Press Release

18 March 1998


(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 17 March (UN Information Service) -- Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) speaking before the Commission on Human Rights this evening decried the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process and called, as in previous years, for Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian and other Arab lands and to comply with various United Nations resolutions on the issue.

They were led by an Observer for Palestine, who complained that the Commission had adopted dozens of resolutions condemning human rights offenses committed under the Israeli occupation but Israeli authorities had simply ignored those measures.




NABIL RAMLAWI, Observer for Palestine, said that after 30 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, various international reports confirmed the continuously deteriorating situation of human rights there. The reports all reaffirmed that the Israeli occupation authorities continued their violations of human rights, deliberately killing Palestinians and causing injuries, detaining and torturing Palestinians, confiscating their lands, establishing Israeli settlements, and imposing collective punishments. On 11 March, Israeli occupation soldiers shot dead three Palestinian workers and wounded nine others. Such a crime was classified by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and by the principles of international law, as a crime of genocide. The Commission had dealt with these crimes and had adopted dozens of resolutions condemning them, but the Israeli authorities had paid no attention to the will of the international community or to the principles of human rights.

AGUS TARMIDZI (Indonesia) said that for a while there had been hope that peace was in reach and that the situation of human rights in the occupied territories would improve. But over the past two years the peace process had been paralysed because Israel had reneged on agreements already reached and had resorted to numerous illegal actions that amounted to serious violations of human rights. Particularly reprehensible was the accelerated construction of Israeli settlements in occupied Arab lands, thus changing their geographic and demographic and character. The United Nations must ensure the unconditional withdrawal of all Israeli forces from all Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967. It was imperative for the United Nations and the international community to expedite vital development assistance to the people of these territories as they embarked on the formidable task of rebuilding their economies. The Commission must send a strong message to the Government of Israel.

ALFARARGI SAAD, of the League of Arab States, said the Israeli occupying authorities of the Arab territories and Palestine were ready at anytime to kill innocent civilians. The occupation itself was a flagrant violation of international law. In addition, the Israeli Government had continued to confiscate lands for the purpose of building settlements. The measures taken by Israeli authorities had resulted in a 30 per cent drop in the living standards of the population since the signing of the peace accord. In addition, the conditions of Palestinian prisoners had increasingly deteriorated. Mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners, both in custody and during investigation, had become common, with the Israeli judiciary lending a deaf ear to complaints about incidents. Israel should not be allowed to continue its defiance of the international community.

AL HUSSAMI TAHER (Syria) said the situation in the occupied territories had been considered by the Commission for more than three decades. It should continue to remain on the agenda as long as the occupation continued. The Commission was supposed to protect and promote human rights and it therefore could not forget its responsibility for one of the most serious and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the world. These violations were not affecting individuals but whole peoples and societies through a colonization policy based on a racist doctrine.

MOUNIR ZAHRAN (Egypt) said that as various reports indicated, gross violations of human rights continued in the occupied Arab territories despite United Nations and Commission resolutions. At this point, the danger was not only to the Palestinian people but also to the core of international law, since such flouting by Israel of international measures threatened the credibility of all the international organizations. Egypt had participated energetically and sincerely in the Middle East peace process since 1977, but instead of responding to such initiatives as the land-for-peace agreement, Israel remained in its stubborn position and continued its settlement policy, which caused such damage to the Palestinian cause. The vicious cycle Israel had created would lead to unbalanced security and to an increase in terrorist and violent acts. All countries concerned, especially Israel, must now work seriously and speedily to solve the problems of the region. For any true progress, Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories and abide by United Nations resolutions.

DAVID LITTMAN, of the Association for World Education, said he was taking the floor to express a growing indignation at the deliberate lack of responsibility from those who had never failed to miss an opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue as true partners in peace. Last year, the group had denounced a grotesque provocation, aimed at barring serious United Nations progress along the narrow road to reconciliation. He was referring to what he said was a blatant falsehood by the Palestinian observer that the "Israeli authorities have infected by injection 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus during the years of the intifada". There was no excuse for that "AIDS libel", as six weeks earlier the Cairo newspaper Al-Ahram had totally retracted its report in order to preserve its credibility. But the Palestinian observer had continued along that sinuous path for a year. The group welcomed the letter of 15 March addressed to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to the Chairman of the Commission by the Palestinian observer, in which he finally retracted his blatantly false 1997 AIDS allegation.

IAIN LEVINE, of Amnesty International, said Israel was effectively legalizing or attempting to legalize practices which violated even the most fundamental human rights. Torture, which was already effectively legalized in Israel, was likely to be further endorsed by new legislation which would offer impunity to General Security Service officers who resorted to physical pressure when interrogating detainees. The so-called compensation bill, which had already passed its first reading, would deny redress to victims of human rights violations. Israel used political assassinations and officially sanctioned them. Israel also held hostages, with the Supreme Court of Israel endorsing this practise and stating that it was legitimate to hold detainees as bargaining chips. Human rights abuses by others did not entitle any State to violate the rule of law by legalizing what should never be legalized. Amnesty International called on the Government of Israel to act in accordance with the human rights treaties it had ratified.

DAN SEYMOUR, of International Save the Children Alliance, said that Israeli closures of the Palestinian territories had had severe effects on the health and well-being of Palestinian children. Nutrition, health, education, child labour and housing demolitions all were made worse. During closures, basic foodstuffs were frighteningly scarce, clearly affecting child health, while there were reports that persons had died because they could not win access to medical care. The incidence of child labour had increased massively, as children had to leave school to contribute to family survival. Education in general suffered during the closures. The situation of children was particularly important if one considered the impact on the future of the region. Whatever the adult causes of the adult conflict there, children must not be allowed to suffer in such a manner.

JACQUES VITTORI, of Pax Christi International, said experience had shown that calls for the reiteration of resolutions of the Commission, the Security Council, the General Assembly, as well as of the provisions of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration, were insufficient. Those instruments had practically no effect on the behaviour of the Israeli authorities in the occupied Arab territories. Pax Christi welcomed the Oslo Peace Accord and the signing of the Washington Declaration of Understanding on 13 September 1993. It had been believed that a solution was possible to a situation which so far continued deadlocked. Some even felt that the peace process was already dead. The situation of Palestinians was worse today than during the period of the intifada.

HAMDI SHAQQURA, of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said the peace process had seemed to offer a window of opportunity, a window that seemed to be closing as the Israeli occupation continued in all its brutal forms. Israeli policies stifled and thwarted the growth of the Palestinian economic, political and social systems. In 1997 alone, the Israelis had imposed the closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than 50 days. That continued brutal policy of collective punishment against ordinary Palestinians was cruel, obstructive and deliberately destructive. There were also more than 4,000 Palestinian detainees in prison in Israel, a number that continued to increase. Equally alarming was the fact that 151 Palestinians had been arrested at the international frontiers with Egypt and Jordan. Settlements, also illegal under international law, continued to expand at an unprecedented pace under the current Israeli regime.

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