The observer for Palestine told the Commission that the Israeli policy of inflicting collective punishment was considered a case of genocide under international law. In addition to the closures of the Palestinian territories, the Israeli occupation authorities still continued to confiscate Palestinian land and to torture Palestinian detainees.
The representative of Israel said it was time for the Palestinians to assume responsibility for human rights in the self-governing areas. He underlined that Israeli security measures did not violate human rights and were intended only to stop terror; they were not collective punishments.
According to the representative of Syria, the situation in the occupied Syrian Golan and in other occupied Arab territories continued to deteriorate. The human rights violations there were serious. Israeli colonization still went on, leading to further violence by settlers and greater suffering and loss by the region's rightful inhabitants.
The Commission also heard from its Special Rapporteur on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. Hannu Halinen, of Finland, said without respect for human rights there could be no lasting peace, no sustainable development, no successful establishment of democracy in the region.
Also participating in the debate on the situation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories were Australia, Canada, China, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal. Representatives of the Indigenous World Association and Amnesty International, both non-governmental organizations, also contributed statements.
China and the observer for Palestine exercised their right of reply.
Violations in Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine
In considering the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, the Commission will have a report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document E/CN.4/1996/18) submitted by Hannu Halinen, Special Rapporteur. According to the report, the Special Rapporteur was unable to visit Israel and the totality of the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Although he received valuable information during a short visit to Gaza, it was not sufficient to write of a comprehensive and balanced report.
None the less, Mr. Halinen writes that the peace process which began in 1993 has brought important political changes in the occupied territories and has enhanced the understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. Despite this and other positive developments, as well as the transfer of certain powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority, he recalls that the Israeli occupation continues to be legally in force during the transition period. Israel, therefore, continues to be bound by the requirements of humanitarian law.
Mr. Halinen states that the report was prepared during a particularly difficult time for both Israelis and Palestinians, coming as it did in the wake of the recent suicide bomb attacks in Israel. The perpetrators of such acts should be condemned by the international community as a whole in no uncertain terms. Terrorism, he writes, creates a security situation that undermines the peace process. Acts of terrorism often lead to the adoption of countermeasures that violate human rights and humanitarian law. The first measure imposed on the occupied territories after terrorist incidents is usually their complete closure. This amounts to collective punishment, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. The restrictions on the freedom of movement resulting from closures have serious consequences for the health of the population of the territories. Closures have a particularly adverse effect on the already fragile economic situation and lead to further deterioration in living conditions, especially in the Gaza Strip.
In view of the mass arrests carried out in the wake of the recent attacks, fears have been expressed that both Israel and the Palestinian authority may be subjecting detainees to torture and ill-treatment, he goes on to say. The Special Rapporteur's attention was also drawn to the continued policy of confiscation of Palestinian-owned land in spite of the peace process. The expropriated land is used mostly for the expansion of existing Israeli settlements.
The Special Rapporteur recommends, among other things: that allegations of torture be investigated by independent judicial organs and those responsible prosecuted; that persons placed in administrative detention by the Government of Israel be brought to a fair trial or released; and an end to the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land.
HANNU HALINEN, Special Rapporteur on the question of violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, introducing his report, said he had not been able to obtain cooperation from the Israeli Government, but had been able to visit the autonomous Palestinian territory and had met with Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian Authority. While he was in the region, two deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens had occurred from 2 to 4 March 1996; he condemned those acts.
Meanwhile, he said, Israeli measures against Palestinians continued to violate human rights standards; detention policies seemed unacceptably broad, even if they were intended to combat terrorism. Worse, there were credible reports of mistreatment and even torture of those detained. While maintaining order in the region was understandably a priority, it could not be a reason for superseding international humanitarian law. Those standards must be applied by both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority, without exception.
Without respect for human rights there could be no lasting peace, no sustainable development, no successful establishment of democracy in the region, he continued. Instead of repeating accusations over and over again, both sides needed to create new methods for honouring human rights while still paying attention to public safety and security.
YOSEF LAMDAN (Israel) said it was time for the Palestinians to assume responsibility for human rights in the self-governing areas. Nothing had been done. Nor had the Commission done anything. Israel, under the circumstances, was sceptical of the Commission and its work regarding the Middle East. Terrorist acts continued -- in five recent ghastly incidents, the toll had been almost 60 dead and some 200 injured. Those acts also were attempts to sabotage a peace process that was important to millions of people. Israel's security measures did not violate human rights and were intended only to stop terror; they were not a form of collective punishment. Israel would lower its defence when it was convinced that the Palestinian Authority was taking the necessary steps to eliminate terrorism. The mandate to the Special Rapporteur was outdated and one-sided, and was completely unlike other mandates to Special Rapporteurs; it attached suspicion and responsibility only to Israel.
NABIL RAMLAWI, observer for Palestine, said Israel continued to refuse to apply the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories and rejected resolutions adopted by the Commission, the General Assembly and the Security Council. The policy of inflicting collective punishments, like the closures of the Palestinian territories, continued. Recently, that policy has led to the death of a number of civilians and had caused widespread hunger. The closure policy was considered a case of genocide under international law.
Furthermore, he said, the confiscation of land also continued. The total area of land confiscated in the West Bank reached 74 per cent of the total. In addition, Israeli occupation authorities maintained their control over 38 per cent of the land of the Gaza strip previously confiscated. The purpose of the confiscation was to build or expand Israeli settlements and by-pass roads in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli occupation authorities had not halted the building and expansion of settlements especially around the city of Jerusalem.
The torture of Palestinian detainees also continued as it had for the past 28 years, he added. Unless progress was made to allow the effective enjoyment of human rights for the Palestinians and other Arab inhabitants, support for the peace process would dwindle, to be replaced by despair and frustration.
ZHANG YISHAN (China) said despite significant progress, the Middle East peace process had been far from smooth. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and recent terrorist acts were a source of concern to all. All efforts must be made to continue negotiations and to guard against any and all setbacks. Participants in the negotiations must make persistent efforts to iron out their differences through peaceful means, even as the issues dealt with inevitably became more difficult. The Commission must continue to grant that agenda item a high priority.
CLOVIS KHOURY (Syria) said more than 28 years had passed since Israel had occupied the Syrian Golan, and it was clear that the situation there and in other occupied Arab territories continued to deteriorate. The human rights violations there were serious, and Israeli colonization still went on, leading to further violence by settlers and greater suffering and loss by the region's rightful inhabitants. More than 760 new families had gone to one colony in the occupied Syrian Golan recently. The economic situation and educational situation of the inhabitants had plummeted. There was continuing confiscation of Arab lands; collective punishment continued to be imposed; there was unauthorized road-building and damage to agricultural territory; detainees were held without trial and there were cases of torture. Peace could not be built on the violation of human rights in the occupied territories.
ABDALLAH MADADHA (Jordan) said it was time to put an end to poverty, despair and the illegal occupation of sovereign territory. Real peace could not be built on such human rights violations. Real peace respected the rights, humanity, and dignity of the other. Building high walls might enhance security but would not bring peace. Collective punishment, collective detention and the refusal to recognize the sacred nature of holy places occupied by Israel did not create an atmosphere conducive to establishing peace. The Israeli Government must stop these practices; they only placed obstacles in the way of peace.
ABDEL MONEIM HASSAN (Sudan) said that despite the hopes and expectations of the international community, Israel had continued its flagrant violations of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. Israel had continued its practices in violation of the fundamental rights of Palestinians. It was even adopting new methods of suppression, such as collective punishment. Peace could not be built on such Israeli behaviour.
IBOU N'DIAYE (Senegal) said the positive results of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had led to expectations for less conflicting relations in the Middle East. But despite intensive efforts, the process had been greatly tarnished by recent violent acts. The difficulties encountered should not be allowed to halt the peace initiative. The credibility of the Palestinian Authority must be bolstered; similarly, Israeli must be helped so that it did not continually face a choice between imposing drastic security measures or suffering deaths from terrorism. Collective sanctions and punishment must be abandoned, as they only fanned the fires of extremism. All parties concerned must adopt a conduct useful to establishing true peace in the region, and terrorism must be condemned unequivocally by all.
DAVID LITTMAN, of the Indigenous World Association, said the organization he represented appealed to the Commission to adopt a new spirit when drafting resolutions to enhance the Middle East peace process. It might also wish to support a recent appeal that the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People of 29 November be redesignated a Commemorative International Day of Reconciliation between Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. All enemies of peace must be opposed, particularly by United Nations bodies. An explicit condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organization with a genocidal covenant should be included in the Commission's resolution on human rights and international terrorism.
NICOLAS HOWEN, of Amnesty International, said in the past month extremist opposition groups had carried out suicide bombings that had killed 58 people in Israel. Amnesty International condemned those attacks. Since the bombings, there had been widespread preventive detentions by the Israeli authorities in the occupied territories; many detainees had been tortured and there had been occasional extrajudicial executions. It was a systematic policy that included holding, prolonged forced sitting or standing, exposure to loud noises over long periods and violent shaking. Amnesty International did not feel legitimate security concerns should be used as a justification for committing human rights violations. Torture must be prohibited, and impunity must not be allowed for those who carried it out.
NABIL RAMLAWI, observer for Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said the representative of Israel unfortunately had tried to placate the Commission by referring to terrorism, but all should be reminded that there was no international definition of terrorism yet; terrorism was one thing, and the struggle to liberate territory and to exercise legitimate self-determination was another thing. That speaker had forgotten the institutional terrorism perpetrated for decades by Israel against the Arab occupied territories. Why did Israel continue to occupy those territories? Until those areas were liberated, there would be no peace.