|HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS BRIEFS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ON HER RECENT TRIPS AND ACTIVITIES|
29 November 2006
Following is the statement delivered by Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which she read out today at the opening of the third session of the Human Rights Council:
“I am very pleased to offer you today an overview of the missions that I have undertaken since the second session of the Human Rights Council, as well as updates and thoughts on countries and themes that continue to engage our attention and our work.
You are aware of my missions to Haiti and to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In the past two months, I have also had the opportunity to go to Germany and to Canada where, despite the short time frame of my visits, I held very productive talks and raised issues of both local and multilateral concern, such as discrimination and the need to uphold human rights in the context of international migration and counterterrorism.
During the period since you last met in regular session, I have also visited my field offices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In conjunction with this, I was happy to accept the invitation of the Government of Israel to visit that country.
In a four-day mission, I traveled to Gaza, including to Beit Hanoun, and to Ramallah, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Sderot. I met with a wide range of Palestinian and Israeli officials, civil society actors and victims, as well as with the United Nations representatives operating in the region.
My visit occurred against a backdrop of increasing violence, tragically typified by the killing of at least 18 Palestinian civilians by Israeli artillery in Beit Hanoun earlier this month, as well as the regular firing of Qassam rockets into Israel, which, during my visit to Sderot, killed one civilian.
The human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is grave and worsening, within a general climate of impunity. Throughout my visit, I promoted the need for accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
In my meeting with President Abbas I stressed the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to employ every means of law enforcement – and to be seen to do so – to ensure that the firing of Qassam missiles, a breach of international humanitarian law, ceases and that those who launch them are held accountable. Every effort must be made to enable the Palestinian Authority to discharge that responsibility.
At the same time, I stressed that as long as the rockets continue to hit its territory, Israel has the right and indeed the duty to defend its population and to ensure the protection of its citizens and of all those who are within its jurisdiction, control or power. However, this must be done in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.
I urged the Israeli authorities to ensure transparent, credible and independent investigations to provide for accountability and effective redress in situations where lethal force has been employed, such as the Beit Hanoun killings. This would be central to break the culture of impunity and contribute to solidify the rule of law.
Today, through the barrier and the system of checkpoints, roadblocks and earth mounds, Palestinians find their right to freedom of movement seriously curtailed – within the West Bank in particular, but also between the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian access to Jerusalem is also heavily restricted. Freedom of movement is not only a human right in its own terms, but obstructions to movement have had a severe impact on Palestinians’ enjoyment of a wide variety of other rights – such as the right to health, to education, to an adequate standard of living, to work and to family life.
Civilians are also gravely affected by the fiscal crisis caused by policies imposed by Israel and the international community on the Palestinian Authority. This has exacerbated the already pervasive conditions of deprivation that Palestinians endure, with virtually every right being affected, adding to the climate of fear and humiliation widely experienced by the Palestinian population.
Overall, I was struck throughout my visit by the sense of vulnerability and abandonment that was expressed to me by virtually all the civilians that I met, both in Israel and in the OPT.
In my comments to the press at the conclusion of my mission, I noted that I had unfortunately not had the time to focus on the full range of rights at issue in the region. I highlighted, in this regard, the question of all those imprisoned, captured or otherwise detained as a result of the crisis and I called for their rights, including access to them, to be respected in full. I repeat that call here today.
The ceasefire agreed upon last week is a first, indispensable step towards reducing harm to civilians. But addressing and resolving the human rights crisis in the region cannot be held hostage to either stop-gap measures that may be revoked, or to a resolution of the political crisis that may prove still someway off. The human rights of Israelis and Palestinians cannot be the subject of negotiation or compromise. Those in power must fulfill their obligations in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law now so as to ensure that all throughout the region can enjoy their human rights. To do so is required by law and should be implemented by all those who profess to be sincerely committed to achieving a lasting peace.
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