Question of Palestine home
S/PV.6354 (Resumption 1)
7 July 2010
Wednesday, 7 July 2010, 3.10 p.m.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ms. Li Xinyan
Mr. Sánchez Colín
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
United States of America
Protection of civilians in armed conflict
The meeting resumed at 3.10 p.m.
In the face of asymmetric warfare, which is a new and complex phenomenon that the international community has yet to address, regular armies increasingly find themselves fighting paramilitary terrorists or guerrilla organizations that deliberately operate in the vicinity of civilians in densely populated urban settings. While the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians under the laws of armed conflict remain of paramount importance, it has been challenged time and again by developments in modern warfare.
The dilemmas inherent in asymmetric warfare, especially in a situation where terrorists intentionally draw civilians into armed conflict, using them as human shields, warrants close, candid and serious consideration by the Council, taking into account that there are no easy answers, no simple formulas, nor any mathematical certainty in calculating the tragic toll on civilian lives in any given armed conflict. It further requires international lawyers and policymakers to grapple with the reality on the ground, intricate and complex as it may be.
Although asymmetric warfare has unfortunately become characteristic of the challenges facing Israel in its fight against terrorism in Gaza, it features in many other situations around the world, with similar modus operandi and warfare tactics employed by terrorists, including the deliberate placement of civilians in the vicinity of military targets, turning residential neighbourhoods into combat zones, firing rockets and mortar shells from within civilian population centres and using mosques, hospitals and educational institutions as locations for storing weapons and terrorist infrastructure, to mention but a few.
From our own experience, the blatant disregard by terrorists of the sanctity of human life is not restricted to civilians of their adversary, but is also extended to their own populations. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terrorists use similar tactics to launch rockets and mortars from densely populated areas, while turning the civilians’ homes from which they operate into a battlefield.
In Lebanon, Hizbullah, just as Hamas in Gaza, maintains its military activity within the fabric of civilian life. Only a few days ago, Hizbullah yet again demonstrated its disregard of civilians when its operatives organized and actively encouraged Lebanese residents and Hizbullah activists to stage seemingly spontaneous violent riots of protest against the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, to be followed by numerous incidents directed at these forces, which consequently took place on 3 July. Those orchestrated incidents by Hizbullah against United Nations peacekeepers violates resolution 1701 (2006). Israel expects that these incidents will be addressed in the upcoming briefing to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), which is scheduled for next week.
Israel also wishes to pay tribute to, and express its continuing support for, the work of humanitarian agencies that provide essential services on the ground. Israel’s continued efforts to facilitate humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including, most recently, the expanded opening of crossing points and the lifting of restrictions on products, are indicative of its genuine efforts to alleviate the hardship of the civilian population subjected to the control and manipulation of the hostile terrorist entity.
However, we must not ignore the fact that terrorists often abuse access privileges, which greatly endangers humanitarian workers and obstructs the movement of aid. Under international humanitarian law, the right to free movement of humanitarian personnel is subject to military necessities and security considerations, among them the safety of the humanitarian personnel themselves and the need to prevent the abuse of humanitarian channels.
Ultimately, any candid assessment of the challenges and dilemmas involved in the protection of civilians in contemporary battlefields as well as the applicable rules of the laws of armed conflict must properly address and balance between several key concepts and principles, including military necessity, humanity, distinction and proportionality, as well as the recognition that civilians too have the responsibility not to abuse their protected status to take direct part in hostilities.
Israel’s Supreme Court has had to address such real and practical challenges during active warfare and combat activities, at times even at the expense of suspending military operations. In seeking a balance between competing security and humanitarian considerations, the protection of civilians resurfaces throughout the Court’s extensive jurisprudence on this matter, shedding light on the dilemmas involved in finding an appropriate balance within the framework of the rule of law.
Israel, for its part, will continue to engage in this critical debate and share its experience as part of its commitment to ensuring the protection of civilians amid hostilities and warfare and as part of its commitment to the rule of law.
As we debate the subject of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, we understand, or should understand, that this is not a debate on the protection of civilians in all situations. There are some strict applications and criteria. Perhaps we should have heard more mention of parts of the world where innocent people continue to suffer because of their inability to exercise their right to self-determination and the lack of judicial succour. Maybe the mention of the attack on the humanitarian flotilla in international waters off the coast of Gaza, which was an act of wilful intent, and the continuing violations in Palestine could have been portrayed a little better. But as far as we are concerned, we have the very difficult task of eliminating the scourge of international terrorism from our territories and of protecting not only ourselves but the world.
Mr. Valero Briceño
(Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) (
spoke in Spanish
When it comes to providing support to a people, there is near unanimity as to the serious violation of human rights and international humanitarian law by the State of Israel through its occupation of Gaza. Why do we not then protect the Palestinian people and decisively help them to become a sovereign State?
(Syrian Arab Republic) (
spoke in Arabic
I also wish to express our gratitude to the Council for convening this meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, in particular at such a critical time of unprecedented violations of the rights of the Palestinian people in general, and in particular those in the Gaza Strip. Those violations stem from Israel’s barbaric aggression, which includes the ongoing blockade of Gaza, preventing the arrival of humanitarian assistance for civilians and attacks on ships and international peace activists transporting that aid.
I would like here to raise some of the same questions that many other Member States have asked. Are not the 12,000 prisoners held in Israeli jails civilians? Are not the Syrian inhabitants of the occupied Golan Heights civilians? Are not the more than 500 killed and injured as a result of Israeli mines planted in the occupied Golan Heights civilians? Do they not deserve protection? Are not those who daily face the most severe violations of their rights in the occupied Arab territories civilians? Are not the children, women and older persons who are deprived of more than 7,000 basic commodities, including chocolate, mayonnaise and other necessities, civilians? And not the people of occupied Jerusalem, whom the Israeli occupying authorities are daily expelling from their houses and their occupied city, civilians?
Were not the Lebanese who were killed by Israeli forces while seeking protection in United Nations facilities in Qana in 1996 civilians? Were those civilians launching rockets against Israel as they sought refuge in the United Nations compound? Or were United Nations forces in Qana and Gaza using those civilians as human shields? The same questions could be asked with regard to Palestinian civilians who were killed by attacking Israeli forces in Gaza during the aggression of 2008 and 2009 as they sought shelter in the schools of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip.
The Security Council adopted resolution 1894 (2009) on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Council’s consideration of the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and two years after the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip and its civilian population. Since the adoption of that resolution, with which the Council has systematically dealt with on a daily basis, the Israeli aggression against the rights of civilians in Gaza has continued.
Those violations are in evidence in the blockade and in the hunger and injustice that prevail there. To date, the United Nations as a whole, including the Council, has failed to ensure the entry of basic materials necessary to rebuild UNRWA schools destroyed by Israel, in spite of the fact that resolution 1894 (2009) urged the parties to take all necessary measures to respect the rights of civilians, protect them and provide for their basic needs.
In addition to continuing to refuse to comply with that and previous resolutions, Israel is also continuing its aggressive policies against Palestinian civilians. Those include the blockade, the closing of crossing points, detentions, denial of the freedom of movement, refusing to allow students to receive medical treatment and obstacles to the flow of international assistance, not to mention the deplorable conditions of civilians in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Israel’s actions have even affected humanitarian activists of various nationalities from the freedom flotilla, who attempted to provide assistance to the people of Gaza. Israel confronted the flotilla with acts of aggression that led to the death of nine civilians, who were only guilty of trying to provide medical and humanitarian assistance to people subjected to a blockade. All the requests, resolutions and international calls have failed to alleviate their suffering.
We do not know how much longer we can turn a blind eye to Israel’s inhuman actions, which constitute a unique case of systematic wholesale violation of every principle, norm and law enshrined in international agreements. The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, has in its two reports provided compelling evidence of Israel’s violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international humanitarian law during its aggression on Gaza. As described by Justice Goldstone himself, those violations could be considered as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
We wonder about the Council’s response to all the facts contained in an international report accepted by the Human Rights Council and the relevant United Nations agencies, as well as about its response to the hundreds of reports and conclusions by other international fact-finding commissions and Special Rapporteurs, such as Richard Falk, Jean Ziegler and John Dugard, among others. The same war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians have also been committed against the Syrian people of the occupied Golan Heights. They are therefore dual crimes, and the Council should deal with them appropriately. We say they are dual because, as we all know, Israel annexed the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and Jerusalem despite the existence of two Council resolutions condemning that annexation and requesting Israel to abolish all legislation imposed on the two occupied territories.
Israel is continuing its oppression of the civilian Syrian population of the occupied Syrian Golan, detaining them in prisons without any legal grounds and in violation of all legal and moral principles. In essence, they have been placed under house arrest. For example, house arrest was imposed for years against Fahd Shokir, a two-year-old child, under the pretext that he had been born outside Israeli territory while his parents were studying in Syria.
In order to give credibility to this debate, Syria calls upon the Council to compel Israel to allow without delay the resumption of visits by Syrian citizens to residents of the occupied Syrian Golan through the Quneitra crossing. We have addressed messages in that regard to the Secretary-General, the President of the Security Council, the President of the General Assembly and the relevant international Governmental and non-governmental organizations.
We hope that they will translate into deeds the statements that we have heard during this and other meetings. Will the Security Council move from debate and declarations to committing itself to the implementation of its promises and resolutions? That is the question with which I wish to conclude my statement.
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