Press Release

21 March 2003


Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand,
Chairman of Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination also Speak

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 21 March (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights began this afternoon its annual discussion of the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination and foreign occupation, hearing a series of countries urge an end to the Israeli presence in occupied Palestine and a call from the Organization of the Islamic Conference for self-determination both for Palestine and for Jammu and Kashmir.

In addition, a Representative of Iraq said an aggression against that nation's territory was under way that had not been authorized by the United Nations and it amounted to an attempt to deny Iraq the right to determine its own Government and future.

Representatives of Palestine and Israel spoke, the Palestinian official contending that Security Council and Commission resolutions were not applied with fairness, since those referring to Palestinians' rights were not implemented; and the Israeli official stating that Israel accepted Palestine's right to self-determination but that Israel's similar right had to be recognized, and that a solution to the Middle East crisis lay in detailed negotiations between the two sides.

Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, Commission Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries and their impact on issues of self-determination, introduced a report he had written, reviewed visits he had made to El Salvador and Panama, discussed the possible expansion of the definition of the term "mercenary", and responded to several questions from national delegations.

The Commission was also addressed by Sorajak Kasemsuvan, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, who said among other things that closest to Thailand's heart was the goal of alleviating the mass misery of want in the developing world, which had taken more lives than actual armed conflicts, although they were often interrelated and reinforced each other in a vicious cycle.

And, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Ion Diaconu, Chairman of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination spoke, outlining the Committee's activities and calling for countries to take effective steps to implement the Declaration and Programme of Action of the Durban World Conference against Racial Discrimination.

Also offering formal statements were representatives of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, South Africa, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Azerbaijan, and Jordan. Israel, Palestine, and the Syrian Arab Republic spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 24 March, to continue its discussion of the right to self-determination.

Right of Peoples to Self-Determination

Before the Commission under this agenda item is a note by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (document E/CN.4/2003/4) which transmits to the members of the Commission the report of the second meeting of experts on traditional and new forms of mercenary activities as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, which took place in Geneva from 13 to 17 May 2002.  The note details developments related to mercenary activities and to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur; a redefinition of mercenaries; comments on the criminalization of mercenary activity; State responsibility for mercenary activities; the best legislative practice on mercenaries with regard to the cases of Belgium and South Africa; the regulation of private security and military firms; State responsibility for regulating private military companies; and conclusions and recommendations.  Recommendations include giving further consideration to improving the effectiveness of the 1989 Convention and other mechanisms dealing with the problem of mercenaries; and that an in-sessional working group consider the issues raised by the existence of private military/security companies and consider how their activities could best be regulated.  Experts also concluded that in order to increase the effectiveness of the legal framework against mercenary activities, it was necessary to amend the Convention.

There is a report by the Secretary-General on the situation in occupied Palestine (document E/CN.4/2003/15) which states that the Secretary-General addressed a note verbale to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel and to all other governments, requesting information pertaining to the implementation of last year's Commission resolution on the topic by the Government of Israel.  The report states that no reply had been received from Israel.

And there is a report on the question of the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of people to self-determination, submitted by Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, Special Rapporteur (document E/CN.4.2003/16) in which he relates his activities and indicates the correspondence he received in 2002.  He makes particular mention of the second meeting of experts on mercenaries, organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He also draws attention to the current status of mercenary activities, in particular on the African continent, including positive developments.  Matters that he continues to view with concern include the prolongation of the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the massacres reported in Kisangani in May 2002; the recent aggression by bands of mercenaries in the Comoros Islands; the presence of mercenaries in Côte d’Ivoire; recent armed confrontations in Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo; and reports of the recruitment of mercenaries for operations in Madagascar.  The report includes an analysis of the Special Rapporteur’s visits on official missions to El Salvador and Panama. 


Interactive Dialogue on Mercenaries


An observer of Palestine said it seemed the Special Rapporteur had mentioned Israel as one of the places where terrorist attacks were taking place.  The Special Rapporteur however had not mentioned what had been going on around Israel.  It was important that the Special Rapporteur remained balanced.

A Representative of Syria reiterated what had been said by the observer of Palestine.  It was important to clarify whether the Special Rapporteur had been referring to Israel as the perpetrator of terrorism or a victim of it, this Representative said. 

Mr. Ballesteros said the legal definition was of utmost importance and he encouraged Governments to send him their views in writing.  With regard to the observer of Palestine, he apologized for omitting a situation which bore the characteristics of terrorism. 

General Debate on Right of Peoples to Self-Determination

SHAUKAT UMER (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said according to international law the right to self-determination was an inalienable right that belonged to all peoples.  This fundamental right had been conferred upon the people of Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir by the United Nations fifty years ago.  The tension and uncertainty that prevailed in the Middle East and South Asia today was a direct result of the occupying powers' failure to comply with the relevant United Nations resolutions.  The history of international relations was witness to the fact that occupying powers had adamantly resisted the liberation of peoples under their subjugation.  Denigrating popular freedom and the ruthless persecution of such peoples had been a common feature of the strategy of these powers.
Israel's systematic and massive abuses of human rights had been extensively reported by all sources, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur, the non-governmental organizations, international media and by the victims themselves.  The resolution of the conflict in the occupied Palestinian territory and other situations of occupation hinged on the full implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions, all bilateral agreements between the parties, and full respect for humanitarian law.  The Palestinians had suffered far too much and for far too long.  The Commission, as the custodian of fundamental rights, had a special responsibility towards the occupied people of Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir.  Non-cooperation by the occupying powers must be responded to by concrete measures such as necessary political and economic sanctions.  If the international community could force the elimination of the apparatus of apartheid it could also ensure the realization of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and full compliance by Israel with United Nations decisions.  The OIC encouraged the Commission to initiate effective measures to achieve this objective. 

SAEED MOHAMED AL-FAIHANI(Bahrain) said Bahrain supported all efforts at ensuring security and stability in occupied Palestine.  Exposing the Palestinian people to humiliating practices would not help achieve peace.  The Palestinian people were subjected to the horrors of occupation and had the right to use all available means to force the occupying power to withdraw.

What was happening in the occupied territories was the lethal use of a war machine against a people who wanted to recover their rights.  Bahrain had supported a number of initiatives to achieve peace and called upon Israel to accept peace as a strategic option, including the recent “road map” initiative, which had been accepted by the Palestinians in its original form.  Until peace was achieved, the international community must intervene and take action to stop the violations of the rights of the Palestinians.

Abdulwahab Abdulsalam ATTAR(Saudi Arabia) said the circle of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories would not be broken until the Palestinian people were able to enjoy their legitimate rights.  The murder of innocent persons, the blockade of Palestinian areas, destruction of infrastructure and the denial of the Palestinian people's basic right to self-determination violated all values and customary practices and were a manifestation of disdain for the relevant Security Council resolutions, particularly resolutions 242, 338 and 194, as well as the resolutions of the Commission.  The Israeli Government was deluding itself if it believed that its perpetration of massacres against the defenseless Palestinian people and its destruction of their infrastructure would induce the Palestinians to lose hope, capitulate and submit to demands and conditions that were inconsistent with United Nations resolutions and the agreements signed between the two parties. 

This was a clear indication of Israel's intention to complete the destruction of all the remaining infrastructure and impose a policy of fait accompli on the Palestinian people and its leadership.  In past years, the Commission had adopted resolutions on the right of peoples to self-determination and Saudi Arabia was hopeful that the international community would understand and respond and give effect to this right which was recognized in the Charter of the United Nations.

ZHANG MEIFANG(China) said the right to national self-determination was an important human right, as it was the basis and precondition for the realization of all other basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.  History had shown that only by casting off colonial rule and foreign aggression and occupation could people become masters of their own fates, and enjoy civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  The United Nations had made significant headway in promoting the realization of this right.

However all legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination, had so far not yet been recovered, and this was the major reason for the ever-escalating violent conflicts and bloodshed in the
Middle East.  It was hoped that the international community would take more effective measures and speedily seek a just and fair solution to the Palestinian problem so as to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East.  In this context, it was imperative to promote the democratization of international relations.  Unilateral moves to impose economic sanctions and the use of threat to use of force even ran counter to the United Nations Charter and the principles of international law.  Only through full compliance with the United Nations Charter and principles of international law could all peoples enjoy peace, development and human rights.


FAYCAL KHABBAZ-HAMOUI  (Syria) said Syria had always supported the rights of all people to self-determination.  Israel had denied the citizens of southern Lebanon, the Golan and the Palestinian people their legitimate right to self-determination, a shameful act at the beginning of this Millennium.  Dozens of resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council and the Commission reaffirmed the right to self-determination, and Israel could not deny this right.

Israel’s flouting of dozens of resolutions had broken all records and the question now was whether the United Nations had not lost all its credibility.  The Commission should denounce the occupation policy of Israel and reaffirm the right of the Palestinian people to statehood with Jerusalem as its capital.  The fact that Israel took international legality lightly must be condemned.

Sipho George NENE(South Africa), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Group reiterated its long-standing position on the fundamental and inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination and political autonomy in their own country, living peacefully with their neighbours.  The African Group believed that the Palestinian struggle for statehood was a legitimate struggle and should receive the support of the international community.  There could be no doubting that the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination had been denied for too long by the continuation of the Israeli occupation.  The African Group was concerned that successive operative resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and independence had long been ignored. 

In real terms, the situation of the Palestinian people had not improved but deteriorated over the years.  In the past two years alone the escalation of violence and destruction of both life and property in the area had reached unprecedented proportions.  A just and sustainable settlement that recognized the right of Palestinians to viable statehood and the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live within safe and secure borders would bring lasting peace to both nations.  The African Group believed that through sustained dialogue between the parties to the conflict and the halting of further settlement activities and an end to the military occupation of Palestinian lands and through scrupulous respect of the rights of civilians and non-combatants, the necessary trust and confidence could be enhanced

Naéla GABR (Egypt) said Egypt supported the statement of South Africa, as the right to self-determination was one of the most fundamental rights contained in the United Nations Charter, recognized by the international community and international instruments alike.  There was only one people in the world that was still struggling to express this right and to achieve statehood -- the Palestinian people, whose situation was characterized by flagrant human rights violations by the Israeli Government.  The report had highlighted the main aspects of the Israeli policy which violated the basic rights of the Palestinian people, notably the interdiction of building homes.  Israel was determined to defy the international community.  The Commission had adopted a resolution regarding this, affirming the unconditional and inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

There was a need for unconditional peace in the region, which would reaffirm peace in the Middle East as a whole.  A clear message should be sent to the Israeli Government that its current policy was not acceptable.  The Palestinian search for self-determination was fully justifiable. 

NASSER SALMAN AL ABOODI  (United Arab Emirates), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group of States, said the right to self-determination was one of the foundations of the United Nations Charter and had been reaffirmed in more than a thousand international conferences.  The Palestinian people had been denied this right for half a century.  The United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Commission on Human Rights had all reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination. Israel, however, continued to flout this right and the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments.  Israel was seeking to crush any hope of the Palestinian people to have their own State.  The international community was called upon to shoulder its responsibilities so as to prevent the law of the jungle from prevailing.

NABIL RAMLAWI (Palestine) said the world adopted the principle of the right of self-determination as a right that ascended to the rank of a Jus Cogens in international law, thus enabling people, particularly those who were under foreign or colonial occupation in the past, to exercise their right to self-determination.  Besides, the United Nations linked international peace and security to the exercise by all of the right of self-determination.  In the sense that any violation of the right of people to exercise self-determination through deprivation and oppression would only lead to adverse results, such as instability and wars, it should be accepted that more than anything else denial of the right endangered international peace and security.

Consequently, all the Commission's resolutions had affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to exercise their right of self-determination without any foreign interference, as had already been affirmed in various resolutions of the General Assembly.  The Palestinian people were the only people still exposed to oppression and deprivation through all means and methods, with the aim of depriving them from exercising their right of self-determination.  No doubt what was going on today in the world and particularly in the Middle East was nothing but the direct result stemming from the denial to the Palestinian people of their right to self-determination.  If the international community was to finally fulfil the goals and purposes represented by peace, security and stability, it should before anything else put an end to its policy of double standards when implementing international law.

MAHMOUD DHARI(Iraq) said several delegates had spoken out for the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, a right that was currently being violated.  Iraq believed in the right to self-determination and supported the Palestinian people in their plight.  Yesterday, an act of aggression had been launched against Iraq and its people when missiles had been launched against Baghdad.  Despite all types of pressure and international opposition, the United States and the United Kingdom had acted outside the frame of the United Nations in a unilateral violation of international law.

It was a well-known fact that there was opposition to this act of aggression.  Worldwide growing opposition had called for the United States and the United Kingdom to respect human rights as well as the sovereignty of Iraq.  Iraq was a sovereign State -- one of the founding fathers of the United Nations -- yet attempts were being made to overthrow its regime.  The Commission was called upon to support Iraq and ensure the end of the aggression.  

AHMED MOHAMED MASOUD AL-RIYAMI (Oman) said the right to self-determination was one of the main foundations of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international legitimacy.  Israel, however, refused to apply this principle and continued to pursue an inhumane policy against the Palestinians which was a threat to international peace and security. 

Despite numerous United Nations resolutions reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, Israel continued to deny the Palestinian people this right.  Pressure should be brought to bear on Israel to respect international legitimacy.  This matter called for diplomatic efforts and a display of mutual solidarity so that the Palestinians would finally be able to create their own State.  The international community should reject the policy of terror practiced by Israel against the Palestinian people

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said the story of the modern State of Israel was to a large extent the story of defending the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland, and the right to live in peace and security.  Israel respected the right of her neighbours, the Arab States and the Palestinians, to self-determination.  Israel expected equal and mutual recognition, not only of the de facto existence of the State of Israel but of her right to self-determination.  Israel recognized more than 20 years ago, in the framework of the Camp David Accords negotiated in 1978, the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.  The Oslo Peace Process was in fact both a recognition and a realization of the Palestinian's right to self-determination.  It was only through such a process that both Israelis and Palestinians could hope to realize their legitimate rights to live side by side in peace and security. 

At Camp David in July 2000, these issues had been discussed and an agreement with Israel's Palestinian brothers had been so close.  An agreement would have given genuine expression to the aspiration of both peoples to live peacefully side-by-side.  Unfortunately, as the record clearly showed, it was the Palestinian Authority's leadership's choice not to consummate these negotiations, neither at Camp David nor later at Taba in January 2001, but instead to resort to a course of continuous violence in order to force Israel's hand to make further concessions, contrary to every agreement negotiated and signed between Israelis and Palestinians.  Agenda item No.5 on self-determination must not be a cause within the Commission for continuous attacks on Israel and its policy.  Israel’s position remained that self-determination must be achieved through direct, peaceful negotiations between two sides. 


SHEHAB A. MADI  (Jordan) said all necessary measures should be taken to implement the Road Map for peace.  It was truly an irony that every year the Commission discussed the human rights of the Palestinian people whilst Palestine remained occupied and Palestinians could not enjoy their rights.

It was time for the Commission to send a clear message to the occupying power saying that occupation should end to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy their inalienable rights.

Rights of Reply

A Representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said that the logic of the statement by Palestine was flawed and the facts contained in it reversed.  The children of Israel also suffered.  Hundreds had died in suicide bombings.  The massacre in Netanyah was the most atrocious expression of the violence inflicted upon Israel.  This violence left emotional scars that were not visible to the eye.  One should uphold the right to life for all, Israelis and Palestinians alike, and call for an end to suicide bombings against Israelis.  The main obstacle to self-determination for Palestine was self-made -- it was Palestinian violence and suicide bombings.  

A Representative of Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said in a response to the statement of Israel that this was not the first time the Israeli delegate had been lying to the Commission.  The right to self-determination was
being violated since Israel was occupying another people's territory by force.  Now, how could the Israeli delegate claim that Israel supported Palestinian people’s right to self-determination?  The Israeli delegate referred to the establishment of modern Israel and claimed it had been based on the right to self-determination.  Palestinians had been accused of not negotiating in the peace process, but the truth was that Israel itself had not been negotiating with the Palestinian people since 1948.

A Representative of the Syria, speaking in right of reply, said Israel had been established in 1947 by the United Nations.  Ever since, it had been growing at the expense of its neighbours as though it were a cancer.  It had occupied Syrian and Lebanese territory, and all of the Palestinian territory.  Israel was challenged to prove that it has not lied on several topics in its speech.  Israel had rejected peace offers, and had responded by carrying out invasions of Palestinian territory, killing people and refusing to allow the High Commissioner to inspect the territory.  The only Israeli Prime Minister who had tried to make peace was killed by the Israelis themselves, and those who had incited this hatred were now ruling Israel.  The Arabs had offered peace, and this had been rejected by Israel.

The Representative of Israel, in a second right of reply, said he had hoped that the Chairperson would live up to her commitment at the beginning of the deliberations not to allow uncivilized language and personal attacks during debates in the Commission.  He had therefore hoped that the Chairperson would have called to order the representatives who had launched personal attacks against him, calling him a liar on several occasions.  It was necessary to review what had happened in 1948.  The Jewish people established a State in their own national homeland.  Eight Arab countries declared that they would prevent this by use of arms.  Those countries lost that war and even after the lost they refused to negotiate peace and continued to refuse until the 1970s.  Violence and military attacks were pointless and would lead to nothing.  The only reasonable path to peace was through dialogue and negotiation.

The Representative of Palestine, in a second right of reply, said the representative of Israel said that he had heard insults and asked that they stop.  People would stop calling him a liar when he stopped lying.  The Israeli delegate had said that the Jewish people had come from the outside to build their territory with the support of the British forces who had imposed their will on the Palestinian people.  This was the truth -- it was history.  The Israelis did not negotiate with the Palestinians in 1948.  He was not claiming anything that was not true. 

* *** *
For information media - not an official record