Press Release

28 March 2001


A series of Arab and Islamic countries sharply criticized Israel this evening as the Commission on Human Rights continued debate on the state of affairs in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Qatar, Pakistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Oman, Morocco, Mauritania, Lebanon, and Yemen charged Israel with excessive violence in responding to continuing disturbances in occupied Palestine. As in previous years they called for Israel to withdraw from occupied regions, to end the construction of Israeli settlements there, to halt its destruction of Palestinian houses or agricultural lands, and for it to comply with United Nations resolutions passed on these matters over the years.

Speakers frequently referred to reports submitted on the recent disturbances by High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and by a commission of inquiry set up on the request of a Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights last October.

Among other countries speaking, Norway and Canada cited concern not only over what they said was excessive use of force by Israeli defence forces but over the human-rights record of the Palestinian Authority. Canada said it was troubled by the use of the Palestinian-controlled media as a tool for incitement to violence against Israel, and Norway charged that the Palestinian Authority had carried out executions following death sentences at summary trials where the human rights of the accused had been disregarded.

Also contributing to the debate were representatives of Indonesia, Niger, Malaysia, China, the Russian Federation, and Switzerland.

Israel and Palestine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 29 March.


NUGROHO WISNUMURTI (Indonesia) said that it was the occupying power's responsibility to exercise restraint and abide by the duties and obligations called for by the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. In that regard, it was also the international community's duty to ensure Israel's full observance of the Convention. What was at stake was the protection of civilians under occupation. It was only through the observance of the existing rules that the situation could return to some form of normally until the foreign occupation was brought to an end. As violence went on unabated, there could be no other alternative but for Israel to assume its obligations and pursue the peace negotiations in earnest.

Indonesia supported the realization of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including their right to establish a Palestinian State in their homeland. In that context, the Government of Indonesia would support the realization of a comprehensive, just and durable peace settlement in the Middle East.

ADAMOU SEYDOU (Niger) said it had a tremendous amount of interest in seeing a return to peace in the Middle East. In the High Commissioner's report, it said the human rights situation there was bleak. That was written last November, and since then, the situation had not improved. It was true that political changes had occurred in Israel. Nevertheless, it seemed the tension had not waned. Israeli forces continued to use excessive force. The Israeli Government had shut down vast tracts of Palestinian land and had imposed curfews. It was high time for the Palestinian people to live in peace.

For all too long, the Middle East had suffered from violence. Israel said all of its interventions were in response to acts of hostility. It was recognized that Israel could do better. No people in the world could forever be subjected to domination without revolt. If Israel eliminated the domination, peace would win out.

MARIE GERVAIS-VIDRICAIRE (Canada) said the tragic events of the past few days had once again demonstrated the fragility of the situation and the need to ensure respect for the human rights of those on both sides of the conflict. Canada strongly condemned the terrorist acts and called on all parties in the region, who truly sought peace, to condemn such events. Canada offered sincere condolences to the victims and their families on both sides of that tragic conflict. Respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens of the West Bank and Gaza was the responsibility of the authorities who exercised control over the area. Canada believed that human rights problems for Palestinians had persisted over the past year mainly due to continuing Israeli occupation of large areas of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as East Jerusalem, and due to failures of governance by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel's restriction of the freedom of movement of Palestinians by closure of access roads and checkpoints had resulted in increased economic and social hardship. Canada was very concerned about the long-term effect the closures could have on Palestinian society. The human rights record of the Palestinian Authority similarly was a matter of serious concern. Canada was also troubled by the use of Palestinian controlled media as a tool for incitement. Canada condemned the execution of individuals.

ABDUL WAHAB ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said Saudi Arabia strongly condemned and deplored the innocent blood that Israel was shedding. Israeli practices in the occupied territory constituted crimes against humanity since they were being committed against a defenseless people, and included the demolition of homes, the uprooting of trees, the bulldozing of farms, arbitrary detentions and even assassinations of Palestinian personalities. It was still difficult to understand the obstinate positions of some States which were refusing to condemn, or take steps to halt, those tragic daily events and were thereby encouraging Israel to persist in its inhuman practices. It was even more appalling that some of those States and nongovernmental organizations, which were defenders and guardians of human rights throughout the world, were turning a blind eye to the real massacres that were being committed against the Palestinian people.

Defenders and guardians of human rights throughout the world, including the Commission, should adopt an objective, equitable and transparent approach, far removed from the policy of double standards. The Commission should call upon Israel to halt all its military operations and political assassinations; lift its military blockade; comply with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly; remove all unlawful settlements, including in East Jerusalem; and halt attempts to alter the legal status or the demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem or to encroach on the Islamic holy places. A comprehensive peace in the region could not be achieved in the absence of religious respect and tolerance.

MOHAMED SALAH DEMBRI (Algeria) said his delegation supported the conclusions and recommendations of the reports presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Inquiry Commission. It was high time that every one assumed responsibility clearly, without ambiguity, in the face of the tragedy of the Palestinian. Beyond the essential measures to be taken, the international community should seriously focus on the problems which hampered the peace process initiated by the David Camp and Oslo Agreements. During the conclusions of those two agreements, the two peoples had taken historic decisions by recognizing each other's rights to live in peace and security in two States.

Israel continued to expand settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories. It continued to confiscate land, demolish houses, destroy fruit trees, and build roads which would connect the areas occupied by settlers. The Palestinians were more and more isolated and a process of 'bantustanization' of Palestinians was taking place. Southern Lebanon and the occupied Golan Heights were also experiencing similar situations.

MARTIN TORE BJORNDAL (Norway) said during the past six months, the situation in the Palestinian area had deteriorated dramatically. Continued confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis had resulted in the tragic loss of many lives. Committed efforts to build peace and mutual confidence had suffered tremendous setbacks. There could be no substitute for negotiations. The parties should take the necessary steps to restore confidence, re-establish dialogue and resume negotiations. Norway reiterated its call for an end to all violence. It urged both sides to take effective measures aimed at diffusing tension and to refrain from all activities that could incite new violence.

During the past six months, close to 500 people had been killed and thousands severely injured. The Palestinian side had suffered the most. Norway was deeply shocked that so many innocent civilians, including children, had been killed, at times by use of excessive force. There were also extrajudicial executions, which were unacceptable in any system based on the rule of law. This should also apply to Israel. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority had carried out executions following death sentences at summary trials where the human rights of the accused had been disregarded. This gave reason for deep concern. The Palestinian Authority had been drawn into the spiralling cycle of violence and carried its own responsibility for contributing to its termination. Norway called upon the Palestinian Authority to do its utmost to put an end to violence and to onslaughts against Israeli civilians.

RAJMAH HUSSAIN (Malaysia), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), said the Organization shared the concern expressed and assessment of the situation of the Commission of Inquiry, particularly with regard to continuation and intensification of human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. The OIC deplored the attitude of Israel in that it had exhibited its contempt for the Commission on Human Rights and its mechanisms by refusing to recognize the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and refusing to cooperate with it. The OIC condemned the collective punishments as a crime of genocide in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It deplored the Israeli claim that the Fourth Geneva Convention was inapplicable by reason of the absence of a residual sovereign power in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories continued to deteriorate day after day. The OIC would continue to urge for the early peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem. The continuing deterioration of the situation constituted a threat to stability in the region.

WANG SHIJIE (China) said that during the 10 years since the Madrid Peace Conference, Middle East peace had seem some progress. Last year witnessed Israel's withdrawal of its troops from Southern Lebanon and negotiations on the final status between Palestine and Israel had begun. All these were important elements in the complete restoration of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people and the realization of a comprehensive and durable peace. However, the eruption of large-scale violence between Israel and Palestine last September had severely hindered the peace process, causing grave concern to the international community. Last October, this Commission adopted a resolution condemning the responsible party for its abuse of military force which resulted in a large number of civilian casualties, especially among women and children.

The international community, including this Commission, should give importance to and apply itself to the solution of the Middle East and Palestine issues. The Chinese delegation felt the international community should build upon the opportunity offered by the convening of the Special Session of the Commission last October, and urged certain countries to discard their taste for double standards and replace it with effective measures conducive to a just and fair solution to the Middle East and Palestinian issues. Only with sustained progress in the peace process could the security of countries in that region be really safeguarded, and could the Palestinian people fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to self-determination.

ALBERT SITNIKOV (Russian Federation) said that it was greatly concerned at the acts of violence in the occupied territories which had led to the loss of several hundred lives. As a result, the achievements of the peace process were under threat. From the very beginning of the outbreak of violence, the Russian Federation had tried its utmost to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Israel had imposed an economic blockade that had worsened the situation in the occupied territories. Each act of violence produced more violence. Russia, as a cosponsor of the peace process, had carefully studied the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission of Inquiry and fully agreed with the authors of the reports that most of the violations of human rights were the result of the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli military, of the settlement policy, and of the economic blockade imposed on the territories.

The reports also addressed Israeli concerns such as anti-Israeli propaganda by the Palestinians. There was a need to break out of the vicious cycle of violence and for Israel to lift the blockade it had imposed on the territories. Both sides must not allow the conflict to escalate. Each party had to make compromises. The political leaders of both parties needed to show responsibility and wisdom as their decisions would determine the fate of millions of people in the Middle East.

KHALID BIN JASSIM AL-THANI (Qatar) said Qatar felt grave concern over humanitarian law and human rights violations by the occupying power, Israel. There had been repeated condemnation by international bodies of these Israeli practices, yet they had continued. The Israeli forces had continued to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.

Israel had to accept and abide by all international instruments including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Without the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, the human rights of the inhabitants would not be respected.

BARRISTER SHAHIDA JAMIL (Pakistan) said the conflict in the occupied territories was rooted in the Israeli denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, especially their right to self-determination, and also had resulted from Israel's policy of repression. The most painful aspect of the current situation was the high percentage of children among the dead and wounded. Deplorable also was the Israeli forces' blockade of the Red Cross and other medical vehicles and its denial of access to medical help for victims. The Israeli settlements acted as a perpetual reminder to the Palestinian people of the humiliation of military occupation. The IDF had engaged in the excessive use of force at the expense of life and property in Palestine and such destruction of property had been carried out in an intimidating manner unrelated to security, disrespect of civilian well-being, and going well beyond the needs of military necessity

Pakistan felt for the sufferings of the Palestinian refugees and shared the Commission's view that the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine had been incapable of discharging its mandate. Although the Commission continued to exist in paper, it lacked budget and personnel and was effectively defunct.

SAMIR K. AL-NIMA (Iraq) said the international community was witnessing a new form of colonialism by the Zionist regime of Israel against the Palestinian people and other Arab territories. The occupation was a flagrant violation of international norms and showed disrespect for the international community. The suffering and starvation by the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples was a result of that disregard.

A conference of the State parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention should be called to examine the behaviour of the Zionist entity. The Zionists should also bring their occupation to an end. The international community should exert pressure on the occupying authorities to refrain from committing atrocities against the Palestinian people and to allow the Palestinians to exercise their inalienable human rights.

NAJEEB AL-BADER (Kuwait) said the human rights situation in the occupied territories was seriously deteriorating as a result of Israeli violations of the rights of the Palestinian people. The Commission had adopted resolutions condemning these violations and Israel therefore must assume its responsibilities in terms of the United Nations Charter and the relevant resolutions. Israel must comply with humanitarian law and effective steps must be taken to protect the Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation.

The Palestinians had the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent State with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel also had to withdraw from the occupied Golan and Southern Lebanon and release all kidnapped persons and prisoners.

ALI KHORRAM (Iran) said that despite the international condemnation and clear demands contained in the numerous reports, resolutions and decisions of the United Nation and other relevant bodies, the human rights violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories had not ceased. Occupation in itself was already a serious violation of human rights, and the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine and the Arab territories by the occupying forces had remained a fact. A prolonged occupation lasting for more than half a century had been cemented to a large extent by the systematic violation of human rights and the fundamental freedoms of the Palestinian people.

Iran believed that the root cause of the problem of Palestine had to be dealt with to bring to an end the systematic violations of Palestinian human rights and the other illegal and inhuman practices of the Zionist forces in the occupied territories.

MOHAMMED OMAR AHMED AIDEED (Oman) said that human rights violations in the occupied territories were continuing. There had been an upsurge in destruction and violence caused by the inhumane and racist practices of Israel, in flagrant violation of all human rights principles and relevant United Nations resolutions.

Oman was greatly concerned about the bleak situation in the occupied territories, as described by the High Commissioner in her report. Israeli practices were aimed at depriving the Palestinian people of their dignity. Peace could be achieved only if Israel complied with UN resolutions adopted as long as half a century ago. Oman held Israel responsible for the worsening of the humanitarian situation in the region and called for the adoption of measures to protect the Palestinian people and for an end to the Israeli occupation.

NACER BENJELLOUN-TOUIMI (Morocco) said that daily suffering, humiliation and the violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people had shocked the international community. The policies of collective punishment and the destruction of agricultural fields by Israel could not be accepted. Israel should stop all its policies of confiscation of land, demolition of Palestinian houses and construction of settlements in the territories it was occupying . The continuation of such policies was certainly a profound cause for the deterioration of the situation and it hampered the prospects for any peace settlement in the region.

The closure of the Palestinian territories was also a factor aimed at marginalizing the Palestinians socially and economically. Morocco hoped that the violence and hatred in the region would be replaced by dialogue so that the Palestinian people could live in dignity and their human rights could be respected.

MOHAMED SALECK OULD MOHAMED LEMINE (Mauritania) said that more than five months had elapsed since a special session of the Commission was convened and all the reports currently before Commission showed that the situation in the occupied territories remained disturbing. The reports of the High Commissioner and the Commission of Inquiry referred t daily violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people and described continued exacerbation of the situation.

The international community must adopt measures to protect the Palestinian people and put an end to their suffering. It was not just a moral duty but a political and legal obligation. Peaceful negotiations remained the best way to bring lasting peace to the Middle East, based on the principle of land for peace, the creation of a Palestinian State and the withdrawal of Israel from the Golan and the occupied territories in compliance with UN resolutions. The Commission should continue to bring its moral authority to bear to bring about a lasting solution to the conflict.

FRANCOIS NORDMANN (Switzerland) said all parties should allow the international agencies to do their jobs. It was unfortunate that Israel would not comply with the High Commissioner's office. Security was the foundation for peace in the Middle East. Respect for law, whether it was international law or international humanitarian law, should be followed. Switzerland condemned the extrajudicial killings. Palestinian Authority could also do its part to prevent violence. There were arbitrary executions that were carried out. Protection of the civilian population was a responsibility of all.

Another threat to peace were the settlements. These showed segregation, gave only poor access to water. The price included loss of lives and permanent wounding. Security was for all Israelis and Palestinians, and could never come at the expense of others.

JOHNNY IBRAHIM (Lebanon) said the human right situation in the occupied territories had worsened, as attested to by the various reports before the Commission. Israeli violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people came as no surprise. Without the occupation there would be no intifada.

If Israel had recognized the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination the latest events would not have occurred. The Commission had to condemn such human rights violations by Israel. If Israel wanted the Commission to stop condemning it, it would withdraw from the Arab territories in exchange for peace. Israel must comply with UN resolutions.

MOHAMED SAEED AL-ATTAR (Yemen) said the crimes of the occupying power were heinous. The questions was what could be done to put a stop to the daily crimes committed against Palestinians by Israel. There were international laws that had been enacted to protect the Palestinian people, but the people did not know why the international community did not act to enforce them, as was done in other parts of the world. The international community appeared powerless.

International decisions should be applied equally everywhere. This situation was a test for the credibility of international human rights instruments. Israel's record of violations went back 50 years. Yemen agreed with the recommendation that international protection be provided to the Palestinian people.

Rights of reply

A representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said some of the statements the Commission heard were balanced and reasoned, and others were one-sided. Both peoples were suffering because of the Palestinian Authority's decision to continue along the path of violence. The High Commissioner had asked earlier how would it all end? The conflict would certainly not end with one-sided resolutions. It would end if the Palestinian Authority fought terrorism and made an effort to keep children out of the conflict and changed its rhetoric, including in the deliberations of the Commission, and if it used the language of peace instead.

A representative of Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said the members of the Commission of Inquiry witnessed the destruction by the Israeli forces. Every minute there was a new martyr, a new victim. Israeli occupation was an aggression itself -- a crime against humanity. Now to occupation you could add military aggression. And Israel wanted to negotiate for peace? What kind of negotiations did it want? If Israel wanted to negotiate for peace, it needed to withdraw from the occupied territories. Then there would be peace. There could not be peace without it.

For information media - not an official record