Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

22 November 2000


Reviews Status of Working Group on Individual Complaints

The Committee against Torture this morning postponed a discussion on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories until its next session.

Committee Expert Sayed Kassem el Masry presented a motion to his colleagues based on information from an Amnesty International report about the violence in the occupied territories. Mr. El Masry suggested that the Committee ask Israel, which is scheduled to present a periodic report to the panel at its next session, to present an additional report on the situation in the occupied territories and the manner in which Israeli armed forces were maintaining order.

In the absence of a consensus on the motion, the Committee voted with a hand vote of seven for and one against to postpone the issue to its next session.

Also this morning, the Committee was told that there was sufficient funding available for it to hold a pre-sessional working group on article 22 of the Convention against Torture, under which the panel considers individual complaints.

The Committee decided at a meeting on 18 May to establish such a working group, to begin operations in 2002, contingent on financial resources being available. The panel requested that such a working group, consisting of four of the Committee's 10 Experts, meet for five days before each session of the Committee.

A representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was not anticipated that the decision by the Committee would require additional resources to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2002-2003.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. to issue conclusions and recommendations on a report of Canada and to continue consideration of a report from Guatemala.

Discussion on Motion Concerning Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories

Committee Expert SAYED KASSEM EL MASRY said he wished to deposit with the Secretariat a report of Amnesty International on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, so that it could be distributed to members in their working languages. In the last seven weeks, more than 230 Palestinians, one third of them children, had been killed by Israeli security forces, and there were strong indications that the Israeli forces were targeting the young; that they were using excessive and indiscriminate force and collective punishment; and that their response constituted acts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of the Convention against Torture. The Amnesty International report cited concern that Israeli forces had repeatedly resorted to excessive lethal force in circumstances in which neither the lives of the security forces nor other lives were in imminent danger, that security forces had impeded access of the wounded to medical assistance in a number of cases, that warning shots were not fired before shots were aimed at heads and chests, and that there were some indications that there was a deliberate, premeditated policy of the Government to kill between five and 10 Palestinians per day. Mr. El Masry said he thought the least the Committee could do was to ask Israel to submit a response with regard to the information contained in the report of Amnesty International and to ask Israel to take immediate action to ensure that security forces complied with international standards governing the conduct of law-enforcement officials. He suggested that the Committee ask Israel, which is scheduled to present a periodic report to the panel at its next session, to present an additional report on the situation in the occupied territories and the manner in which Israeli armed forces were maintaining order.

One Expert responded by saying that many non-governmental organizations had conducted preliminary investigations into the events in the occupied Palestinian territories, and that the conclusions they had reached varied. There were reports of excesses from both sides. She also pointed out that the United Nations system, from Secretary-General Kofi Annan downwards, had been involved in this situation from the start. And the report on the visit of High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to the territories was not yet available. She wondered that all things considered, what else could the Committee add to this issue. Which articles in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment justified the Committee's request of an additional report from Israel. The Committee should wait for the next periodic report from the concerned State party and examine it the same way it examined other reports, without singling out that country for special treatment.

Another Expert echoed the comments, adding that adopting this motion could bring about accusations against the Committee that it did not take similar action on worse situations in other countries. As the Committee only met five weeks a year, it could not keep track of developments in this field all year round, and therefore it could be accused of being biased against certain countries.

An Expert suggested that the Committee had to proceed carefully and had to refrain from politicizing this debate. The Committee was a technical body, the Expert said, adding that the Commission on Human Rights was a political body which was better equipped to undertake such issues.

The Committee could not take up the issue under article 22 of the Convention, concerning individual complaints, because Israel had not made the declaration on this article, one Expert pointed out. In response, another Expert said article 75 of the rules of the Committee allowed it to take action on a situation on the basis of preliminary information and to request further information from the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Mr. El Masry concluded by saying that many other non-governmental organizations had issued reports which corroborated the information in the Amnesty International report, an NGO which was highly regarded by the Committee's Experts as accurate and unbiased. Even the resolution of the Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation had spoken in detail about Israel's use of excessive force. This was not an armed conflict, but rather a brutal use of force by the Israeli troops. This situation came under the mandate of the Committee against Torture.

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