Press Release

31 March 2003


Minister of Justice of Togolese Republic Speaks

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 31 March (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights heard this afternoon from experts assigned to investigate situations in Burundi and Myanmar as it carried on with discussion under its agenda item on the "Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world".


Earlier in the afternoon, the Commission completed debate under its agenda item on "the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine", hearing from series of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).


Statements on Situation in Occupied Arab Territories

MME MELINDA CHING, of Amnesty International, said the situation in Israel and the occupied territories continued to be one of the most discussed but least acted on.  The resolutions passed by the Commission last year had been disregarded, as had been scores of other UN resolutions passed over the past three decades.   In the past year killings had escalated, with frequent bombardments, shelling and shooting by the Israel army into densely populated Palestinian refugee camps and residential areas, and recurring suicide bombings and shooting attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians.  In the past two and a half years the killing of some 2,000 Palestinians, including some 350 children, and the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and large areas of agricultural land had not brought security to Israel.  On the contrary, these violations had fueled the spiral of violence.

Curfews and closures had confined millions of Palestinian children and adults to virtual house or town arrest.  By these sweeping measures of collective punishment, children and youth had been denied their right to education, the sick had been denied their right to medical care and workers had been denied their right to work.  As a result, more than half of the Palestinian population was now living below the poverty line and malnutrition and other health problems had sharply increased.    The impunity afforded to those responsible for human rights violations encouraged further violations. Israeli soldiers who committed gross violations and war crimes enjoyed impunity while Israelis who refused to serve in the occupied territories were imprisoned.

MME HASSIBA HADJ SAHRAOUI, of International Commission of Jurists, said that since the last session of the Commission, the situation in the occupied territories remained tragic and violations of human rights were carried out with impunity.  The authors of such violations of human rights must be brought to justice.  War crimes could not be committed in response to other war crimes, and the indiscriminate use of force was unacceptable.

Concern was raised about the fact that practices such as torture and extrajudicial killings were still carried out.  Israel practiced a policy of sealing off areas of disturbance, enforcing a total ban of movement, which went against the right to movement as well as the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.  The ICJ commended Israeli conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the Occupied Territories.  The Commission was urged to call upon both Israel and Palestine and remind them that they were responsible for war crimes.  The Commission was also urged to establish an international monitoring mission in the Occupied Territories and in Israel.  

M. MOHAMMED FAYEK, of Arab Organization for Human Rights, said Israeli occupation of the regions under the Palestinian self-rule had intensified since the end of the 58th session of the Commission.  The vicious war against the Palestinian people to stop their protesting movement against the occupation had also escalated.  Efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to the Middle East conflict had been all but frozen, by tying the settlements to impossible conditions and by diverting attention from the real problem, which was the occupation, to the issue of Palestinian reforms.   The policy of Israel in the territories was characterized by killing and assassination of leaders, the destruction of buildings, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of land and other crimes against humanity.

The Commission was urged to demand the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied territories, to demand the protection for civilians, and to condemn the Israeli occupation.

M. DAVID LITTMAN, of World Union for Progressive Judaism, said the miseries of the Palestinians resulted from a corrupt leadership. There had been many crucial moments when the road to peace was deliberately blocked by those leaders who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  After deliberately igniting a second Intifadah instead of staying on the train of history when it stopped at Camp David, and again at Taba, Arafat preferred to welcome Hamas back into the fold.

The incumbent Palestinian leader had repeatedly sent warm greetings to Saddam Hussein, thanking him for praising the families of Jihadist bombers with $25,000 cheques.  Yesterday, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing of a café in Netanya, calling this loathsome act a gift to the people of Iraq.  The Palestinian Authority would only become a genuine partner with Israel if there was a radical break with Hamas and all ill-minded genocidal rejectionists and if a new genuine democratic spirit of mutual acceptance prevailed. 

MME EMMANUELLE WERNER, of Human Rights Watch, said Commission members were acutely aware of the nature and extent of ongoing violations of human rights and of the laws of war in the Occupied Territories and in Israel.  Last year's meeting had taken place during the pain, fear and anger caused by human rights and humanitarian law abuses committed during Israeli military operations in Jenin and other towns and villages in the occupied West Bank.  Still, today, civilians were suffering repeated, egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israel Defence Forces and Palestinian armed groups.

Human Rights Watch strongly deplored actions by the State of Israel that disproportionately harmed civilians.  It also condemned in the strongest terms the resort by armed Palestinians to suicide bombings deliberately aimed at Israeli civilians.  No matter how desperate or helpless the situation, there must be a permanent halt to such attacks.  International human rights monitors must be dispatched urgently to Israel and the occupied territories to restore respect for human rights and humanitarian law standards, and to better protect civilians.  The Security Council must be authorized to establish an international observer mission without further delay. 

International Save the Children Alliance expressed concern about the situation of Palestinian and Israeli children.  All parties to the conflict were ignoring children’s rights.  The increasing violence affecting civilians, including children, the tightened closures and curfews, and the worsening economic situation were resulting in increasing poverty, chronic deterioration of service provision and the undermining of national institutions.  The Palestinian Authority was barely able to provide emergency service and increasingly Palestinians were dependent on international humanitarian assistance for their survival.  This was jeopardizing children’s human rights.

The Alliance wished to bring to the attention of the Commission this deteriorating situation affecting Palestinian children, particularly their rights to protection, health and education, with special regard to children with disabilities.  Save the Children called on the Commission to insist on the Israeli Government acting in accordance with its obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law; to request that Israeli military forces withdraw from Palestinian areas and put an end to the policy of closures and curfews affecting Palestinian children; and to urge the Government of Israel to immediately withdraw from schools currently used as military bases or detention centres and to ensure full and safe access to schools for all children.

World Federation of Trade Unions said that for his organization, the death perpetrated by Israel against the Arab population in the occupied territories was a deliberate act.  On the international scene, one was also witnessing threat and aggression by a North American State against Iraq, with the connivance of the Zionist authorities and to their benefit.  Workers and their families were among the population killed daily.  Regrettably, the media was silent on the issue.

The Federation had witnessed the violence perpetrated by Israel against the population in Gaza and West Bank since 12 April 2002, which had drawn the attention of the Commission last year.  Israel had reoccupied the main Palestinian cities and had even besieged the offices of President Yassir Arafat, and had destroyed many of the buildings.  The acts of Israel could be equated to State terrorism.

Federation de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos said numerous resolutions by the Security Council on the occupied territories had not been implemented, thus undermining the credibility of the Council and discrediting the message of the United Nations in the eyes of international public opinion.  Israel continued to turn a deaf ear to the will of the international community and had demonstrated that it had no intention of implementing the Oslo Agreements.

Israel had intensified its occupation through the expansion of settlements, the destruction of agricultural land, the confiscation of lands, the imposition of closures and by violation of the right to freedom of movement. The lack of a negotiating spirit on the part of Israel demonstrated that it had not the least intention of respecting the agreements that it had signed.  The United Nations should set up an urgent mechanism to uphold international legality and force Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories.

International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples said that for many years resolutions had been passed by the Security Council, incidentally also by the Commission, calling upon Israel to stop its arbitrary practices and to withdraw.  From 1951 to 2003, 73 resolutions had been passed, but alas, to no avail.  The Israeli troops continued to occupy virtually every Palestinian population centre on the West Bank and to maintain a system of checkpoints, security cordons and curfews in the rest of the Palestinian territories.  Military attacks against Palestinian economic establishments, installations and houses continued and people were prohibited from leaving their homes to go to work or to shop.  The transport of relief provisions had been made difficult, if not impossible, and the same applied to medical treatment.  Land had been confiscated for the expansion of settlements.  All this had occurred amidst the indifference of the international community.

Little wonder then that the Palestinians had reacted to this increasing violence by resorting to retaliation and to bloodshed.   The Commission had a duty to transcend the situation as it appeared today and reach down to its roots.  It must be clear that the horrendous escalation in the conflict was mainly engendered by the disproportionate and repeated use of the mighty Israeli weaponry against civilians

International Organization for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination said that in accordance with the gloomy events and insane trends that had been taking place, especially during the last few months, one could anticipate a disaster to hit humanity as long as things continued to run in this twisted fashion, which strayed from all concepts and principles of rationality and good judgement.  The speaker admitted that he no longer understood anything in relation to where the world was being led.  By playing the war drums day and night, what were the objectives that the United States and Britain wanted to achieve in Iraq and other Arab countries?  Why did they spread fear and injustice in that region and the rest of the world? Was it for oil?  Oil, which they got cheaper than bottled water?  Did they want to control the oil resources in order to control the future of the whole world and fulfil their arrogant objective of achieving hegemonic domination in order to serve their ill-motivated self-interest? 

Those who were leading the war campaign must tell the world why they kept silent about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction and its huge stock of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.  Why did they not stop Israel from killing the helpless Palestinians, invading their towns and villages, bulldozing their homes and uprooting their trees?  Civil society and non-governmental organizations must take up the challenge of asking for answers, and jointly voice their strong opposition by saying no to double standards, no to war, no to destruction and hegemony.

Arab Lawyers Union said the world was witnessing a grave situation of a social and economic nature, in addition to the violation of human rights of Palestinians.  The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories had deteriorated and the aggression by Israel had continued, with the connivance of the present superpower.  The State of Israel had employed all means to curb the Intifada and to demolish the Palestinian Authority.  It had also made all efforts to discredit the Authority.

Only withdrawal from the Palestinian territories by Israel could enable Palestinians to establish their own State.  Israel should also withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights, which it also was occupying by force.

Simon Wiesenthal Centre said a UN agency -- the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) -- was the only key service provider to much of the population in the Palestinian territories, whose population was being deprived of its human rights.  After 55 years of stagnation, it was time to ask whether UNRWA had not served to perpetuate Palestinian refugee status by discouraging self-development and preventing international, including Israeli, efforts during the Oslo process to provide the infrastructure for normalization.  It was time to ask if, rather, UNRWA was serving the policies of Arab neighbours opposed to integration of the refugees in order to stoke the ever-festering conflict.  Discouraging resettlement, the agency had kept the refugees and their descendants in a frozen state of limbo.

The United Nations had every interest in abating the funds granted to UNRWA, when other Palestine Authority budgets, in turn, were siphoned off for terrorism, hate-programming in schools or to Arafat regime officials' offshore accounts. 

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said Israel did not have legitimate status under international law as a belligerent occupier, and its ongoing illegal occupation violated Palestinians’ rights, including their right to self-determination.  The illegality of Israel’s occupation was evidenced primarily by the illegal purposes used for the occupation, namely the illegal annexation of Palestinian land for Israel.   It was also evidenced by the gross violations of international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law committed by the occupation forces.

The factual evidence of the illegal annexationists’ designs included Israel’s prolonged occupation, the confiscation of land and water supplies, the establishment and expansion of settlements, and war crimes perpetrated against civilians.  The Commission was urged to reaffirm the illegality of the occupation and to call for an end to Israeli denial of Palestinian rights. 

United Nations Watch said Israel alone was scrutinized and condemned under item 8.  The rest of the world was examined under item 9.  There was no justification for this separate treatment, only an explanation -- it served the political interests of an influential number of the members of the Commission.  The Commission was asked to imagine what other issues might be considered, issues of greater importance to a greater number of people.  If this Commission was concerned about human rights -- including the right to life -- then item 8 might instead be devoted to the pandemic of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.  Since September 2000, almost 3,000 Israelis and Palestinian had been killed.  By comparison, almost 6 million African had died from AIDS over the same period, and over 29 per cent of Africans were living with HIV/AIDS today.

What about hunger?  Was it necessary to remind the Commission that 38 million Africans were in the grip of a vast hunger crisis?  Yet the Commission spent more time talking about the status of the Golan Heights than the imminent threat of mass starvation -- one topic of many under item 10.  Throughout the world, there were 25 million internally displaced persons and 20 million refugees whose fate would be discussed under subsection C of item 14.  The Commission was urged to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict in an appropriate, non-political manner under item 9.

Society for Threatened Peoples, said that the Society was extremely concerned by the current human rights situation in the Israeli-occupied areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the autonomous areas under Palestinian rule.  The Society condemned all violations of human rights by both parties to the conflict.  All Palestinians were suffering greatly as a result of restrictions on their freedom of movement.  Deaths had resulted because medical treatment had been delayed or obstructed.

The Fourth Geneva Conventions prohibited collective punishment, yet the Israeli army destroyed houses, used bulldozers to lay waste to agricultural land, and uprooted trees,  That was a violation of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibited the destruction by an occupying power of movable or immovable property.  The construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories had without doubt been a decisive fact in the intensification of the conflict and ran counter to the principles of international law enshrined in the Convention.

Rights of reply

A Representative of the United States, speaking in right of reply, said President Bush had reaffirmed his commitment to two States.  However, this vision, outlined in the Road Map Plan, could not materialize as long as violence continued.  The actions of the Commission, which cast all blame on Israel, were unfair and unbalanced.  Furthermore, the United States did not believe that the Commission should devote a separate agenda item to Israel.   Its decision to appoint a Special Rapporteur with an open-ended mandate to investigate violations of human rights only by Israel and not by the Palestinian Authority, was also unbalanced.  The actions of the Commission and the inflammatory and reckless language used here would not advance the cause of peace, but only foment hatred.

A Representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said Syrian claims that Israeli Arabs could not build houses were ludicrous.  Some speakers had referred to a double standard at the United Nations.  Indeed, there was a double standard, one standard for all and another standard regarding Israel.  Many examples of this double standard had been manifested in recent days.  When discussing self-determination, there was one standard, which recognized self-determination for all, except the Jewish people and for the State of Israel.  When discussing human rights violations in the world, there was one standard for 192 member States of the United Nations under item 9, whereas a separate standard was created for one country alone -- Israel.  When nominating a Special Rapporteur, there was one standard for all, but when concerning Israel, the mandate was open-ended, one-sided and inherently flawed.  The principle of “no naming and no shaming” applied to all delegations with the exception of Israel.  There was also a double standard regarding regional groupings.  Israel had been excluded from equal membership to any regional group.  Also, when a country implemented a United Nations resolution it was duly commended in this hall, but such standards did not apply to Israel.  There was a double standard concerning the definition of terrorism.  When civilians were attacked anywhere on the globe, it was terrorism.  When Israeli children were blown to pieces, it was described by some as legitimate resistance.

A Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, speaking in right of reply, said that it was unfortunate that Israel was celebrating "Land Day", while many Arabs were deprived of land and houses.  The houses of the Arab-Palestinians were built long ago and they were not recent.  When an American woman was attempting to protect a Palestinian house from being demolished, she was killed.  Israel was continuously misleading its friends by accusing Syria of receiving terrorists and providing arms to Iraq.  The Arab Summit held in Lebanon had offered an initiative which might have led to a peaceful settlement of the question of the occupied territories. 

The Representative of Israel, in a second right of reply, responding to the statement by Syria, said that indeed Israel wanted to make peace with Syria and the Arab world, but not on unilateral terms.  The fact that the Arab League presented an initiative did not mean that Israel had to accept it unconditionally and without negotiation.  The Commission confused the true nature of Israeli society.  Israeli Arabs had marked land day since 1967, not since 1948.  It was necessary to ask members of the Commission whether they could cite the last date of a demonstration in Syria against the regime.  Rather than make eloquent speeches against terrorism, Syria should arrest and close the offices of terrorist organizations operating in Damascus.  Such measures would be much more constructive than rights of reply given in the Commission.

The Representative of Syria, in a second right of reply, responding to the statement made by Israel, said the Israelis were denying the fact that the people they were talking about were Palestinians, not Arab Israelis.  These were the people who had been deprived of their right to build their houses by the occupying power.  Israel did not recognize them, and they did not even receive power supplies.  Why were these people celebrating the land day?  It was because Israel had deprived them from land, and when they had protested they had been met with bullets.  Israel wanted peace on its own conditions, not on the conditions of the United Nations.  The land being discussed had been occupied since 1967 despite all the United Nations resolutions.


Question of Violation of Human Rights in Any Part of the World


There is a report of the Secretary-General on the human rights situation of Lebanese detainees in Israel (document E/CN.4/2003/32) which explains that the Secretary-General had been requested to bring a resolution by the same name to the attention of the Government of Israel and that a note verbale had been sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel, requesting information concerning the extent of the implementation of the resolution.  No reply had been received at the time of the preparation of the present report. 


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For information media - not an official record