to speak to the authorities of one of the parties.
61. In conclusion, he commended the delegation of Cuba for regularly airing its misgivings even though, unlike the Arab States that frequently did so, it had no clear, demonstrable interest in the issue. He would like to see other States make a similar contribution to what was, in effect, a global threat to world peace. He urged the silent majority to impress upon their Governments the need to be more vocal in the debate on that issue.
The meeting rose at 5.40 p.m.
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Corrections will be issued after the end of the session, in a separate corrigendum for each Committee.