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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS


17 October 2000

SPECIAL SESSION OF COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
HEARS CALLS FOR AN INTERNATIONAL INQUIRY INTO
VIOLENCE IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

The Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights this afternoon heard calls for an independent, international inquiry to be set up to investigate recent human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Among those addressing the meeting was Sri Lanka which called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and was saddened by the seemingly endless cycle of violence. Egypt said while hope existed for the current talks, the Israeli army must stop its acts of violence. Indonesia joined the call for strong measures to promote peace in the region, and condemned the Israeli violence perpetrated against the people of Palestine. Israel called for all nations present to support the current negotiations in Egypt, reminding that whatever happened, all neighbours had to live in peace. Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the United Arab Emirates also addressed the meeting.

A number of non-governmental organizations spoke about the involvement of Palestinian children in the violence, while others urged the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. Some NGOs, including the World Jewish Congress, spoke of the violence perpetrated against the Israeli people by the Palestinians and the decimation of Jewish holy places. The majority of NGOs called for an independent, international inquiry to investigate the many reports of violence against civilians of Palestine, that the inquiry make public any findings, and that it be supported by the Government of Israel.

The following NGOs spoke: Association for World Education, World Jewish Council, MADRE, Arab Organization for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Union of Arab Jurists, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, General Arab Women Federation, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, American Jewish Committee, International Federation of Democratic Youth, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, North South XXI, International Commission of Jurists, and the World Organization Against Torture

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

The Special Session of the Commission will resume at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 October to continue hearing statements on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Statements

SUDANTHA GANEGAMA-ARACHCHI (Sri Lanka) said his country had long advocated a peaceful resolution of the issues involved in realizing the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people, in accordance with relevant UN resolutions. It had looked with optimism at the high-level discussions recently held at Camp David that had come so close to fruition, and was saddened and disappointed at the resurgence of violence and the use of force, which was certain to have a debilitating effect on long-term prospects for peace. Sri Lanka understood only too well how determined and patient efforts made by enlightened leaders could be put in jeopardy in a flash by a cycle of indiscriminate violence and the use of force.

The paramount need was to break the cycle of violence and build defences against its resurgence while addressing the core issues through peaceful negotiations. Sri Lanka supported the mainstream view in the Commission that an appropriate mechanism should be put in place to ascertain facts and work to prevent such situations in future.

NASSER SALMAN AL ABOODI (the United Arab Emirates) said that the events in the occupied territories had been caused by the provocative actions of Israel. The violence by Israel against the people of Palestine constituted a violation of international law, and could be considered a war crime.

The only solution was to invoke international recognition that intervention was needed to end the threats to the people of Palestine. Palestinian people should be allowed to worship in peace, and had the right to proclaim their own State. Justice was needed and oppression had to be investigated, he said. A special committee was needed to investigate and punish those guilty of committing crimes against humanity.

FAYZA ABOULNAGA (Egypt) said that during the last session of the Commission, there had been complaints by Israel that there continued to be a separate agenda item on Israeli-occupied Palestine. Egypt had responded that the way to get rid of the agenda item was to withdraw from Palestinian territories and to respect UN resolutions on the subject. There also had been much boasting by Israel about human-rights institutions set up in the country. Now what was there to say? The entire world knew of the bloody events and the barbaric aggression to which the Palestinians had been exposed following the provocative visit by the Israeli Likud leader to a very sensitive religious site.

The whole world felt for the plight of the Palestinians and was fed up with Israel's fallacious arguments and its continuing violations of human rights and international law. The problem had begun on 13 September, and it was not the Palestinians who had instigated the events, rather it had been the controversial visit by Mr. Sharon to the Temple Mount. Live bullets, tanks, gunships, missiles and planes had been used by Israel.

LLOYD BRODRICK (Australia) said that his Government was deeply concerned at the loss of life in recent weeks in the West Bank and parts of Israel. The cycles of provocation, violence and retribution that had occurred were deplorable. All communities involved must seek to establish the mutual trust and confidence necessary for peaceful co-existence.

A cease-fire had to be put in place to stop the deaths and injuries and act as a barrier to future violence. A negotiated agreement was the only way to create a just and lasting peace.

DAVID LITTMAN, of the Association for World Education, said that after this morning's auspicious breakthrough in negotiations at Sharm El Sheikh, which had not been mentioned by the speaker for Egypt, now was the time for both sides to return to the negotiating table and complete a peace agreement by year's end. There should be no more sterile resolutions. The ship of peace should be guided to a safe haven that was still visible on the horizon.

He wished to repeat the suggestion first made here ten years ago, in 1990, for establishment of a unified group of countries in the Middle East based on democratization and respect for human rights. The massive recent violence was a catastrophe. When would the Commission make it clear that children should never be allowed to participate in violence of any kind? One of the prime causes of the violence, and the violence against children, was the systematic use by the Palestinian educational system of material aimed at inciting children to be warlike, even to be martyrs and to commit suicide in the ongoing conflict. Textbooks used in the schools called for destruction of Israel and for violent confrontation.

DANIEL LACK, of the World Jewish Congress, in a joint statement with the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, said that a statement by President Clinton of the United States that there was a renewal of talks between the Palestinians and the Israel was a great hope for future peace.

He regretted the destruction of Jewish sacred places by the Palestinians. Tragic deaths had occurred of late on both sides of the conflict. Globally, threats had been made to Jewish holy places, and this deserved further attention by the Commission. A great concern was the current alliance between the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah groups and Hamas terrorists. These groups were determined to destroy Israel, in violation of Article III of the Genocide Convention. There was also concern about the use of children by the Palestinian authorities during the conflict, which was a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Palestinian Authority should end the violence and return to the negotiating table to secure a peaceful future for all people in the region.

NUYROHO WISNUMURTI (Indonesia) said the atrocities committed against so many Palestinians, including children, by heavily armed Israeli soldiers was utterly unacceptable, yet UN mandates which often offered over-enthusiastic or even aggressive responses to other situations had remained for the most part inactive in the case of Palestine. Reaction of human-rights mechanisms too often seemed to be dictated by political expediency or the identity of victims, by double standards and by favouritism; and this undermined the credibility and moral stature of these mechanisms.

Indonesia hoped the Commission would take strong, effective, immediate, concrete measures to address the human-rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories; it should ensure the protection of the human rights of every Palestinian. Indonesia supported the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate the root causes and identify the perpetrators with a view to bringing them to justice. There was no alternative but for Israel to assume its obligations, observe international law, and pursue peace negotiations in earnest.

VIVIAN STROMBERG, of MADRE, said the violence was a result of provocations by Israel, but was also due to the failure of the Oslo Accords. The United States' role in this failure should be highlighted, and the U.S. administration should stop supplying the region with military arms.

Future agreements should uphold the universal concepts of human rights. The organization was particularly concerned about the use of force by Israel against unarmed women and children. Deadly force used by Israel has caused the death of 26 children. Thirteen Israeli Arabs had also been killed over the past few weeks. Mobs conducting these killings had been protected by Israeli police. International protection was required to protect the local population living under occupation, in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

An international committee should be set up to investigate the recent human rights violations, and the Commission should set up means to protect the Palestinian people.

KOICHI HARAGUCHI (Japan) said his country welcomed the cease-fire agreement just reached and congratulated those who had brought it about. Japan also applauded the statesmanship of Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in agreeing to the cease-fire, despite the domestic political pressures they were under. Japan hoped the situation would calm down as soon as possible, based on the agreement, that a situation of trust would soon be rebuilt, and that peace negotiations would progress substantively and rapidly.

In response to a request from the Palestinian Authority, Japan had decided to supply, through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), emergency assistance for the purchase of medical equipment urgently needed in the West Bank and Gaza, and hoped that the assistance would be useful for the treatment of the injured.

NAZAR ABDELGADIR SALIH, of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said that Israel used inordinate violence against the people of Palestine. This led to a large number of deaths and injury among unarmed people. Such violence required the investigation of what the State of Israel wanted, apart from the humiliation of the Palestinian people.

The Commission should condemn Israel for its aggression against the people of Palestine and Israeli Arabs. There should be an international tribunal to investigate the crimes committed against the people of Palestine.

MICHEL MONOD, of War Resisters International, said that on the Temple Mount, two religions had their most holy sites; tolerance was needed, and mutual respect, so that a compromise and life together were possible -- fundamentalism and intolerance would only lead to further catastrophe.

Meanwhile, why could not Jerusalem be the capital city of two States? Why did it have to be the capital of one or the other? In a cooperative arrangement, flow of financial investments and goods would be improved. For the sake of security, it would be necessary that both territories be militarized, and any military invasion from outside would be considered a violation of the demilitarized status. The League of Arab Nations and the European Union could serve as witnesses and guarantors of the inviolability of the country. For such an approach, which seemed obvious, there still would have to be an abandonment of the prevailing ethos of rejection and of conflict-based perspectives on both sides.

LIZ HODYKIN, of Amnesty. said that human rights could not be sacrificed in the search for peace or security. Human rights, peace and security were closely interlinked. No lasting peace and justice could be built except on a strong foundation of protecting human rights for all.

A team from Amnesty had just returned from visiting the occupied territories. It had found that Israeli forces used inordinate violence and did not protect the human rights of people. Too many children had been killed, and to date there had been no investigation of these killings. There should be no impunity, including for members of security forces. The Commission should call on both sides to respect the rule of law and should establish an independent body to investigate all serious human rights abuses within the occupied territories.

The Commission on Human Rights should also make all relevant information available to the independent international investigative team which should be established. A special standing body should be set up to respond rapidly to human rights abuses like those that had just occurred against the Palestinians.

MARWA DAOUDY, of the Union of Arab Jurists, said it had all began 50 years ago, and after decades of conflict, it was being called a war of religion, but it was actually a conflict based on Israeli expansion. The region now suffered from a kind of apartheid -- prosperous Israeli settlements were surrounded by fences and served by special roads. The resolutions of the United Nations clearly mentioned the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from occupied Palestinian territories, which so far had proved to be a myth; some 4 million Palestinian refugees continued to languish, unable to return to their homeland; Palestinian homes continued to be destroyed and Israeli settlements to be increased.

The current crisis was an explosion of a people who had suffered from occupation and exile for 50 years. Innocent Palestinian civilians, including children, had been killed. Medical treatment of the wounded was being hindered. The international community must intervene to end these continuing massacres, must immediately disarm Jewish setters, and must carry out an inquiry into the catastrophe.

GEORGE TSEKSIS, of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, said that Israel had ignored or openly violated UN resolutions, and thus had denied justice to the Palestinian people. The list of acts of discrimination and harassment of Palestinians included denial of the freedom of movement and destruction of property.

Most Palestinians and Israelis desired peace, but lacked the means of progress towards it. The Commission should set up an inquiry into the tragic events of the last few days with the aim of preventing a repetition of violence. Such an inquiry could provide an essential beginning to revealing, sharing and mutual acceptance of the truth about past systematic violations of people's rights.

Other recommendations include that Israel cooperate fully with investigations on human rights abuses and that it respect its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

JULIET SAYEGH, of the General Arab Women Federation, said the organization represented 23 women's organizations in 21 Arab countries, was speaking on behalf of several other NGOs, and wished to denounce the recent premeditated and provocative act carried out at the Temple Mount that had led to widespread casualties; the overbearing Israeli military response had been irresponsible and brutal; now the finger was being pointed at the victims for supposedly causing the tragedy themselves.

The truth was that Israeli violation of Palestinian rights continued and continued; Palestinians lived in a fragmented prison; they had little control over their lives. Israel's true aim was expansion. Its policy would continue as long as the United States was allowed to defend and reward this state of affairs, and as long as the U.S. continued to arm the Israelis. Peace depended on the goodwill of the parties concerned, and Israel was not showing such goodwill. Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories and comply with UN resolutions. An international investigation into the recent violence was necessary.

EDITH BALLANTYNE, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, stated that the violence in the West Bank was deplorable, and called for the establishment for an independent State of Palestine. Until then, peace between Israel and Palestine, based on justice and international law, remains an urgent imperative. Without it, there is no stable peace for anyone in the region. She said that there has been too many human tragedies and human rights violations rooted in this conflict.

She called on the Commission to take steps to end the current conflict, and called on Israel to withdraw its forces from Palestinian land, and for the international community to set up an international inquiry to establish the truth behind the violence.

DAVID A. HARRIS, of the American Jewish Committee, said the very existence of the Palestinian Authority and its jurisdiction over some 98 per cent of the Palestinian people showed that the path to peace lay through negotiations. Yet recently Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had put a historic, far-reaching peace agreement on the negotiating table, and the Palestinian side had been unwilling to engage it. It was to be hoped that today's agreement at Sharm El Sheikh would have a better fate.

The Commission had a sacred duty to confront the realities of the situation and to avoid a one-sided discussion that ignored inconvenient truths. The Commission must, among other things, address desecration of Jewish religious sites; incitement to hatred by Palestinian Authority officials and Palestinian Authority-appointed officials; dozens of anti-Semitic incidents around the world in the past
two weeks; and violations of international law across the Israeli-Lebanese border. The Commission must protect the human rights of all people, and a selective approach to the Middle East situation would send an incorrect message to the world.

KHADDER SHKIRAT, of the International Federation of Human Rights League, called on the Commission to react to the violations of human rights and violations of humanitarian law in the West Bank. A fact finding mission by the League had found evidence of many grave violations of human rights, including the excessive and indiscriminate use of force, particularly by the Israeli security forces. It also found evidence of lethal use of force often targeted towards unarmed civilians and children. The number of children killed during the conflicts was a huge concern.

Reports were also substantiated about Israeli attacks on and intimidation of medical personnel. The fact finding mission found too that no security force members were being held responsible for their actions. This raised doubts about the fairness and independence of the judiciary. Recommendations included that Israel should respect the safety of medical workers and withdraw from all occupied territories to reduce tensions. For the Commission, recommendations were given to investigate the violence to determine responsibility for the human rights violations and bring those people to justice.

MOHAMMAD ZEIDAN, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said the Palestinian minority in Israel represented nearly 20 per cent of the population; despite their citizenship, they suffered institutionalized discrimination, as Israel defined itself as a 'Jewish State' and had two classes of citizenship, with Palestinians relegated to second class. The United Nations stressed that minorities were entitled to equal treatment and full human rights. There was an urgent need for international intervention to ensure the full implementation of the rights of Israel's Palestinian minority.

After the recent provocative visit by Ariel Sharon to the Haram el Sharif and the ensuing bloodshed, the Israeli Palestinian community had declared a general strike, and had been subjected to brutal human-rights violations; 13 people were killed, and more than 500 were injured. The Commission must protect the Arab minority in Israel and should establish an independent international commission of inquiry into the tragic events of the last few weeks, within and outside Israel. Such human-rights violations were no longer an internal matter.

JOAQUIN MBOMIO, of North South XXI, congratulated the convening of the Special Session on the violence in the occupied territories. Many in the global community felt sympathy for the Palestinian people who had suffered from violence at the hands of the army of the State of Israel. It was troubling that Israel still neglected the opinion of the UN.

The speaker then gave the floor to a colleague who addressed the Commission about the aspirations of the Palestinian people, including the attainment of a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital. This would address somewhat the many decades of suffering the Palestinians had suffered. There were also grave concerns about the protection of Christian churches in the region, and he called upon Israel to respect these places of worship.

ADRIAR ARENA, of the International Commission of Jurists, said the ICJ was deeply concerned over the recent bloodshed; the Commission should establish a mechanism for a speedy and accurate inquiry into the recent events; it would best be carried out by an international commission. It was clear from reports of an ICJ member who had visited hospitals and seen victims that Israeli forces had fired, among other things, dumb-dumb bullets, and frequently had aimed above the waist. An inquiry should result in bringing anyone responsible for grave human-rights violations to justice. Indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Israeli forces against largely unarmed civilians violated basic rules of international law.

An international commission of inquiry was essential for ending the current hostilities. Continued impunity would only perpetuate the cycle of violence. The membership of such a commission should be independent, experienced, and trustworthy; its report should be public; and its findings should result, if necessary, in prosecutions and in compensation for the victims or their relatives. Its activities should not be an empty exercise.

NATHALIE MIVELAZ, of the World Organization Against Torture, said that the reaction of Israel to the demonstrations by Palestinians was excessive and disproportionate. No attempt was made to use police or law enforcement tactics reserved for civilian conditions. Hundreds of Palestinians had been imprisoned while Israel denied detainees rights of due process.

Israel must recognise that the recent conflict stemmed from the lack of Israel's recognition of the right of Palestinian self-determination. The violent Israeli actions had been carried out with impunity. Israel had made no attempt to investigate the use of force and the many deaths of Palestinians. The Commission was well placed to address Israel's policy of abuse by establishing a mechanism securing standards and ending impunity. The Commission should condemn all violence by all actors in the conflict, and should establish an international independent commission to investigate all human rights violations and determine responsibility for the violations, make public all findings and report to the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly.

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said that in listening to some of the wild accusations levelled against Israel, he couldn't help but wonder if the speakers had been carried away by the less-than-stellar human rights records in the region. It was remarkable that absolutely no mention had been made of the feelings of the other side -- of the feelings of Israelis after two soldiers had been lynched, for example. It was true that the Jewish tomb mentioned had been rebuilt, as noted by one speaker, but it had been rebuilt as a Mosque. What was truly important was to connect, to find common ground so that the two sides could live together and could reestablish mechanisms of consultation. That was what had happened successfully at Sharm El Sheikh today. Most if not all speakers representing Arab States had not spoken today about what was going on at Sharm El Sheikh; they had said nothing about it. Was everyone that removed from reality at the Commission?
Today's agreement focused on ending violence and returning to serious, substantive negotiations. A fact-finding committee was to be established to determine the cause of the recent crisis and how to prevent recurrences. The United Nations was to be involved. He hoped everyone would support the parties which had reached agreement at Sharm El Sheikh. Those in the region were destined to live together; everyone should hope a way could be found to live in peace.


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For information media - not an official record