|Human Rights Council |
9 January 2009
The Human Rights Council this morning opened its ninth Special Session, addressing the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent aggression of the occupied Gaza Strip, with speakers urging the Council to take appropriate measures to alleviate the plight of the Palestinian population living in the Gaza Strip.
Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Council, in opening remarks, urged the speakers addressing the Council to be dispassionate, responsible and professional under the very difficult and dire situation now prevailing in the concerned region. Once again, to the extent possible, they must show appropriate sensitivity, reflecting the gravity of the situation on the ground in order to achieve concrete and positive results at the session. The thousands of victims caught up in the conflict needed all the help they could get to alleviate their sufferings. The cease-fire and the ultimate cessation of hostilities could not wait a day later. Ongoing efforts in this direction were applauded, and the concerned parties should respond appropriately in order to ensure sustainable and durable peace in the area.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said reports of attacks across the border between Israel and Lebanon had compounded the international community's alarm regarding an escalation of violence in the Middle East. The conflict had already caused the loss of hundreds of lives, a rapidly mounting score of injured civilians, and the systematic destruction of basic means of subsistence. The situation was intolerable. The ceasefire called for by the United Nations Security Council had to be implemented immediately. The violence had to stop. Ms. Pillay strongly urged the parties to the conflict to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law. The impossibility of obtaining basic services and the collapse of the civilian infrastructure was exposing an increasingly large proportion of the population to additional risks. Such conditions constituted egregious violations of human rights, including basic economic rights.
A representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, reading out a statement on behalf of Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said the use of force by an occupying power against the security threats emanating from a population under occupation was permissible within the constraints set by international law. There was no legal or moral justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and such behaviour was a violation of international humanitarian rights, associated with the right to life, as well as constituting a war crime. At the same time, the nature of the offence should be evaluated within the context of its occurrence. From the perspective of the mandate, recommendations were worthy of the attention of the Special Session: including to propose a long-term truce based on cessation of rocket launchings from Gaza and an unconditional lifting of the blockade.
Israel, speaking as a concerned country, said the resolution proposed for this Special Session would further erode the barely remaining objectivity and credibility of the Human Rights Council. Anyone who naively believed that Hamas was giving any credence to the words of the Council had to read the Hamas Covenant of 1998, which said that "International conferences were in contradiction to the Islamic Resistance Movement". During this session, they would no doubt hear emotional and inflammatory statements condemning Israel's actions. Negotiations had always been and would always be Israel's preferred path. They hoped that in the aftermath of the unavoidable military operation in Gaza, a new and peaceful reality would prevail.
Palestine, speaking as a concerned country, said in the last days of 2008, there had been the sixtieth anniversary of the first catastrophe of the Palestinian People, when they were displaced from their land. The new year started with a new catastrophe at the hands of the Israeli forces and their destructive military machinery, with no mercy or moral features. Palestinian blood and the corpses of men, women and children had become an election policy for the politicians of Israel. The majority of victims were not from Fatah, nor from Hamas, and were unarmed civilians.
Also speaking were representatives of Egypt for the Arab Group, Pakistan for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Cuba on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Egypt for the African Group, Czech Republic for the European Union, Chile for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, Qatar, Indonesia, France, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Switzerland, Bahrain, Egypt, Angola, Argentina, Zambia, Russian Federation, Ghana, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea, China, Japan and India.
The Council will resume its debate this afternoon at 3 p.m., when it is scheduled to continue to hear statements. The President announced that they would not be able to conclude their list of speakers this afternoon, and therefore the Special Session would continue on Monday, 12 January.
MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI, President of the Human Rights Council, said on 6 January a letter had been received requesting the holding of a Special Session of the Human Rights Council to address the recent violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This request had been supported by a wide number of States. The President urged the speakers addressing the Council to be dispassionate, responsible and professionally under the very difficult and dire situation now prevailing in the concerned region. Once again, to the extent possible, they must show appropriate sensitivity, reflecting the gravity of the situation on the ground in order to achieve concrete and positive results at the session. The thousands of victims caught up in the conflict needed all the help they could get to alleviate their sufferings. The cease-fire and the ultimate cessation of hostilities could not wait a day later. Ongoing efforts in this direction were applauded, and the concerned parties should respond appropriately in order to ensure sustainable and durable peace in the area. The Council should make efforts to protect the rights of all the people in the region. The Council remained committed to carrying out its work in an inclusive manner.
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that she welcomed this Special Session and expressed her deepest concern over the situation in the Gaza Strip. Reports of attacks across the border between Israel and Lebanon had compounded the international community's alarm regarding an escalation of violence in the Middle East. The conflict had already caused the loss of hundreds of lives, a rapidly mounting score of injured civilians, and the systematic destruction of basic means of subsistence. The situation was intolerable. The ceasefire called for by the United Nations Security Council had to be implemented immediately. The violence had to stop.
Ms. Pillay further unequivocally stressed that international humanitarian law applied in all circumstances and at all times. In particular, the right to life had to be protected even in the course of hostilities. Belligerents had to abide by international humanitarian law, which upheld the inviolability of non-combatants. She also underscored that while indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian targets were unlawful, Israel's responsibility to fulfil its international obligations was completely independent from Hamas' compliance with its own obligations under international law. Furthermore, under both international human rights law and humanitarian law, the effective control of the Gaza Strip that Israel exercised placed responsibility on Israel for the welfare of the civilian population there.
Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibited collective penalties or collective punishment, Ms. Pillay emphasized. Likewise, all measures of intimidation or of terrorism were prohibited. She also stressed that the three cardinal principles of international humanitarian law, namely proportionality, distinction and precaution, fully applied in the context of this conflict. Attacks may only be directed against combatants or legitimate military objectives, noted Ms. Pillay. Parties to a conflict also had to take all feasible precautions to avoid, or at least minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
Ms. Pillay said that harm to civilians caused by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel was unacceptable. She also underlined that action on the part of Israel's opponent that might deliberately put civilians at risk in the Gaza Strip was prohibited under international law. This would include the use of people as human shields. The vicious circle of attack and retribution had to be brought to an end. She joined the Secretary-General in deploring Israel's totally unacceptable strikes against clearly marked United Nations facilities. The locations of all United Nations facilities had been communicated to the Israeli authorities. Despite such knowledge, Israel had defied the United Nations request for protection. The killing of United Nations workers yesterday had led to the United Nations decision to suspend its relief operations in the Gaza Strip. This decision would undoubtedly increase the vulnerability of civilians.
The ceasefire decided by the Security Council had to be given effect, said Ms. Pillay. Moreover safe passage for civilians who wished to leave the conflict zone had to be granted. The current crisis followed an 18-month air, sea and land blockade enforced through military means by Israel. The blockade had already caused massive destruction of livelihoods and significant deterioration of infrastructure and basic services in the Gaza Strip. The conflict had now exacerbated shortages of food and medicines. The International Committee of the Red Cross had accused Israel of both failing to meet its obligations to help wounded civilians in one specific location in Gaza City, and of preventing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent from providing assistance to the wounded. The World Health Organization had also reported that several medical workers had been killed while attempting to carry out their duties.
Ms. Pillay strongly urged the parties to the conflict to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law. The impossibility of obtaining basic services and the collapse of the civilian infrastructure was exposing an increasingly large proportion of the population to additional risks. Such conditions constituted egregious violations of human rights, including basic economic rights. Clearly, a three hour suspension of hostilities allowed by Israel did not allow humanitarian deliveries to reach all in need.
The High Commissioner further said that accountability had to be ensured for violations of international law. Credible, independent and transparent investigations had to be carried out to identify violations and establish responsibilities. Human rights monitors had to be deployed in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Special Procedures mandate holders also had to be granted unrestricted access to Gaza and the West Bank. Likewise the press and non-governmental organizations had to be allowed access into the affected areas. She welcomed the recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to allow some foreign journalists to enter Gaza. It was in such times that those rights and freedoms had to be kept in sharp focus.
A Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, reading out a statement by the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, RICHARD FALK, said the statement focused on the impact of Israel's continuing Gaza military campaign on the humanitarian situation confronting the Palestinians confined to the Gaza Strip. The quality of the report was diminished by the absence of first-hand information on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Terrritory, due to the abortion of a mission when the Special Rapporteur was denied entry to Israel, in denial of the duties of that country. The Government of Israel should reconsider its policy of exclusion which had hampered the work of the mandate. The use of force by an occupying power against the security threats emanating from a population under occupation was permissible within the constraints set by international law. There was no legal or moral justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and such behaviour was a violation of international humanitarian rights, associated with the right to life, as well as constituting a war crime. At the same time, the nature of the offence should be evaluated within the context of its occurrence.
The blockade in effect for a period of 18 months was unlawful, a massive form of collective punishment, and as such in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It was also important under international law to determine the extent to which the reliance on force was proportionate to the provocation and necessary for safeguarding security. To mount a major military campaign against an essentially defenceless society already gravely weakened by the blockade accentuated the disproportion of reliance on modern weaponry in combat situations where military dominance was largely uncontested. The one-sidedness of casualty figures was one measure of disproportion. Another was the scale of devastation and the magnitude of attacks.
There had also been a variety of allegations made by qualified observers of Israeli reliance on legally unacceptable targets and on legally dubious weaponry that violated the customary international law prohibition on weapons and tactics that were "cruel" or caused "unnecessary suffering". From the perspective of the mandate, the following recommendations were worthy of the attention of the Special Session: to request restoring access for the Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories as an essential feature of United Nations monitoring; to seek General Assembly initiatives with respect to investigating allegations of war crimes; to propose long-term truce based on cessation of rocket launchings from Gaza and unconditional lifting of the blockade; and to request an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice to assess the legal status of Israeli control in Gaza subsequent to Israeli "disengagement" in 2005.
Statements by Concerned Countries
AHARON LESHNO-YAAR (Israel), speaking as a concerned country, said that he was addressing the Council today, not only as the Permanent Representative if Israel, but as the voice of one million Israeli citizens living within range of daily Hamas missile attacks. Their suffering had long been overlooked by the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He said that he had five minutes at his disposal today, in comparison, Israeli citizens had only 15 seconds of warning to run to shelter from Hamas rockets.
In August 2005, Israel had left Gaza in a painful process that had carried a huge political, emotional and financial toll. This had been a courageous step towards peace, with the hope that Gaza could prove a blueprint for Palestinian autonomy. Tragically, Hamas had chosen violence. Missiles had blighted the lives of Israelis since 2001. The current operation was therefore a necessary measure, in line with Israel's legitimate right to self-defence. On 19 December 2008, Hamas had declared an end to the truce brokered by Egypt six months earlier. Israel had spared no efforts, including supporting endeavours by Egypt to restore the truce. Yet, in response, Hamas had only intensified rocket launches. After eight days of restraint, Israel had decided on 27 December to end the nightmare for its civilians. No responsible Government could have done otherwise.
Hamas used the Palestinian population as a human shield, hiding in schools, mosques and homes in Gaza. For Hamas a civilian was nothing more that a sophisticated and efficient method of warfare. Its endeavours were aided by Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah who supplied it with weapons. Many delegations would agree that Hamas posed a threat not only to Israel, but to any other moderate society in the region and beyond. This was not only Israel's war. The Palestinian population in Gaza was not the objective of this military campaign. It was against Hamas targets. Israel had done its utmost to minimize harm to civilians.
Further, the Israeli Army was running a humanitarian coordination centre, in close cooperation with international humanitarian organizations. Since the beginning of the operation, Israel had allowed entry to over 540 trucks, despite the danger of deliberate Hamas attacks.
The resolution proposed for this Special Session would only further erode the barely remaining objectivity and credibility of the Human Rights Council. Anyone who naively believed that Hamas was giving any credence to the words of the Council had to read the Hamas Covenant of 1998, which said that "International conferences were in contradiction to the Islamic Resistance Movement".
During this session, they would no doubt hear emotional and inflammatory statements condemning Israel's actions. Negotiations had always been and would always be Israel's preferred path. They hoped that in the aftermath of the unavoidable military operation in Gaza, a new and peaceful reality would prevail.
IBRAHIM KHRAISHI (Palestine), speaking as a concerned country, said in the last days of 2008, there had been the sixtieth anniversary of the first catastrophe of the Palestinian People, when they were displaced from their land. The new year started with a new catastrophe at the hands of the Israeli forces and their destructive military machinery, with no mercy or moral features. Palestinian blood and the corpses of men, women and children had become an election policy for the politicians of Israel. The majority of victims were not from Fatah, nor from Hamas, and were unarmed civilians. Entire families had been liquidated. There were still scores of bodies under the ruins and scores of wounded. Ambulances had not been able to reach them, and there were thousands of displaced running from death. The Israeli machine of death and destruction had followed and killed many. Ambulances had been targeted as well as the media. The bombardment had destroyed more than 650 civilian targets, including schools, ministries, shops, religious buildings, civilian homes and farms. Even animals had been targeted.
With all that the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was facing, it should be remembered that the population of the West Bank were also being targeted. The occupation forces had arrested more than 45 people in the West Bank since the beginning of the aggression. Everyone attending this meeting, in the presence of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, should ask if all these crimes were not enough to awaken the conscience of the world in order to start implementing international humanitarian law. Where was the Fourth Geneva Convention, where was the United Nations Charter - would the international community continue to deal with Israel as above the law? In spite of all the suffering, the killing, the blockade and others, the Palestinian people would continue to abide by international legitimacy. It was essential to put an end to the aggression, and to the launch of rockets. The blockade on the Gaza Strip must be removed and the crossing points must be reopened to allow the entry of humanitarian supplies. This was vital. International protection must be provided to the Palestinian people, and the occupation must end.
HISHAM BADR (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that today they were meeting in order to look into the two-week-old Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip. Four special sessions of the Human Rights Council had already been held on Israel's crimes. If Israel had abided by the Security Council and Human Rights Council resolutions, there would have been no need for another Special Session, but the leaders in Israel did not consider the will of the civilized world.
Had Israel not adopted a policy of occupation, not build illegal settlements, had it responded to the Arab peace initiative, the efforts of the Quartet and to the Annapolis Conference, this Special Session would not have been needed. But this had not happened; Israel had continued to challenge international will by continuing the occupation of Arab land and violating the rights of Arabs, such as the right to life and the right for self determination. Israel did not distinguish between combatants and civilians, targeting United Nations schools and mosques.
The Arab Group would have expected certain countries to move and speak up, but not much had happened. Israel had been an occupying power for over half a century. The first violation of human rights was the occupation itself.
Was there a magical number of deaths which was needed before the international community would start to move? The Human Rights Council had a responsibility to send out a clear message and say that the aggression on Gaza should stop. The Arab Group was also calling for an immediate ceasefire. What was happening in Gaza had to be documented and all human rights mechanisms had to be allowed access. Further, an international investigation had to be set up to find out what happened in the UNRWA school.
ZAMIR AKRAM (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the Organization of the Islamic Conference welcomed the overwhelming cross-regional support for the convening of the Special Session and the draft resolution, showing the commitment to human rights values and to alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people. The international community had been forced to watch the massacre of a defenceless people. It was useful to bear in mind a few facts: the people of Palestine had been under Israeli occupation for many decades, deprived of their right to liberty - the only right they still retained was the right to life, and that too was being denied. In the last few months, the suffering of the Palestinian people had been particularly acute in Gaza, where the people were subjected to a crippling blockade, due to their refusal to submit, and their choice was now death or submission.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference was against all human rights violations, and called upon all parties to respect human lives, especially those of innocent civilians, women and children. The killing of any innocent civilian was unacceptable and was condemned. The unrestrained use of force, the scale of destruction, the killing of innocent civilians, including women and children, the violation of United Nations safe havens and the collective punishment of an entire people were blatant breaches of international law. In their totality, they constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Security Council's call for a cease-fire should be immediately implemented. The Security Council and the international community should live up to their responsibilities to, among other things, end the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, ensure cessation of all hostilities and provide immediate protection for the Palestinian people, and secure a ceasefire and a return to calm.
JUAN ANTONIO FERNANDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that while the whole world was celebrating the new year, hundreds of women and children were dying under Israelis bombs. Taking advantage of the festivities was not moral and not fair. Massacring a whole people was a criminal act.
The Gaza Strip was one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with half a million people living there. Could any weapon, as intelligent as possible, make any difference between a civilian and a combatant in such a situation? Israelis were targeting everything, including schools, mosques and universities. Infrastructures were in ruins, there was no electricity and no water; a real humanitarian disaster was occurring. This came in addition to the brutal colonial occupation and the recent blockade.
The Non-Aligned Movement strongly condemned the escalation of the military aggression and called for a cessation of the military action and a diplomatic solution to solve the current crisis. The current action by the Israeli military was unacceptable and was a direct breach of humanitarian and international law. It also weakened the peace process on all sides. An immediate and lasting ceasefire had to be implemented. The Non-Aligned Movement also condemned the obstruction of access for humanitarian aid. It was now time for action. The response of the Human Rights Council and the resolution had to be adopted by consensus. The Non-Aligned Movement was convinced that there was no military solution to this conflict. It was now time to talk about peace and to build a better future for the Palestinians.
HISHAM BADR (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Israeli occupation of the Arab Territories and its denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination was illegal. The African Group supported the Palestinian right to independence. There were flagrant violations of international law and international humanitarian law in particular, with violations of the principles of proportionality and distinction, and the collective punishment of the people of Gaza, which could not be justified by the right to self-defence. The call of the Security Council for an immediate cease-fire was welcomed, and this resolution should be immediately implemented.
All sides, particularly Israel, should respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and refrain from targeting civilians. All the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council with their respective mandates should address the situation in Gaza and provide the Council with periodic reports documenting human rights violations, and monitor the evolving situation on the ground and provide their assessment and recommendations as to ways and means for the provision of the much-needed international protection for the Palestinians, and for ensuring their enjoyment of their human rights. The Council should rise to the level of the challenge, and respond firmly and in a timely manner, mobilising the efforts of the international community and turning into a catalyst for justice and freedom. The Council's credibility in the eyes of public opinion would remain contingent on its timely response.
TOMAS HUSAK (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed the deep concern of the European Union over the situation in the Gaza Strip, as it had dramatically escalated over the past days. The European Union was very concerned over the ongoing fighting and deeply deplored all the civilian casualties caused by the Israeli military incursion and by the firing of rockets by Palestinian militant groups. It was profoundly disturbed by the loss of civilian life at schools in the Gaza Strip, and the death of two UN staff that resulted from Israeli military action. The European Union welcomed the Security Council resolution adopted last night. It also urged all parties to fully respect the resolution and called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. All parties had to respect international human rights and humanitarian law. No military solution could prevail in Gaza and the cessation of fighting should be followed by the opening of borders.
The European Union was also deeply concerned over the serious human rights situation in Gaza and the deteriorating humanitarian situation on the ground. Humanitarian assistance had to be urgently delivered to the population. The European Union Commission was coordinating the humanitarian aid provided by European Union countries.
Immediate action had to be taken in order to allow food and humanitarian aid into Gaza. The establishment of humanitarian corridors was a step in the right direction, but it was far from being sufficient. The normalisation of the economic and social life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was an important part of the peace process.
The European Union also underlined the disastrous effect of the current situation on children in Gaza. The European Union was convinced that there was only a political solution to the crisis and they were more determined than ever to support the Quartet and the countries in the region in the peace process.
CARLOS PORTALES (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), said GRULAC condemned all violence and hostilities directed against civilians, and repudiated the hundreds of deaths and thousands of wounded people among the civilian population, as well as any act of violence causing casualties and suffering for the civil Israeli population. GRULAC wished to express its solidarity with the innocent victims and its grave concerns regarding the intensification of the humanitarian crisis confronting the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip.
GRULAC urgently called upon all the parties involved to cease immediately and permanently hostilities and any form of violence. GRULAC remained absolutely convinced that a military solution would not lead to the peace which both Israelis and Palestinians were entitled to. GRULAC therefore urged the imposition of an effective ceasefire and the guarantee of free access to humanitarian aid. The Human Rights Council had a fundamental responsibility to protect the human rights of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. GRULAC would firmly support any international effort aimed at reactivating the peace process in the region through constructive dialogue; only by these means and not through the use of force would it be possible to achieve a comprehensive and long-term negotiated solution, designed to enable the peoples of the region to live peacefully together.
ABDULLA FALAH ABDULLA AL-DOSARI (Qatar) said that it was essential to hold this Special Session as the Israeli army had launched its war machine and did not make a difference between combatants and civilians. This was not an ordinary war. Israel was ignoring all provisions of international law. It was imposing collective punishment on the civilian Palestinian population, despite the calls by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner to abide by international law. The Palestinian people were asking to live in peace and for the respect of their human rights. However, the Israeli leaders and its army considered itself as above the law.
The humanitarian situation was absolutely disastrous in Gaza. Qatar condemned the destruction of hospitals and schools. Israel had to respect schools and hospitals, so that they could be a shelter for civilians. It was necessary to protect civilians and the killings innocents would not contribute to peace. The 2002 Arab peace initiative was the only guarantee for Israel to achieve peace.
Today's session was an important one. Pressure had to be exercised on the Israeli Government as it had to stop its military actions. The Palestinian people should be allowed to establish their state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. A fact-finding mission should also be sent to Gaza and it should report to the Council during its next session.
GUSTI AGUNG WESAKA PUJA (Indonesia) said the gravity of the situation in Gaza warranted a Special Session, and Indonesia sincerely hoped that the meeting could be instrumental in finally making the rule of law and the principles of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prevail over violence in this tragic conflict. The Government and people of Indonesia felt profound indignation at the recent military assault by Israel on the Gaza Strip, and strongly condemned this fresh example of excessive and disproportionate use of force. The sympathy and solidarity of the international community was now focused on the plight of the unfortunate civilian population. The international community would not tolerate inaction in the face of the loss of countless innocent lives as a result of the collective punishment meted out by Israel hourly and daily.
It was imperative that Israel, as the occupying power, respect the basic and universal principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Israel should lift the blockade once and for all and allow access for humanitarian assistance. The bleak reality of what was actually happening on the ground in the Gaza Strip demanded immediate attention and action by the Council. To ignore the constant violation of human rights was to condone a disgrace to the international community, and it sent the wrong message that such gross human rights violations were somehow tolerable. The Human Rights Council members were urged to support the draft resolution at hand, as it would send the right and clear message that violence was not the answer, and could not resolve this conflict.
JEAN -BAPTISTE MATTEI (France) expressed France's strongest concern over the situation in the Gaza Strip. The humanitarian situation had become untenable and they had taken note of the decision of Israel to open a humanitarian corridor; but this was clearly not sufficient. France supported the initiative of Egypt for the cessation of hostilities. France also deplored of the death of two United Nations employees under Israeli fire.
France condemned the rocket firing by Hamas, the Israeli civilians could not be targeted, and similarly the Palestinian civilians could not be used as human shields. France had spared no efforts at the highest level to find a solution to the conflict. The Security Council resolution adopted last night called for a lasting ceasefire and for the full access of humanitarian aid. The ceasefire agreement furthermore implied the cessation of the flow of weapons into Gaza. All of these elements were necessary for a rapid return to a political process.
ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) said the situation in the Gaza Strip was one where violations had ignored all values, agreements, and laws. There was flagrant ongoing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, with collective punishment and attacks on the unarmed, their homes, mosques and economy, and this was in contradiction of all humanitarian values, international laws and agreements. Israel used terrorism against the Palestinians, continuing to flout and ignore the Arab Peace Initiative - peace would not be established as long as Israel considered the flow of Palestinian blood as an election tactic. Israeli violations of international law had alerted many international agencies - the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross had noted there was a serious humanitarian situation in Gaza, and what was taking place there was a violation of international humanitarian rights and international humanitarian law.
The holding of the Special Session confirmed the character of the humanitarian situation in Gaza - the Council should assume its responsibilities and protect the civilians of Gaza from the occupying authority in a resolution. There should be an immediate cessation of aggression, a lifting of the blockade, an opening of crossing points, and a cease to collective punishment. Any tolerance of this situation would have grave consequences for the international community.
MOHAMED-SIAD DOUALEH (Djibouti) said that it was with grave concern that they were witnessing the current deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, following the brutal Israeli military action. Diplomatic efforts had failed to bring to an end the current situation. This massive attack constituted a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights and aggravated the suffering of the civil population, already suffering from the siege imposed by Israel - Gaza was confronted with a total humanitarian crisis.
The Israeli argument that the aim was only for military attacks was not corroborated by the recent bombing of a United Nations school. Ideological blindness could always bend the rules of international law, but this was in vain.
The international community should condemn the barbarous actions by Israel. Energetic, collective action was needed to put an end to the military action. It was also their profound conviction that today's discussion should contribute to the improvement of the situation in Gaza.
MURIEL BERSET (Switzerland) said the situation today in the Gaza Strip was dramatic: the dead were counted in hundreds, and the wounded in thousands, with civilians including children paying the highest cost. The access of the wounded to medical care as well as the access of humanitarian agencies to the population was crucial, and the circumstances currently made this almost impossible. Switzerland called upon all parties to the conflict to allow rapid and unhindered humanitarian access and to protect medical personnel, hospitals, and other medical units. Attacks on humanitarian organizations were violations of international humanitarian law.
The suffering of the civilians in Gaza was supplemented by the difficulty to obtain food, water, and energy. An immediate cease-fire and delivery of humanitarian assistance were only first essential steps: they should be followed by a political process and a dialogue between all parties to the conflict. All parties should respect international law including the principles of precaution, proportionality and distinction in order to ensure a maximum amount of protection to the civil population. Negotiations should aim to establish a durable agreement allowing the peaceful co-existence of the Israeli State and a Palestinian State.
MUNA ABBAS RADHI (Bahrain) said that while the world was welcoming the New Year, hundreds of civilians in the Gaza Strip were being killed and still were suffering today. This massacre could only be described as a war crime, which would only lead to more extremism. In addition to the destruction of schools, homes and mosques, which was in direct violation of international law, the siege of Gaza and the fact that humanitarian aid was not allowed in Gaza, all led to an aggravation of the humanitarian situation. Bahrain called the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop its military action and to allow access to humanitarian aid. The end of the occupation was the only way in the direction of peace.
HISHAM BADR (Egypt) said the military Israeli operation should be condemned in the strongest terms. There had been an operation of systematic slaughter - all had seen the images of corpses of children and families that had been slaughtered. Israel was responsible for this aggression against civilians. The Gaza Strip was an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, occupied since 1967. Egypt gave great importance to an end to hostilities, protecting the Palestinian civilians from the Israeli military machine. Egypt had worked to this end, launching initiatives based on Israel and Palestine's acceptance of an immediate cease-fire.
Egypt called on Palestine and Israel to hold a meeting to ensure that this situation did not repeat itself. The humanitarian corridors should be re-opened, and the blockade ended. The Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian groups should respond positively to Egyptian efforts to create a group that could respond to challenges, thus aiding the Palestinian cause. Egypt had provided medical access to Palestinians, and had facilitated crossing into Egypt in this context, despite many obstacles due to the magnitude of military operations in the border area. Non-governmental organizations and States should respond to the appeal of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Far East and provide financial and other forms of assistance.
ARCANJO MARIA DO NASCIMENTO (Angola) said that the convening of this Special Session was a positive and timely move by the Human Rights Council. It was also intended to remind the parties involved of their responsibilities under international law, with regard to the protection of civilians and civil infrastructures during armed conflicts. Over the past weeks, the civilians in Gaza and some in neighbouring Israel had been the subjected to indiscriminate violence. The international community had failed to react expeditiously and in one voice to the crisis at its very inception.
It was Angola's hope that the outcome of today's session would contribute to bring to an end rapidly the indiscriminate killings and destruction. This would only be possible if all parties concerned abided by their international obligations and chose the path of dialogue rather than confrontations. It was worth reminding that this was not the first time that the Council was seized of a matter relating to Israel. Several resolutions had been passed before, but contrary to their expectations, the situation had not significantly improved. The peace process was stuck and the hopes of a rapid and comprehensive solution were dashed. As time went by, peace in the Middle East was becoming elusive, while the diplomatic efforts seemed to go nowhere. The approach adopted so far did not seem to be working since it was not helping to keep neither Israel protected not the Palestinians at peace. The cycle of violence would not go away with further escalation in military activity. Peace talks had to be revived. It was Angola's sincere hope that all parties would search for a peaceful solution.
GONZALO M. JORDAN (Argentina) said the situation in Gaza was of extreme seriousness, and the international community needed to react urgently to help put an end to the suffering of the civilian population. The reaction of Israel had been disproportionate, and it should respect its obligations under international law and international humanitarian law and take all possible steps to protect the civilian population that was suffering in the conflict. These precautions had not been taken. An independent international investigation should be established to determine responsibilities and avoid repetition of such events as the attacks on the UNRWA schools.
Argentina welcomed the adoption of resolution 18/60 by the Security Council, in particular the recommendation therein for an immediate and urgent cease-fire. The cease-fire should run parallel to the efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict - a cease-fire for a few hours only was insufficient. The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remained alarming - if the international community did not act with urgency, it could see a humanitarian crisis of greater magnitude yet triggered. Efforts would be insufficient if aid did not immediately reach those in need. The current crisis illustrated yet again how vital it was to establish lasting peace in the region, with a viable, democratic and lasting Palestinian State living in parallel with the State of Israel.
ENCYLA M. SINJELA (Zambia) said that they had seen the devastation caused by the situation in the Middle East, where property had been destroyed and innocent lives lost, both in Gaza and Israel, but more so in Gaza where thousands of people had been displaced and women and children killed. It was very evident that the presumed surgical operations by Israel in a densely populated area were ineffective and were causing unnecessary death. Looking at the number of deaths, it was imperative that Israel ceased its operations. Israel had to lift the blockade, which put the population there in a desperate situation and fuelled more anger which translated into hate and disregard for peace. Zambia supported the ceasefire initiative being pursued by France and Egypt.
VALERY LOSHCHININ (Russian Federation) said the Russian Federation was extremely concerned at the escalation of violence in the Middle East. The full-fledged combat unleashed by Israel had been generally condemned and was the cause for outrage. It was unacceptable that there be rocket bombardments of Israeli territory, as well as the deaths of Palestinian civilians, men, women and children. The disproportionate force used by Israel, the collective punishment of the Gaza Strip inhabitants and other issues were also of concern. The humanitarian situation was getting increasingly serious - food and fuel had already run out. There was an acute shortage of drinking water and medicines. The inhabitants of Gaza had become the victims of a cruel humanitarian disaster.
Israel was accused of violating international humanitarian law. The decision of the Russian Government in the Gaza Strip had been to provide assistance to the civilian population in surviving this difficult period. The Russian Federation welcomed the initiative of the Egyptian and French Presidents to achieve a cease-fire, which had been supported by all parties. That initiative had also been helped by the adoption by Security Council resolution 18/60, in which process the Russian Federation had been involved. The resolution should be urgently implemented, with withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and the delivery of humanitarian assistance including food, fuel, and medicines. The adoption of the resolution was a good sign for the Member States of the Human Rights Council, and the draft resolution should be adopted.
KWABENA BAAH-DUODU (Ghana) expressed grave concern at the ongoing situation in the Gaza Strip. Ghana was disheartened by the suffering caused by the military attacks in Gaza. Over 90 per cent of the Palestinian population was awaiting assistance. They were deeply horrified at the scenes of defenceless civilians trapped in rubble. Much as they believed that every State had a right to defend itself, they also shared the view that internationally accepted instruments regarding the use of force in belligerent situations had to be duly respected. Ghana was equally saddened by the loss of civilian lives on the Israeli side. They applauded the diplomatic efforts currently being undertaken by some world leaders. They were also grateful to the Security Council for coming out with a resolution. Ghana was confident that the implementation of this resolution would help ensure that peace prevailed and that desperately needed food, fuel and medicine were provided. No lasting solution could be found to the Middle East problem unless the international community redoubled its efforts at reaching a just and comprehensive peace through negotiation and dialogue.
AZAD CAFAROV (Azerbaijan) said the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip was of concern, as was the loss of life to innocent civilians. The international community should provide the opportunity for the Palestinian people to realise their right to establish the sovereign state of Palestine. Azerbaijan supported a just, peaceful and durable resolution of the conflict that would lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian State living side by side and in peace with Israel. There should be an immediate cease-fire and an end to military hostilities to create the necessary conditions to normalise the situation. The international community should actively engage, including through undertaking practical measures in the conflict zone, to prevent violence and other undesirable actions. There was a need for decisive steps to create conditions on the ground to enable the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance to the heavily suffering Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, who were dramatically dependent on external aid to meet their basic needs. The Human Rights Council should take appropriate measures to alleviate the plight of the population living in the Gaza Strip.
ANIZAN SITI HAJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) said that Malaysia commended the Council for its unity and solidarity demonstrated in recognising the urgent need to convene this Special Session. Malaysia was disappointed that the adoption of the Security Council resolution had not been enough to stop the aggression and the grave and systematic violations of human rights by Israel in Gaza. Malaysia was hopeful that the Human Rights Council could, at the very least, agree to reinforce the message that the violence in Gaza had to end. The occupying power in Gaza had also to understand that the world at large would not stand by quietly. In invading Gaza, Israel had again demonstrated its complete disregard to international law and had violated the United Nations Charter and once more shown its true colours.
Malaysia remained firm in its position that there was no justification for the disproportionate, indiscriminate and excessive use of force by the occupying power. The Council had to strongly condemn the excessive use of force, reinforce the demand to remove the blockade and agree to establish a fact-finding mission to investigate the violations of human rights arising from the latest military action. The only means of ensuring durable and lasting peace was through peaceful negotiations.
DEBAPRIYA BHATTACHARYA (Bangladesh) said the events that were being witnessed in Gaza were simply appalling. More than 700 civilians had been killed by indiscriminate Israeli attacks so far. The majority of the population did not have shelter, food, medicine or running water. The brutal and disproportionate use of force was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The Israeli attacks represented severe and massive violations of the Geneva Conventions. There was no legal, political or moral justification for the inhuman actions which Israel was carrying out against the Palestinian people - these were crimes against humanity, and should be taken up by the International Criminal Court of Justice.
The Gaza Strip was an open-air prison, aptly compared to a concentration camp. The media was not allowed to enter the territory. The so-called "three-hour corridor" was a cruel joke. There was medieval carnage in modern times, with the majority of the population being denied their collective rights. The international community should feel collective guilt at being irresolute and inactive for so long. The Human Rights Council Special Session should show its opinion about the acts of Israel. The newly-elected Prime Minister of Bangladesh had strongly condemned the ongoing heinous atrocities on the Palestinian people. The Middle East conflict should be brought to an end, with a just, sustainable and comprehensive resolution on a political basis to the conflict.
IFEANYI E. NWOSU (Nigeria) expressed Nigeria's deeply felt condolences to the people of Palestine. Nigeria strongly condemned the brazen disregard of the calls by the international community for a cessation of military actions in order to provide an enabling environment for regional and international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Nigeria also strongly called for an immediate cessation of all military activities and violence; all parties had to abide by all their obligations under international law. Israel was called to put an end to all its military operations, to lift the blockade and open safe access routes for delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance to the affected population. Nigeria further firmly supported the United Nations resolution adopted yesterday by the Security Council and called for an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire. Further, the international community should intensify efforts to bring the crisis to an end.
NESTOR CRUZ TORUNO (Nicaragua) said the Palestinian people had once again become the victim of Israeli violence, with the deaths of hundreds of women and children. Nicaragua deplored that the Security Council had been unable to reach consensus on a resolution which would bring an end to the barbarous situation of the Palestinian people. The Human Rights Council had an opportunity to prove its effectiveness in protecting and promoting the human rights of all in every region of the world. The crimes of the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people were crimes against humanity and should not be unpunished - they were becoming a new Holocaust. War could not be considered the greatest achievement of civilisation.
This escalation of violence should stop as the conflict could not be resolved by attacks on international peace and security. Civilisation required that all should submit to morality and comply with a set of duties and obligations, along with strict respect for human rights. Imposing State terrorism could not be considered a democratic response. Israel should bring an end to its attacks on Palestinians and respect international humanitarian and human rights law, including the various resolutions of the United Nations system.
PROSPER VOKOUMA (Burkina Faso) said that it was with great dismay that Burkina Faso was following the images of devastation since the start of the military action in Gaza. These acts were grave violations of human rights and the Geneva Conventions. It only pushed back to an ever-distant time the advent of peace and pacific cohabitation.
The constant appeals of the international community for the cessation of hostilities deserved more attention by the occupying power, Israel. The efforts to seek a solution had to be supported by all, and Burkina Faso strongly supported the initiative by Egypt. Furthermore, Burkina Faso hoped that the outcome of this session would be heard and would encourage the High Commissioner to follow-up on that question.
PETER GOODERHAM (United Kingdom) said the situation of human rights in Gaza was increasingly grave, and this was a sad reflection on the collective failure of the international community to solve the Middle East conflict. The people of Gaza and of Southern Israel had suffered too long. Israeli Military and Hamas action would not bring an end to the misery that fuelled this conflict. The adoption of Security Council resolution 18/60 was welcomed. There was no substitute to an immediate and effective cease-fire. An effective and long-term framework should be instituted to prevent the continuation of the conflict, including improving the dire humanitarian situation. The international community should redouble efforts to put in place the long-term framework for a comprehensive peace in 2009. The only way to provide security to Israel and dignity to Palestinians was through two co-existing peaceful States.
There was an urgent need to re-open the crossings, and re-establish the authority of the Palestinian Authority over them. The humanitarian situation in Gaza was getting worse by the hour. The United Kingdom Government deeply regretted the death and injury of all civilians, including humanitarian workers, and there should be full and safe access for all humanitarian organizations.
IM HAN-TAEK (Republic of Korea) said that the Republic of Korea was gravely concerned about what had been happening in Gaza for the past two weeks. In view of the heavy casualties inflicted on the civilian population and in view of the negative implications it would have on the long-term prospect for peace and stability in the region, what they were witnessing in Gaza was a matter of grave concern. The Republic of Korea was also particularly concerned that even United Nations facilities and convoys had been attacked. No matter which way it was argued on who had triggered the current hostility, one thing was sure and that was that indiscriminate attacks on civilians were not acceptable. It would breed more distrust and more hatred between the two people in the years to come. The Republic of Korea full supported the on-going diplomatic efforts made by Egypt.
LI BAODONG (China) said over the last few weeks, the conflict had been escalating and the humanitarian situation in Gaza had intensified. China was concerned and it urged all parties to ensure a cease-fire and an end to the conflict. The situation should calm down as soon as possible to allow a political solution to the situation. The Council should respond positively to the appeal of the international community and ensure unhindered access to the humanitarian organizations to Gaza, to ensure the protection of the human rights of those in Gaza.
China supported the peace process in the Middle East, and followed the situation closely. It promoted reconciliation and negotiation and would continue in the future to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestine. China agreed with the international community that there was a need for an immediate cease-fire and supported all efforts to find an end to the crisis.
AKIO ISOMATA (Japan) said that Japan was deeply concerned about the continuing air and ground attacks, as well as the continuing rocket attacks from Palestine. The right to life of civilians was threatened. Further, civilian casualties had to be prevented. Both parties were urged to abide by international law. Japan also welcomed yesterday's United Nations Security Council resolution. All parties concerned were further urged to allow free movement and to create secure humanitarian corridors. The safety of humanitarian aid personnel had to be ensured at any time.
RAJIV KUMAR CHANDER (India) said the Government of India had been closely monitoring the situation and was gravely concerned at the ongoing developments which had led to the wide-scale loss of lives including innocent civilians. India urged an immediate cease-fire. India had an abiding interest in the early resolution of this situation, and had been supporting this. Any resort to violence would only derail the peace process and delay the realisation of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.
For use of the information media; not an official record