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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · Geneva


GA/PAL/805
15 June 1999

UN MEETING TO DISCUSS CONFERENCE ON MEASURES TO ENFORCE FOURTH
GENEVA CONVENTION IN OCCUPIED PALESTINE OPENS IN CAIRO

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)



CAIRO, 14 June -- "The protective powers of the Fourth Geneva Convention are meaningless for the Palestinian people as they helplessly watch their rights being trampled and ignored with surprising impunity by the occupying Power", the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal), said today at the opening of the United Nations International Meeting on the Convening of the Conference on Measures to Enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.

Regrettably, there has been a lack of collective political will to develop measures to enforce the Convention, he added. The meeting in Cairo would allow for an exchange of views and perspectives on the Convention and its enforcement in the occupied territories.

Sayd El-Masry, Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Egypt, said that in rejecting the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international agreements, Israel continued to deprive the Palestinian people of their rights and to change the demography of the Palestinian territory. The international community must take a stand and make Israel realize that its activities were flagrant violations of international law. If it does not, the door will be open to any country wishing to follow the Israeli example.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a message read out by his representative, United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, Under-Secretary-General Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, said that pending a political settlement, the most effective way to ensure the safety and protection of the civilian population of the occupied Palestinian territory was the full application of the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Recalling the Assembly's request that he make new efforts to monitor and observe the situation regarding Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation, the Secretary-General said he would do all in his power to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to him by the United Nations.

The two-day Cairo meeting precedes a conference next month in Geneva of the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, on measures to enforce the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory and to ensure respect for the Convention. The Committee has convened the current meeting so that governments, intergovernmental organizations and international experts could discuss the various aspects of the Convention and its enforcement.

The Geneva Conference will be the first of its kind since the signing of the Convention, which is widely referred to as the Fourth Geneva Convention. It was designed to regulate the effect of war and its aftermath on civilians in zones of hostilities and prescribes rules to mitigate the hardship and suffering imposed on civilian populations not only during hostilities, but also after a ceasefire or truce. The Convention includes a broad range of safeguards, which, if respected, would guarantee the minimum level of protection and well-being of innocent civilian population living under occupation.

Nabil Shaath, Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Palestinian Authority, also spoke.

Other statements were made by the representatives of Mali, Ghana, Iran, South Africa, Sudan and Pakistan.

Statements were also made by representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the League of Arab States and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Opening Statements

SAYD EL-MASRY, Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Egypt: Egypt has fully supported the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. By organizing the Cairo meeting, the Committee demonstrated its dynamism in coping with changes in the quest to regain the rights of the Palestinian people. Israel continues to believe that it stands beyond the law and continues to violate international conventions. Its actions remind us that despite 2000 years of civilization, Israel does not understand that it is impossible to continue violating international humanitarian law. In rejecting the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international agreements, Israel continues to deprive the Palestinian people of their rights and to change the demography of the Palestinian territory. The international community must take a stand and make Israel realize that its activities are flagrant violations of international law. If it does not, the door will be open to any country wishing to follow the Israeli example.

The coming conference in Geneva was a step in a long process of attempting to change the situation of the Palestinians. The new year should have seen the salvaging of the peace process. Yet, this year the peace process had seen setbacks. A positive development was the statement of the European Union Summit which reconfirmed the right of the Palestinian people to have a State.

Other positive developments were the Economic and Social Council resolution reconfirming the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination. Even in non-political arenas, the international community has continued to support Palestinian rights. These positive developments have not come in a vacuum, but reflect resolutions adopted by the organs of the United Nations.

Egypt supports Palestine's right to declare a State. Hopefully, new developments in Israel will support the peace process and the new Israeli Government will opt for peace. It is also hoped that expressed good intentions will turn into actions showing the desire of the new Government for peace. Three lost years in the peace process must be made up. The new Israeli Government must stop building new settlements and stop the expansion of old ones. If Israeli intentions are good, all stumbling blocks can be overcome. Working together, all the peace-loving forces of the world can hope for freedom, justice and equality in the new millennium.

Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN, in a message read out by his representative, United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, Under-Secretary-General CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN: Although the peace process has been deadlocked for some time, recent events, including the Israeli elections, raised hopes that the process would restart, allowing the parties to enter the crucial phase of the permanent status negotiations. Pending a political settlement, the most effective way to ensure the safety and protection of the civilian population of the occupied territories would be the full application of the provisions of the Convention. The Assembly had asked him to make new efforts to monitor and observe the situation regarding Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation and he will do all in his power to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to him by the United Nations.

The peace process will not succeed, however, if tangible improvements in the living conditions of the Palestinian people are not made. Continued assistance to and support of the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other United Nations entities is needed to build a viable Palestinian economy. Although the international community has worked for decades to end the continuous turmoil and instability in the region, the success of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement ultimately lies with the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. He appeals to the political courage of the leaders on both sides to re-embark on the negotiating process in a spirit of pragmatism and statesmanship. Difficult decisions lie ahead, yet the peace process must continue.

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People: The protective powers of the Fourth Geneva Convention are meaningless for the Palestinian people as they helplessly watch their rights being trampled and ignored with surprising impunity by Israel, the occupying Power. Israel continuously and systematically violates international humanitarian law. Regrettably, there has been a lack of collective political will to develop measures to enforce the Convention. Today's meeting will provide an opportunity to exchange views and perspectives on the various aspects of the Convention and its enforcement in the occupied territories. Some of the issues raised here will reverberate at the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in Geneva next month.

Provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention regularly violated include article 27, which states that protected persons should be treated humanely at all times and protected from all acts of violence. Yet, the Israeli Defense Force and the Israeli security forces use disproportionate force, including live ammunition, in dealing with unarmed demonstrators. Torture is used as a method of interrogation. Article 33 prohibits collective punishment, or punishment of an offence a person has not personally committed. Restrictions such as curfews, closures of borders with Israel and passage between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are imposed regularly on the entire population, exacting heavy economic losses on an already fragile Palestinian economy.

Although article 47 prohibits the occupying Power from annexing the whole or part of the occupied territory, Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and subsequently annexed the Old City and surrounding area. Attempts to alter the status of Jerusalem continue. Article 49 states that the occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. The Israeli Government has systematically established new settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and expanded existing ones. Article 49 also prohibits individual or mass transfers, as well as deportations of persons from the occupied territory. Hundreds of Palestinians have been deported since 1967. Despite the prohibition from destruction of real or personal property belonging to private persons contained in article 53, demolition of Palestinian houses, as well as uprooting of orchards are common.

Statements

NABIL SHAATH, Minister for Planning and International Cooperation, Palestinian Authority: The upcoming Geneva Conference is important because it will try to put teeth into the rules of international humanitarian law. Until now, its enforcement has been wanting. If the Convention succeeds in bringing about measures to enforce humanitarian law, such laws would constitute a body of protection not only for the Palestinian people, but also for others who suffer under occupation. The problems of applying international humanitarian law in Palestine are well known. Settlements, annexation, demolition of homes and confiscation of land reflect chronic problems of colonization which "bantunizes" the Palestinian territories even as the peace process is under way. Settlements are the most serious reason for calling on the international community for help.

It must be shown that the provisions of the Geneva Conventions cannot be applied selectively. In the past, a series of diplomatic efforts were undertaken to determine if Israel would accept the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but they were not effective. The July meeting will provide the international community with an opportunity to tell the Palestinian people that it can enforce the Convention, and that they do not have to resort to violence to protect their territories. The High Contracting Parties can provide measures of enforcement to make Israel feel the weight of the authority of the international community. It should be taken into account that the new Israeli Government might be different from the previous one. The Israeli electorate has given it a mandate for peace, to begin to implement past agreements, cease any action of colonization and conclude negotiations in earnest. Palestinians would like to be optimistic, but there is no way out except a real peace. The Conference next month should not be a political meeting, but should protect the rights of all people under occupation.

FRANK T. MDLALOSE (South Africa), representing the Non-Aligned Movement: The international community should take action against States violating international humanitarian law, and there should be increasing efforts to ensure compliance by Israel of existing law. Any measures to ensure respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention should be strictly adhered to until the conflict is finally over. When a political settlement is being worked out, the basic principles of humanitarian law should not be forgotten.

It is vital that the international community remain vigilant. It is incumbent on the international community to ensure that all efforts are made to enhance respect for international humanitarian law defined for the protection of civilians in time of war. It is appropriate that the refugees commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Fourth Geneva Convention yield a universal declaration to uphold the Palestinian people. The new millennium must usher in a new era of peace, freedom and prosperity. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people are long overdue.

AZEDDINE LARAKI, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in a statement read out by ABDULAZIZ ABOUGHOSH: It is the duty of both the scheduled Conference in Geneva and the current meeting to draw the international community's attention to Israeli violations of the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Protocol of 1977 and to adopt measures to ensure the implementation of their provisions relative to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Any violation or grave breach of the provisions of the Convention and the additional protocol is the concern of every State party. Consequently, all parties to the Conventions should take the necessary measures to ensure respect of the conventions and protocols. Legal and diplomatic mechanisms are available under the United Nations Charter, in addition to those created by the Convention. The High Contracting Parties should consider Charter-based mechanisms as well as other collective action. Specific measures under the Charter range from engaging legal mechanisms through inter-State claims at the International Court of Justice to implementing economic and other sanctions against the party responsible for the violations. The Convention calls on States parties to implement measures at the national level, as well, including legislation, regulations and prosecution of individuals responsible for violations. At the international level, States should resort to tribunals and trials of individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

AHMED ESMAT ABDEL MEGUID, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, in a statement delivered by SAID KAMAL: The countries of the League of Arab States had opted for peace even before the convening of the Conference. The League fully supports any agreement that will achieve the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied Palestinian territories. The international organizations fix their objectives in the good of humanitarian law. Israel has ignored international resolutions and law to protect civilians in the occupied territories. In fact, there has been an escalation of Israeli practices against the Palestinian people, practices which constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settlement activities have increased significantly, with great areas being annexed.

The international community supports the principles of the international humanitarian organizations and law. In spite of derogation of their rights, the Palestinian people have tried through a long history to achieve their dream. It was everyone's duty to contribute to this high objective and to support the Palestinian people in achieving their rights. The objective of the Conference in July should be to establish measures to force compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

SEM MOCTAR OUANE (Mali): Mali reaffirms the commitment of its people to solidarity with the Palestinian people. The holding of the Cairo meeting testifies to the crucial importance of international humanitarian law and to the need to end illegal activities connected to settlements and other actions in the occupied territories. These actions resulted from the deliberate intention of Israel to change the demographic composition of the territories in blatant violation of international law. The urgency of reaching agreement demanded the full implementation of agreements already reached. The Geneva Conference should produce a fruitful conclusion.

JACK WILMOT (Ghana): Israel's illegal activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, fully justify the overwhelming request for the convening of the July Conference to consider measures to enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied territories and to ensure respect thereof. It would send an unequivocal message to Israel that under the Convention and other relative United Nations resolutions it is obliged not only to guarantee the basic human rights of the people under its occupation, but also to ensure that those rights are respected.

For the Palestinians under occupation, the crucial issues are related to the maintenance of personal dignity, and restoration of their legitimate rights including their right to self-determination. At this critical stage of the peace process, when the Palestinian people require the assistance and support of all friends, Ghana urges Member States to show their solidarity by participating in the forthcoming milestone event. Its success will buttress the fact that complex humanitarian issues related to the specific application of the Fourth Geneva Convention can be constructively resolved through the joint efforts of States.

MALCOLM FERGUSON, representative of the Department for Foreign Affairs of South Africa: In order to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, renewed efforts by the international community are necessary. South Africa is deeply concerned about the consistent violations of humanitarian law which have occurred in recent years, violations which demand the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It calls upon Israel to cease all its violations and to honour its obligations to apply the Convention to the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.

South Africa welcomes the steps taken by Switzerland to initiate consultations on the preparations for the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territories. It hopes that the Conference will have a concrete, positive and useful impact on the implementation of the Convention and it will contribute to ensuring respect for international humanitarian law in all circumstances.

AHMED ABDEL HALIM (Sudan): The Geneva Conference should be held according to schedule, on 15 July. Its responsibility is to determine procedures and measures to force Israel to abide by the provisions of the Convention in all the Palestinian territories. Since the Fourth Geneva Convention has come into force, many resolutions have been adopted by the United Nations. All call on Israel to abide by those agreements and to refrain from aggression against the Palestinian people, and all are being ignored by Israel.

Today, the international community called for peace but settlements in the occupied territory continued. They were in contravention of sound thinking and destroyed the principles of international humanitarian law. It is high time for the international family, particularly the High Contracting Parties, to combine determination and will to fulfil their commitments and to send a message to the occupying Power. Israel is perpetrating violations and inhumane activities against the Palestinian people. That aggression has to come to an end. Israel must honour international agreements and United Nations resolutions. Contracting Parties have to cooperate to ensure that all parties respect the provisions of the Convention.

KANSAR AHSAN (Pakistan): In order to protect the political and social rights of the Palestinian people, the signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention should ensure compliance to its provisions, particularly those pertaining to the right of people under occupation on their land and other economic resources. The meeting of the Contracting Parties should be held in Geneva on 15 July as agreed. It must make clear recommendations on measures to be taken for the full respect of the provisions of the Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. It is the obligation of the parties under common article 1 to ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances.

AMIN MEKKI MEDANI, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: The full application of the international conventions on human rights and humanitarian law universally must be a central objective as the new century approaches. The full application of the Fourth Geneva Convention is essential to guarantee respect for the fundamental human rights of civilian populations in times of war and occupation. Recognition of de jure application of the Convention is the first prerequisite for any efforts aimed at the effective protection of civilians in these situations.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights adopts an integrated and complementary approach to supporting the United Nations human rights system, including the treaty monitoring bodies, by monitoring human rights violations and providing technical cooperation to assist governments to implement human rights. The mandate of the High Commissioner makes it incumbent to seek resolution and remedies for human rights violations whenever and wherever they occur, and to prevent further violations. The Office of the High Commissioner also discharges its mandate in disputed and occupied territories. If we close our eyes to breaches of international human rights conventions in any part of the world, we betray the aspirations of peoples all over the globe to have these universally proclaimed rights respected.


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