31 March 1999
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION TAKES UP SITUATION IN OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES,
INCLUDING PALESTINE; CONCLUDES DEBATE ON RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT
Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories Introduces Report
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 31 March (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights this morning started its consideration of the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. Speakers expressed grave concern that the Middle East peace process had come to a standstill, and urged all parties in the conflict to respect human rights.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Hannu Halinen, spoke of the grave consequences of the persisting foreign occupation for the respect of human rights, and its effects, notably upon Palestinian children.
A Palestinian delegate addressed the Commission, deploring Israel's military occupation as a flagrant violation of human rights. The very lives of the Palestinian people were threatened daily due to the policies of the Israeli Government which was persisting in reviving a system of apartheid.
An Israeli delegate said the Special Rapporteur's report was one-sided and did not detail the violations of human rights that occurred in the Palestinian territories. No progress on the peace process could happen until the Palestinian Authority respected the agreements it had made with Israel.
When it reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Commission will continue its consideration of the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. It might also start its discussion on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world.
Human Rights Violations in Occupied Territories, Including Palestine
Under the agenda item on question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, the Commission had before it a series of documents, including a report on the situation in the occupied territories (E/CN.4/1999/24) submitted by Special Rapporteur Hannu Halinen, which remarks, among other things, that "the Government of Israel, regrettably, still refuses to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms"; that expansion of Israeli settlements in the territories and demolition of Palestinian homes are causes of mounting concern; that strict closure of the occupied territories as a form of collective punishment have been implemented to a lesser degree than in the past, but still occur; that Israel's High Court of Justice "has not pronounced itself regarding the legality of interrogation methods which amount to torture, but has lifted interim injunctions prohibiting torture with regard to specific cases"; that "Palestinians detained by the Palestinian Authority are often, in the course of interrogation, subjected to torture"; and that throughout the region "sustainable peace cannot be achieved without respect for human rights".
There were two letters from the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva protesting expansion of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank (E/CN.4/1999/5) and destruction of Palestinian-owned houses in Jerusalem (E/CN.4/1999/108).
There was a letter from the Permanent Representative of Syria (E/CN.4/1999/106) charging that "Israeli occupation authorities are continuing their various aggressive and inhuman practices on Syrian territory".
There were reports from the Secretary-General noting that resolutions passed by the Commission at its session last year relating to the occupied territories had been disseminated as requested (E/CN.4/1999/21 and 22). And a note from the Secretary- General (E/CN.4/1999/23) drew the Commission's attention to reports relating to the topic of the occupied territories issued by the United Nations since the Commission's last session.
HANNU HALINEN, Special Rapporteur on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, introduced his report (E/CN.4/1999/24). He said that human rights should be integrated into political and economic discussions concerning the conflict. The persisting foreign occupation of the Palestinian territories and its grave consequences for the respect for human rights was the reason the Special Rapporteur had asked the Commission to review his mandate.
The Special Rapporteur moved on to speak of torture. The more extreme forms of torture had been discontinued in the occupied territories, but this progress was not satisfactory. Nor was the fate of children in these territories, since many were affected by malnutrition, health problems due to restricted access to treatment, child labour and lack of education. The protracted tension of living under these conditions also led to anxieties and traumatic syndromes in children. The international community was already participating in many children's programmes, but more needed to be done. It was the Special Rapporteur's wish that his report in its entirety could be a reference in the search for peace, security and respect for human rights in the Middle East.
NABIL RAMLAWI, observer for Palestine, said the Israeli military occupation of Palestine was a flagrant violation of the human rights of Palestinians; torture continued and had been legitimized by two decisions of the Israeli High Court of Justice; arbitrary detention was still practised; and in addition there were confiscation of Palestinian lands, construction of bypass roads, establishment of Israeli settlements, and collective punishments of Palestinians, including through closure of the territory and demolition of homes. Israel also was engaged in emptying East Jerusalem of its inhabitants through various means -- a kind of ethnic cleansing.
In effect, Israel was practicing apartheid -- it was producing a situation where Israeli settlers lived privileged lives with State support while Palestinians were reduced to the status of second-class persons. Israel furthermore had reneged on international obligations contained in agreements signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the framework of the peace process. And it treated the Commission and the United Nations with contempt by ignoring resolutions of the Commission, Security Council, and General Assembly. Its human rights violations amounted at this point to crimes of war and crimes against the peace and security of mankind.
DAVID PELEG (Israel) said his Government regretted that the Commission continued to single it out by allocating it a specific agenda item, rather than including the issue under item 9. Israel remained committed to creating an environment of peace, stability and prosperity with its neighbours which could only be achieved through negotiation and conciliation. However, the Palestinian Authority had not fulfilled its side of the bargain made under the Wye River Memorandum. Until this happened, no substantial progress could be made. Israel supported the proposed change to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, since the current mandate was anachronistic and did not take into account the negotiations that had taken place between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, nor did it take note of the fact that there were two sides to the Middle East conflict.
Israel also felt the report lacked methodology and only presented one side of the story, Mr. Peleg said. It did not look at the full scope of the problem and did not refer to violations of human rights perpetrated by Palestinians or the Palestinian Authority, which included frequent political and extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detentions without due process or fair trials, and abuse and torture of detainees. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association were habitually violated by the Palestinian Authority. Discrimination against women and disabled persons was an ongoing state of affairs.
The issues mentioned by the Special Rapporteur should be seen in the context of Israel's responsibility to fight terrorism, and it was duty bound to protect the lives of all its citizens, from that threat, whether Jews or Arabs, whilst balancing this with the States duty to respect human rights, Mr. Peleg concluded.
WILHELM HOYNCK (Germany), on behalf of the European Union, expressed concern that the Middle East peace process had stopped. The European Union called for the full implementation of what had been agreed upon without any further delay or conditions. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967, Hannu Halinen, had produced an excellent report and the European Union subscribed to his assessment that the human rights situation had become hostage to political considerations and expediencies. Israel was urged to cooperate fully and unconditionally with the Special Rapporteur and all parties, and to comply with the recommendations of his report.
Mr. Hoynck expressed concern over continued Israeli use of torture during interrogations, over incommunicado detention, over demolition of Palestinian houses, over restrictions to movements, and over discriminatory treatment of Palestinian Jerusalemites. These actions were unacceptable, he said. He also expressed concern over human-rights violations by Palestinians and urged the Palestinian Authority to ensure that Palestinian security services strictly complied with international human rights standards. Torture was to be stopped immediately, and it was a matter of concern that increasing numbers were being held in prolonged detention without charges or trial. All sides in the Middle East should promote the rule of law and democracy. The Oslo Accords referred to the West Bank and Gaza as "a single territorial unit" and provided for "safe passages" between these areas, Mr. Hoynck pointed out; however, such movement was still inhibited by closure of territories by Israel and by bureaucratic permission procedures. The European Union was strongly committed to improving the human rights situation in the occupied territories as a means of promoting peace and economic prosperity, he said.
LEGWAILA LEGWAILA (Botswana) said the Special Rapporteur's report made discouraging reading. Prospects for peace in the Middle East had been stifled again and again. The Wye River Memorandum was in a vegetative state, a victim of both sides' lack of commitment to peace. Israel had every right to exist within its borders, but its expansion into the occupied Palestinian territories -- to create facts on the ground and to make it even more difficult to achieve peace -- should come to an end.
Mr. Legwaila said the conflict between the two sides was fueled by unremitting paternalism on the Israeli side. There could be no lasting peace without mutual respect. There had to be recognition of the Palestinian people's right to territory. The two sides should return to the negotiating table and should implement the already signed peace agreements.
AKRAM ZAKI (Pakistan) said the situation in the occupied Arab and Palestinian territories presented a sad case of the violation of human rights. This was due to Israel's reluctance to fulfil its side of the agreements signed. The Palestinian people had a right to their land. Israel's expulsion of inhabitants from these areas, and its change of laws which were already applicable, were a source of concern. Destruction of agriculture, refusal to allow Palestinian farmers to harvest, destruction of infrastructure, discrimination in employment opportunities, and excessive restriction of water use were deliberate steps by Israel to deny Palestinians their right to their land.
In addition, Israel continued to change the demographic composition of Jerusalem by expelling Palestinians, Mr. Zaki went on to state. The international community needed to remain closely involved to ensure that the peace process in the Middle East succeeded and to protect the political rights of Palestinians and help them to realize their inalienable right to their own land.
NACER BENJELLOUNI-TOUIMI (Morocco) said that peace agreements signed a few years ago had raised great hopes for the Middle East based on the land-for-peace concept. But Israel had since refused to abide by these agreements and to observe the timetables contained in them. Negotiating the agreements had been long and hard, and their implementation now was under great threat because of announced expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. These were not the plans of a Government that intended to withdraw troops from the occupied lands.
Israel daily continued to build new settlements and to extend existing ones; it continued to confiscate more land and to surrender land only when it could confiscate other, larger tracts. Mr. Benjellouni-Touimi noted that Israeli practices violated many international commitments signed by Israel in the field of human rights; in any case Israel remained bound to the Geneva Conventions and should abide by them if it wished to avoid a new spiral of violence. There could be no peace without justice and no security at the expense of Israel's neighbours -- Israel had to understand that security was not the sole or paramount concern in the region, and that the problems of the Middle East could not be resolved by focusing only on that issue.
MAXIME ZAFERA (Madagascar) said the Special Rapporteur's report was of great quality. His efforts were praiseworthy, but the attentive study of the report caused grave concern since it shed additional light on the state of the occupied territories and the violations of human rights occurring in that region.
Israel, as the occupying Power, should cease and desist these violations. The situation had worsened since the signing of the peace memorandum at Wye, with allegations of torture and the violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The maintenance and strengthening of the peace process could only happen if the Israeli Government respected the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Madagascar supported the Palestinian people and urged the international community to aid the peace process in all ways possible.
SUSAN ECKEY (Norway) said her country attached great importance to the strengthening of democratic institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights in the Middle East. Norway urged Israel to refrain from all use of torture or moderate physical pressure against detainees in Israeli jails.
She said Norway was aware of the difficult economic and social conditions in the Palestinian areas. However, the responsibility for improving the human rights situation in the Palestinian-controlled areas rested solely with the Palestinian Authority. Norway was ready to assist in advancing peace and human rights conditions in the countries concerned, working in close cooperation with the international community and the United Nations.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that the tragic times of the Palestinians seemed to be everlasting. Last year the Commission had been told about some positive developments -- the transfer of certain powers to the Palestinian Authority and the signing of the Wye River Memorandum; but these hopes had been dashed by the unilateral suspension by Israel of implementation of the Memorandum.
Bangladesh was deeply concerned by the findings of the Special Rapporteur that human rights violations had in fact increased due to frustration linked to the non- implementation of the agreed process and heightened political tension. There was an evident need to revitalize the peace process, but it should be emphasized that it was not enough simply to agree on words -- the words had to be put into effect. It also was time for Israel to cooperate with United Nations resolutions and mechanisms; its continued intransigence would be self-defeating in the long run. There had to be a comprehensive and just settlement of the Palestinian issue.
SERGUEI TCHOUMAREV (Russian Federation) said the Middle East peace settlement was one of the most dramatic and difficult to implement, requiring constant attention. As a co-sponsor of the peace process, Russia was in favour of moving forward on the path of justice, compromise and common sense so that it would be possible to achieve a lasting peace that would take into account the security of both sides.
A key to this was the right of the Palestinian people to an independent State. Continued Israeli construction of settlements in the occupied territories was a cause of the worsening situation. Israel had violated its international obligations and had refused to enter into a constructive dialogue in relation to the problems in the Middle East. It was a shame because such an interaction could become a positive element in the continuing task of implementing the peace settlement. The settlement required particular attention from the Commission on Human Rights and other United Nations bodies.
ABSA CLAUDE DIALLO (Senegal) said the situation in the occupied territories, Palestine in particular, continued to be a concern to the international community. One of the keys to lasting peace in this area would be for each of the concerned parties to acknowledge the sovereign right of the other. As the twentieth century drew to an end, the men, women, and children of this region needed to rediscover confidence and trust and to put an end to the use of violence which continued to fan hatred, among other things.
The international community needed to support the Palestinian people and should respond to their economic and political needs. The Special Rapporteur's report would help the international community to work for peace in this region. Respect for the agreements signed in the peace process could open ways to constructive dialogue among the peoples of the region.
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