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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS


17 October 2000

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OPENS SPECIAL SESSION
ON VIOLENCE IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

High Commissioner for Human Rights Proposes Inquiry into Recent Violence


The Commission on Human Rights opened this morning a Special Session on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, hearing calls for international action to end violence in the region and for an inquiry into a recent resurgence of conflict.

Among those addressing the meeting were Giorgio Giacomelli, the Commission's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who had been on mission to the region from 11 to 15 October. Mr. Giacomelli said, among other things, that he had noted a great deal of aggression and anger, easily ignited on either side, and that excessive use of force and the prevalence of weapons on both sides was leading to startling violations of human rights.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said the key to a peaceful and stable future lay in developing a culture of human rights and tolerance, and that an objective independent inquiry into the situation might assist in resolving issues still under dispute. The Commission might carry out such an inquiry or mandate one of its human-rights components to participate in or support such an investigation, Mrs. Robinson said. Her call for an inquiry was echoed by several States.

A representative of Palestine said Palestine had no army and owned no weapons with which to resist Israeli attacks; that children as young as 10 years old had been deliberately killed by Israeli soldiers; and that lasting peace in the region could only be achieved by Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and by establishment of a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital.

A representative of Israel contended that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had failed to respond to far-reaching peace proposals recently made by Israel and had yet to make a public call for an end to the violence; that Palestinian officials in fact had helped to incite the violence; and that by doing so they had broken numerous terms of peace treaties signed by Palestine.

The Special Session, the fifth in the Commission's history, was requested by Algeria on behalf of the League of Arab States, and was authorized after 47 supporting signatures were obtained from the Commission's membership of 53 States.

Also speaking over the course of the morning session were representatives of Tunisia (on behalf of the Arab Group), Malaysia, Indonesia (on behalf of the Asian Group), Bangladesh, China, the United States, Algeria, Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Switzerland, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Cuba.

Palestine made a statement in right of reply.

The Special Session of the Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue hearing statements on the violence in the occupied territories.

Statements

SHAMBHU RAM SIMKHADA, Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, said the fact that 90 per cent of the Commission's members had supported convening the Special Session indicated the seriousness of the matter under discussion. There were heightened tensions in the region, and violence there must end. The Secretary-General had appealed to all involved to stop and think about what they were doing today and what kind of future they wanted for their children tomorrow, and that subject should be the focus of everyone's concerns. Negotiations were under way to try to establish a situation of peace. All must act to respect life, renounce violence, and return to rational discourse.

The Commission's role was precisely defined, Mr. Simkhada said; it was not meeting to duplicate efforts made elsewhere, but to consider the situation solely from a human-rights perspective.

MARY ROBINSON, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was important for the Commission to discuss ways and means through which exacerbation of the situation on the ground could be avoided in the future through early warning and preventive measures. One lesson from the situation was that the descent into violence was rapid and the situation seemed to have run away from the parties. She was convinced that neither side -- not the Israelis, not the Palestinians -- wanted the current situation. The key to a peaceful and stable future lay in developing a culture of human rights and tolerance; the immediate priority was for all the violence to stop so that the peace process could continue.

The Commission's Special Rapporteur had visited the area and would brief everyone, Mrs. Robinson said. She had urged the Israeli authorities to meet with the Special Rapporteur, but without success.

From the information available, it appeared the crisis followed the conclusion of the Camp David meetings and was based on popular frustration at the impasse apparently reached in the peace negotiations, the High Commissioner said. There were a number of increasingly violent incidents, including deaths of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators, and unfortunately, among the more than 100 Palestinians killed were some 22 children. Questions had been raised about the proportionality of the response on the part of the Israeli Defence Forces.

An objective independent inquiry into the events of the past weeks might assist in resolving issues still under dispute, Mrs. Robinson said; such an inquiry would need an appropriate entity to conduct it, and the Commission might be such a body, or might mandate one of its human-rights components to participate in or support such an inquiry.

Meanwhile, all concerned must place protection of human life at the top of the agenda; must respect international human rights and humanitarian law; must follow relevant provisions of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions; must put an end to instances of torture, disappearance, or indiscriminate killings; must protect children, among other things by taking them out of the front lines; and must engage in deep reflection in an effort to promote tolerance and harmony among two kindred peoples.

GIORGIO GIACOMELLI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said that the present situation called for him to visit the area where violence had occurred. During his mission, he focused on and tried to identify the most important and immediate causes of the current violence. A mass of information was available, yet he was unable to receive information from official Israeli sources. On the ground, he found a lot of aggression and anger, easily ignited on either side.

He underlined the excessive use of force that increased the violence and civil unrest. In his report from his fact-finding mission, he had laid out some recommendations that he hoped would help develop a stronger peace process, encompassing human rights which should be behind all economic and cultural decisions made on both sides.

MOHAMED HALLEM BEN SALEM (Tunisia) thanked the Member States of the Commission for agreeing to convene the Special Session on the tragic events taking place in Palestine. The violations committed against the Palestinian people by the State of Israel affected all Arab people, and the suffering of the Palestinians was creating more indignation against Israel, and not just in the Arab States. International agreements and declarations had been flaunted by the Israelis, and that country had embarked on a policy of violence. The Palestinians were fighting for their dignity against repression.

The Arab Group believed that in order to reach a just and comprehensive peace based on international legitimacy, Israel needed to carry out its commitments and immediately withdraw from all territories occupied by force, including Jerusalem. The continuation of the policy of settlements on occupied land, and reports of torture and other forms of violence were flagrant violations of international declarations, and further strained any hope of lasting peace. An international committee should be set up to investigate crimes committed against the Palestinians. A report should also be produced, with the aid of non-governmental organizations, and should be submitted to the General Assembly. All parties concerned should find a global and just solution to the problems in the area.

NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine) said Palestinian Moslems and Moslems around the world had been provoked by Mr. Sharon when he had stormed the Temple Mount with 3,000 supporters; since then the violence had escalated, and over 100 Palestinians had been martyred, including many children. Israeli forces had used improper weapons and overall had applied too much violence. Palestine had no army and owned no weapons with which to resist Israeli attacks; it could not protect its unarmed civilians, who also had nothing with which to protect themselves except their bodies, their blood, and stones.

Children as young as 10 years old had been deliberately killed by Israeli soldiers, simply because they were Palestinians. Wasn't this a crime against humanity? Wasn't it in fact genocide? And wasn't it a repetition of the crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians on numerous other occasions dating as far back as 1948? Mass murders of Palestinians had been committed even inside the 'green line'. Mosques had been attacked. Collective punishment was being imposed against Palestinians, including through imposition of a blockade which was barring proper delivery of medical care to persons wounded in the conflict. If the Governments of Israel and the United States did not end these grave human-rights violations, then the Arab nations would respond in a serious and sustained manner. The Commission must shoulder its responsibilities. The Israeli occupation, which was at the root of this crisis, must end, and a Palestinian State must be fully established with Jerusalem as its capital. Palestine further condemned any effort to put the attackers and the victims on the same level -- what Israel was doing was wrong, while the Palestinians were victims.

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said that at Camp David the Israeli Prime Minister had made far-reaching proposals never before presented to the Palestinians, but Mr. Arafat had made no response and had showed no reciprocal flexibility. By launching this continuous wave of violence under the flimsiest of pretexts, Mr. Arafat was responsible for plunging the region into instability. Throughout the two weeks of violence, Mr. Arafat had yet to make a clear call for an end to it. If the Palestinian leadership really wanted an end to the violence and casualties, it could have done so; it had emptied the schools to send students into the streets to stand in front of demonstrators; it had allowed the broadcasting of calls for Muslim faithful to 'eradicate the Jews from Palestine' and to 'slaughter' Jews; it appeared in fact to have orchestrated the demonstrations and several horrifyingly violent events.

Palestine had further violated its obligations under various peace agreements by failing to act systematically against all expressions of violence and terror and by failing to act to squelch any efforts or threats of terrorism; it had failed to work towards resolving outstanding issues through bilateral negotiations; it had failed in its duty to apprehend, prosecute and detain terrorists; it had failed to confiscate illegal arms and in fact the Palestinian police and security services had used such arms against Israeli forces; it had failed to maintain joint security cooperation with Israel; and had failed to ensure that holy sites were respected and protected. How could Israel continue to trust such a partner? There was still a chance for peace, but the Palestinian authority must begin by making clear calls for an end to the violence.

HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Countries, said the convening of a Special Session of the Commission was always a tragic affair. The Commission on Human Rights had to be constantly vigilant against human rights violations, especially those which were continuing and recurring. The occupying power had time and again demonstrated its disregard for the mechanisms of the Commission. An international commission of inquiry should be set up to investigate the causes of violence in the Palestinian territory, bring violators to justice and seek means to end the violence. The relevant Special Rapporteurs should carry out visits to the area and report to the General Assembly to help highlight the issue.

The international community, he said, believed that the Commission must act to reduce the tensions, and should act in a positive way for the benefit of all people within the region.

NUYROHO WISNUMURTI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said the group condemned the recent acts of violence, particularly those committed against Palestinians, and especially those against children. It called on the parties to the conflict to renounce violence. Both sides must end the current violence to allow tempers to cool so that negotiators could resume their work. The international community must fulfil its responsibility to protect human rights, and the occupying power, Israel, must respect international human-rights law. Disproportionate use of force against innocent civilians could only add to the discontent in the region.

The negotiating parties must not give up; they must continue to strive for peace. They must act to build a new and prosperous future, explore all possibilities, and aim at the goal of lasting peace. There should be a speedy, objective international inquiry into the events of recent days. Those seeking a solution must be supported in their efforts, and the obligations contained in previous agreements
signed by the parties must be respected by them.

AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that the occupation of Palestine was the cause of all the problems within the region. The situation was as grave as could be. The ill-fated visit by Ariel Sharon to the Haram al Sharif was at best an act of mindlessness, and at worst sinister. The justifiable fury drew a disproportionally violent response from Israel. However, some positive events could come from the conflict. Peace could come when the causes of the conflict were understood. The Commission should adopt a resolution to set up a commission of inquiry to achieve this.

He said that reason, faith and hope could live together within the region, and all religions could live together under the same sky.

LI ENHENG (China) said the Chinese Government was appalled at the excessive use of force and the employment of heavy armaments by the Israeli military and police against Palestinian civilians; it strongly condemned using force against civilians. The sudden visit by the leader of the Israeli opposition party to the controversial Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem had provoked the bloodshed, and such irresponsible provocation deserved to be condemned by the international community.

China had long supported the struggle of the Palestinians; it expressed its grave concern over the escalation of the conflict between the two sides. The recent clashes only added to mutual hatred. China strongly urged the parties to resume serious negotiations and to exercise restraint so as to avoid any remark or action detrimental to the peace process.

NANCY RUBIN (the United States) said the recent violence that had shaken the Middle East to its core had left the world with indelible images of profound suffering. The United States had been engaged in conscientious and ongoing efforts to bring that suffering to an end and to bring lasting peace to the region. Towards these goals, President Clinton, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and a host of other officials had been engaged in an extraordinary effort to assist the parties to end the violence that had gripped the region and to return to the peace process. This was the only way to reverse what could otherwise become an unending cycle of violence, recrimination and grief.

The United States opposed the holding of the Special Session because it believed that it would not contribute to realizing this transcendent goal. The resolution under discussion was so one-sided and inflammatory that it would complicate if not undermine the efforts underway to bring the violence to a halt. Peace could only be achieved through negotiation between the parties, and not through
denunciation in Geneva.

MOHAMED-SALAH DEMBRI (Algeria) said the situation over the years had become intolerable, and it was high time the international community reacted; the unbelievable and brutal repression exercised by the Israel occupying forces against an unarmed and helpless population -- an entire people -- amounted to an international tragedy. People had seen television film of a Palestinian child machine-gunned by elite Israeli forces as his father watched. The repression and human-rights violations had gone on for years, and resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights addressing the situation had been passed for years, yet the Israeli offenses continued.

Ariel Sharon, a war criminal, had instigated and provoked and offended the religious feelings of Palestinians and all Muslim peoples by visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque; it was a deliberate strategy to cause pain and bloodshed, as had been the disproportionate use of force against Palestinians by Israeli troops. The international community must do what was necessary to allow Palestinians to have an independent State and to end acts of violence against Palestinians. There should be quick establishment of a commission of inquiry into the recent tragedy.

TAHER AL-HUSSAMI (Syria) said that the convening of the Special Session was evidence of the belief that the Commission was responsible for safeguarding human rights globally. The acts committed in the Palestinian territories constituted a massacre and a crime against humanity, and were counter to the human rights commitments that Israel had signed. The League of Nations accepted Israel as a member in 1948 on condition that it be a peace loving nation; instead the country had become a racist and colonialist country, and was only reluctantly engaged in peace processes.

It is evident to the world that the successive governments in Israel engaged in the peace process to gain time. Israel was not interested in finding a just and lasting peace. Declarations by humanitarian committees had been ignored by the country. The acts committed by the Israeli army violated the basic freedoms of Palestinians. Immediate action should be taken by the Commission to protect the lives of the unarmed Palestinian people.

Peace could not prevail in the region until Israel left the territories it was illegally occupying. Israel must choose now between living in peace with the Arab nations, or facing the explosion of Arab anger against the country.

MOHAMMED AL-DOURI (Iraq) said he thought a minute of silence would have been appropriate out of respect for Palestinians killed during the conflict, but that had not been possible. Israel still refused to withdraw from the occupied territories or to comply with more than 100 United Nations resolutions on the matter. After five decades, Palestinians were still struggling to regain territory taken from them. All this time, Palestinians had been suffering under the most hideous crimes and human-rights violations committed by Zionist forces.

Never before in the history of mankind had civilian children protesting for the rights of their people been confronted with heavy weapons in such a fashion; children had been deliberately killed by Zionist soldiers. After one child was killed his eyes had been used as an ashtray. The crimes committed against Palestinian civilians were beyond comprehension and amounted to a crime of genocide; those responsible should be brought to justice. The international community must put an end to this genocide and allow the Palestinian people to establish a State with Jerusalem as its capital; the Commission must pass a resolution condemning the recent grave human-rights violations.

FRANCOIS NORDMANN (Switzerland) condemned the acts of violence and hatred occurring within the region. The Commission should find a way to restore dialogue between the nations, and he hoped that the current discussions in Egypt could find a way to bring long lasting peace.

The Government of Switzerland condemned the violence against medical vehicles, looting, lynching and other forms of violence. Rather, mutual understanding was needed, and human rights should be held in respect by both parties. The protection of civilians, as stipulated by the Geneva Convention, needed to be heeded, as well as other agreements signed by Israel, including allowing the free movement of people.

Switzerland was ready to support a commission of inquiry into the violence. Peace would only come from a respect for basic human rights, and progress in finding that peace will only came from agreement by both sides to reject violence.

ABUDULLAH AL-ASKAR (Kuwait) said his country condemned the cruel aggression of Israeli forces against defenceless Palestinians and called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and confront these aggressions. It should intensify its efforts and adopt measures to compel Israel to cease its inhuman practices and it should provide international protection to the Palestinian people.

Kuwait called on the Israeli Government to end immediately its ongoing unhuman practices and to withdraw from the occupied territories in accordance with numerous UN resolutions. Israel also should withdraw from the occupied Syrian Golan. A just and lasting peace could only be achieved by restoring legitimate Arab rights.

ABDEL WAHAB ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said his country disapproved of Israel's practices against the Palestinian people. Saudi Arabia affirmed its support for the realization by the Palestinian people of all their rights, including their right to proclaim their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital.

Israel has violated all articles of the Forth Geneva Convention, including the country's policy of annexing Palestinian property, and lack of respect for people's basic right to life. Israel was responsible for the state of tension within the region, and had to be held accountable for the consequences. Peace, justice and respect had to prevail within the region, instead of provocative moves and inordinate violence.

The Palestinian people must be treated with respect by Israel. He hoped that the Commission would exercise its power to expose violent Israeli practices, condemn Israel excessive use of force, and highlight the blockade Israel was conducting with Palestinian towns, stifling trade and opportunities for the Palestinian people. The Commission must fulfil its duty to the Palestinian people and take a firm stand against the actions of the Israelis.

IBOU NDIAYE (Senegal) said the recent events in the occupied territories were a legitimate cause for concern of the Commission, as they amounted to a threat to international peace and security. Senegal condemned the current violence; Senegal believed strongly in the settling of disputes through peaceful negotiation. The visit paid to Temple Mount by the head of the Israeli opposition had prompted the dismay and opposition not only of Palestinians but of all peace-loving peoples, and Israeli repression of the subsequent demonstrations by Palestinians had been overly violent and inhumane.

Human rights must be guaranteed in the Middle East, as lasting peace could not be achieved without them. Peace could no longer be postponed in the region. The agreements signed to date should not be cancelled by the current upsurge of violence. These had been remarkable developments and had raised hopes. Now it was clear that Palestinian rights were still being violated massively and repeatedly. Palestine, for its part, had shown laudable tact in deferring any declaration of a Palestinian State in an effort to spur further progress in negotiations.

CARLOS AMAT FORES (Cuba) said that an overwhelming majority of the world's community had felt it was important to come together at the Special Session to condemn the violence conducted by Israel against the Palestinian people; helicopters and heavy weapons had been used against unarmed people by Israel.

Israel had ignored the many resolutions the United Nations had issued against violence within the region. Obligations contained within the Fourth Geneva Convention had been ignored by Israel, and civilian lives had not been protected. The Security Council had shown too much tolerance with Israel because of the support of the United States. Unfortunately, this situation did not look like it was about to change. The Commission on Human Rights now had a unique opportunity to condemn the new spiral of violence committed against the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian people had a right to life, a right to peace and a right to peaceful existence within their own State, with Jerusalem as their capital.

Right of Reply

A representative of Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said Israel had raised many charges, all of them peripheral, and had not gone to the heart of the matter. Even the peripheral matters were not accurate. Nor had the delegate of Israel referred to Israeli human-rights violations. His claim that Yasser Arafat had not called for an end to the violence was laughable, as it was Israelis who had started the violence; it was Israeli soldiers who had gone to Palestinian towns to kill; no Palestinians had gone to Tel Aviv to kill Israelis. How could Israel feel threatened by stones? Israel was a nuclear power. Palestinians, however, knew how it felt to be threatened. This was a cowardly war waged by Israel, in all its military might, against unarmed Palestinian civilians.

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For information media - not an official record