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The right to food
Report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Jean Ziegler,
submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights
13. Several NGOs working on human rights and food security issues have also reported specific violations to the Special Rapporteur, on which he has taken action. Several delegations from NGOs (notably regarding the occupied Palestinian territories and Brazil) have visited the offices of the Special Rapporteur in Geneva to report on violations and urgent actions with respect to the right to food. In addition, an important meeting was held with the Special Rapporteur on 7 November 2001 in New York on Afghanistan, under the auspices of the Centre for Economic and Social Rights, which was attended by a large number of United States-based and international NGOs working on food issues.
101. The policies were also alleged to be strangling the Palestinian economy and the purchasing power of the people to buy food and water. While unemployment was at about 11 per cent in mid-2000 before the intifada began, it skyrocketed to nearly 50 per cent in mid-2001. 91 Data collected by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics for mid-July through August 2001 show that approximately half of all households lost more than 50 per cent of their usual income and more than 2 million Palestinians, or 60.8 per cent of all Palestinian households, live below the poverty line. 92 Poverty is especially severe in the Gaza Strip, where an estimated 81.5 per cent of Palestinian households are living below the poverty line. Non-governmental organizations corroborate a report by the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories (UNSCO) on the impact of the closures on the Palestinian economy updated through 30 June 2001 which estimates that “total income losses to the Palestinian economy since October 2000 range between US$ 1,860 to US$ 2,459 million”. 93
102. Israel’s closure and siege policies are also alleged to have obstructed the efforts of international humanitarian agencies to mitigate the harsh effects of these policies on the Palestinian people. For example, the efforts of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to distribute their regular and emergency assistance to refugees in the occupied territories have been severely hampered. The system of permits and closures and the 72 checkpoints imposed in the West Bank alone by the Israeli authorities have slowed and obstructed the access of food aid to populations in need. UNRWA reports that as a result of these restrictions “[m]ore than 45 ten-tonne truckloads of supplies remain at the Agency’s West Bank field office awaiting transport to Gaza”. 94 They also obstruct the access of the civilian population to adequate water supplies. For example, it was reported that 218 West Bank villages were not connected to the water network, and therefore depend on trucks to supply water for basic needs. 95 However, due to the restrictions of movement imposed since the beginning of the intifada, water tankers have faced enormous difficulties in delivering water. In addition, there is no access to the water resources in areas under curfew.
103. There have also been instances of deliberate destruction of objects belonging to the civilian population. It was alleged, for example, that in August and September 2001 alone, hundreds of roof water tanks for household use have been shot at and destroyed by Israeli soldiers (affecting more than 750 families in Hebron alone). Further, 21 groundwater wells and 64 irrigation networks have been destroyed or blocked up by Israeli soldiers. It was also alleged that the agricultural sector has witnessed severe losses as a result of the Israeli measures. For example, from 29 September 2000 through the end of the year, 12,370 trees and 2,633 dunums of land were destroyed as a result of Israeli measures. 96 In addition, 22,168 trees and 8,198.9 dunums of land have been destroyed as of 5 November 2001, amounting to a total destruction of 34,536 trees and 10,832 dunums of land. 97
104. The non-governmental organizations alleged that Israel’s closure and siege policies cause deliberate impoverishment and a denial of access to food and water in the territories, through restricting the ability of the Palestinian population to purchase adequately nutritious food and water, deliberate destruction, and obstruction of humanitarian access. They argue that Israel’s ongoing closure and siege policies imposed throughout the territories violate the Palestinian population’s fundamental human right to adequate nutritious food and water, a right which is protected under both international human rights and humanitarian law, on a widespread scale.
105. The Special Rapporteur believes that these allegations suggest that the Israeli occupying authorities are violating its international obligations under articles 55 and 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Special Rapporteur would also quote the statement of the ICRC to the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, in which it expressed concern about the humanitarian consequences of the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The ICRC declared that the settlement policy “has often meant the destruction of Palestinian homes, the confiscation of land and water resources and the parcelling out of the territories”. 98 The Special Rapporteur had requested the Israeli authorities to issue him a visa so that he could carry out a field mission to examine these allegations, as they are directly related to his mandate. 99 So far, this request has not been granted by the Israeli authorities.
128. The right to food must be protected also in times of war. This means that the right to food, as protected under international humanitarian law, must be respected. The use of starvation as a weapon of war, forced displacement of civilian populations and the destruction of their means of subsistence are prohibited. Special principles and rules also apply to the provision of humanitarian assistance, including food, in situations of armed conflict. It is fundamental that the principles of the neutrality, impartiality and strictly humanitarian motives of humanitarian assistance be respected if the credibility of humanitarian aid is to be preserved. As the recent conflict in Afghanistan has shown, the rules and principles of international humanitarian law must be respected in order to avoid violations of the right to food. Perpetrators of violations of the right to food such as those alleged in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territories and Myanmar must be brought to account.