Press Release

6 November 2003


The following statement was issued today by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Miloon Kothari:

The human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) has deteriorated significantly over the past three years, in spite of the repeated condemnations by the international community of Israel's illegal collective punishment against the Palestinian people in the OPT, its policy of demolition of Palestinian houses and civilian property, and the massive confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land.

One of the most recent illustrations of this continued campaign by the Israeli army is the numerous reports about the latest housing demolitions in the Yibna Camp in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, that took place from 10 to 12 October, 2003. On this occasion Israeli forces demolished an estimated 100 building complexes, housing over 1,000 people. According to information received, residents were in most instances not given enough time to remove their belongings. Approximately 1,000 people were thus left homeless, adding to the thousands of Palestinian families that have been forced out of their homes in the past three years in similar demolitions. Israeli authorities reportedly justified the demolitions of houses in the Yibna Camp, as part of an operation to unveil three tunnels allegedly used by Palestinian armed groups to smuggle weapons from Egypt into the Gaza strip. However, this cannot justify actions against innocent civilians.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported that this recent action constitutes the largest-scale demolition of houses in Gaza over the past three years. UNRWA also reported that the Yibna Camp incurred significant damages. Various non-governmental organizations have expressed concern that these demolitions constitute a continuation of Israeli efforts to clear all houses from the border area. The figures on house demolitions confirm the rise and the continuation of human rights violations by the Israeli army in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The international community has repeatedly condemned house demolitions and land confiscations by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, actions which have resulted in the deterioration of the housing and living conditions of the population, due to increased homelessness and the deprivation of livelihoods. House demolitions, confiscation of land and destruction of property and other actions by Israel breach international human rights and humanitarian law, including the human rights instruments Israel has ratified, the Geneva Conventions and Hague Resolutions as well as various binding UN resolutions. Nonetheless, Israel continues to disregard the position of the international community and its laws concerning the behaviour of States.

The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the Commission on Human Rights is particularly concerned that these acts have left thousands of residents homeless and harmed the livelihood of thousands more. The Special Rapporteur has previously, and on several occasions, particularly emphasized the disproportionate effect on women and on children and the elderly of human rights violations related to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living. In his reports (see E/CN.4/2003/5/Add.1) and statements, the Special Rapporteur has consistently reiterated the need for the international community to strongly condemn and seek remedy for these crimes in this region of the world. (*1) Basing himself on UN as well as non-governmental sources, international and national, the Special Rapporteur reiterates his grave concern about the escalation of activities by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories in violation of international human rights standards, in particular large-scale destruction of Palestinian houses and civilian property. According to information received, the Israeli army has destroyed an estimated 4,000 homes over the past three years, leaving thousands of people homeless, many of whom are women, children and elderly persons. Much of the destruction in recent years has been concentrated in and around Gaza.

The Special Rapporteur once again strongly condemns this escalation of violations against the Palestinian people, and calls for an immediate cessation of similar actions, especially in the Gaza Strip, by Israel. The Special Rapporteur urges the international community to act decisively to protect Palestinians by taking urgent steps to remove the impunity that Israel enjoys. Stronger measures, those advocated by the 'Road Map', are required including steps to ensure that Israel halts other provocative and incendiary actions, such as the building of the Separation Wall, to consolidate its occupation of Palestine. The Special Rapporteur reiterates his position on the strong need for an end to the occupation and for the immediate deployment of an international protection force in the region. In the current international atmosphere of striving towards a more just, civilized, orderly and peaceful world, progress necessitates an end to Israeli occupation, and that all States behave responsibly under law.

For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and copies of available reports, please consult the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (www.unhchr.ch/housing).

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(*1) In his reports (see E/CN.4/2003/5/Add.1) and statements, the Special Rapporteur has consistently reiterated the need for the international community to strongly condemn and seek remedy for these crimes in this region of the world.
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