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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS


24 April 2002

UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Mary Robinson's Oral statement
to the Commission on Human Rights
58th session


Report by the High Commissioner
for Human Rights
On the deteriorating human rights situation
in the occupied Palestinian territory



Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I address the Commission today to introduce my report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. The report, which has been circulated to members of the Commission, responds to the request to me as High Commissioner in Commission Decision 2002/103. That Decision asked that I "urgently report to the Commission on Human Rights on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory on the basis of reports from all concerned organizations present in the occupied territories."

You will recall that in
resolution 2002/1 of 5 April the Commission requested that I should lead a visiting mission to travel urgently to the area and report on the human rights situation. The mission would have provided an opportunity to obtain first hand information from those on both sides who have been victims of human rights violations. It would have been possible to question them directly and seek to verify accounts of abuses. It would have provided the opportunity to meet with and to seek accounts and explanations from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Human rights inquiries in situations of conflict can have a protective as well as a preventive purpose and effect. There is an acute need to address continuing human rights violations and bring them to an end. Equally, the parties must be encouraged to take up again together the work for peace. It is a matter of regret that the visiting mission could not take place. I again record my sincere appreciation to Mr. Felipe Gonzalez and Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa for their willingness to undertake the mission.

The report before you is based on accounts received and focuses on the immediate human rights emergency in the occupied Palestinian territory. It has not been easy to prepare. Part of the task has been to summarize a wide range of materials referring to serious allegations of human rights abuses and to note that many of the claims are contested. Great care has been taken to provide the Commission with a fair and accurate account of the current situation.

In preparing the report, I approached the Permanent Mission of Israel and the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, as well as United Nations agencies and programmes, and non-governmental organizations active in the occupied Palestinian territory, with the request to make relevant information available to my Office. This request was responded to by the Permanent Mission of Israel and the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine. In addition, a number of United Nations bodies and a number of NGOs responded with information. The relevant organisations are listed in an Annex to the report. I would like to acknowledge with appreciation the response that my request for information generated, particularly given the very short notice. All the materials received are held in the files of my Office.

The report summarizes the main allegations of human rights violations reported from the occupied Palestinian territory, and gives brief illustrations of some of those allegations and of the Israeli viewpoint. It also addresses three particular situations of special concern to the international community – the Jenin refugee camp, bearing in mind the fact finding mission established by the Secretary-General and welcomed by the Security Council to assess the situation there; the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the situation in Ramallah, including the continuing blockade of President Arafat's Headquarters in Ramallah.

Mr. Chairman,

In introducing this report, I would like to draw attention to some of the observations in the final section.

In calling on the parties to return to negotiation and the search for peace, the report exhorts all sides to uphold the principles of human rights and humanitarian law. In concrete terms that means that the military occupation must end and that those who have planned and executed terrorist acts aimed at Israeli civilians, must stop that heinous policy.

A human rights approach requires also that there be accountability for what has happened in recent weeks in the occupied Palestinian territory. I would like to explain further the observation in the final section of the report that "there is an urgent need for a comprehensive investigation into alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law, an investigation that would be independent of the parties but conducted with their full cooperation". It is not possible in a short report to convey the depth of pain, suffering, humiliation and despair which comes through when reading the accounts furnished to us from the occupied Palestinian territory. Nor is it possible to convey adequately the level of trauma, fear, and anger experienced by Israeli citizens in the aftermath of a terrible series of suicide bombings. What I must convey, in my responsibility as High Commissioner, is that this acute human rights situation fully warrants an independent investigation.

Mr. Chairman, you and the other members of the Commission on Human Rights would also have reason to wish to see serious and widespread allegations of human rights violations properly investigated. You have taken initiatives in this regard in other circumstances and you know that the strength of the human rights system is in its universal application.

The report also notes that OHCHR stands ready to facilitate a human rights dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli NGOS and other civil society representatives to enhance mutual understanding and the common promotion and protection of human rights for all in both countries. It has been very heartening to receive so much human rights material from NGOs based in Israel who have the courage and integrity to voice their concerns about human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. I was disturbed to note that an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, dated 18th April, reported strong criticism by the Attorney General of the approach of Israeli human rights organizations. The truth is, it is human rights defenders, peace groups and women's networks who can give leadership in a painful bridge building which must be fostered.

Who can doubt but that the road to peace must be walked together by Israeli and Palestinian? It will not be found through military means or violence, but through dialogue and the building of empathy. We should salute those who work in quiet ways across the divide to build that dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

One of the key conclusions that arises from this report is that peace-making and peace-building must be built on the foundations of respect for human rights and humanitarian law – now and in the future. This report is submitted in the hope that it will facilitate reflection on both sides: that on the Palestinian side, the suicide bombings that have caused so much loss of lives and suffering of Israelis will cease. On the Israeli side, that they will reflect deeply on issues of humanity, proportionality and respect for basic standards that are at the foundations of the contemporary world and that they will take to heart the grievous suffering of the Palestinian people. In presenting this report, I should like to reiterate the Secretary-General's call to the leaders of both sides that they immediately recommit themselves solemnly to the respect of the basic norms of human rights and humanitarian law and that they implement that commitment forthwith.


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For information media - not an official record