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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


GA/SHC/3715
5 November 2002
Fifty-seventh General Assembly
Third Committee
36th Meeting (PM)

THIRD COMMITTEE DEBATES HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN IRAQ,
CAMBODIA, PALESTINIAN OCCUPIED TERRITORIES


The situations of human rights in Iraq, Cambodia and in the Palestinian territories were highlighted and debated this afternoon, as the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) continued hearing reports from Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights and a Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

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John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said he accepted that Israel had legitimate security concerns with waves of suicide-bombers inflicting deep wounds on Israeli society.  Israel had both the right and obligation to protect its people from further attacks.  At the same time, did the measures resorted to by Israel –- particularly curfew and closures –- always serve a security need?  Or were they so disproportionate that one wondered whether or not they were designed to punish, humiliate and subjugate the Palestinian people?

The humanitarian crisis caused by Operation Defensive Shield last March and April, Operation Determined Path in June, and subsequent military operations in the West Bank and Gaza were well known.  Lives had been lost, livelihoods destroyed and the social, political and economic fabric of Palestinian society had been damaged –- possibly beyond repair.  He said that 22 per cent of children under the age of five suffered from acute or chronic malnutrition, as well as mental health problems.  Surely the time had come for concerted action on the part of the international community to take steps to protect children in the region.  Failure to do so was a recipe for disaster in the future. 

The representative of Israel expressed dismay at the Committee’s annual ritual of vilification of Israel in the form of the report just presented.  He recalled that just yesterday the United Nations High Commissioner had told the Committee that there was never an excuse or occasion to condone terrorism.  The report seemed to suggest quite the opposite and seemed to support or promote Palestinian intransigence.  The report was replete with attempts to justify Palestinian acts of terror.  In doing so, it was giving license for the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians. 

The Observer of Palestine warmly welcomed the report by Mr. Dugard and expressed the delegation’s deep appreciation.  The report gave a comprehensive and full account of the situation of the people in the Palestinian occupied territories as a result of the continued Israeli occupation.  The Observer would not get into specifics at this time but would make a full statement during the general debate on this item.  She said, however, that because of the Rapporteur’s first-hand visits, he had been able to get a true picture of the situation on the ground.  Those visits had reiterated that the fact remained that if there were no occupation, there would be peace in the region.  

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As the Committee began its work this afternoon, the representatives of Iceland, Mexico, Canada, United States, Venezuela (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) and Egypt, respectively, introduced draft resolution on torture or other degrading treatment, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, effective implementation of international instruments on human rights, implementation and follow-up to the World Conference against Racism, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. 

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Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this afternoon to continue its dialogue with human rights experts.  It is expected to hear presentations from and hold dialogues with Andreas Mavrommatis, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iraq; John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories; and Peter Leuprecht, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia. 

Facilitating the discussion, the following reports will be before the Committee. 

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There is also a note by the Secretary-General on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine (document A/57/366) which contains the report of John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.  The report concludes that the occupied Palestinian territory is a testing ground for human rights and humanitarian law.  The great advances in these two bodies of law are undermined by a situation in which human rights and humanitarian law are denied and disregarded with no meaningful response from the international community.  The rule of law is one casualty of the conflict in the occupied Palestinian territory, but the main casualties are the people of Palestine and Israel. 

There is an addendum to the report (document A/57/366/Add.1) which relates the visit of the Special Rapporteur to the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel from 25 to 30 August 2002.  The addendum provides information on security and human rights; curfews, closures and their consequences; detentions; collective punishment; children; settlements; and the paradox of humanitarian assistance.  

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Also being introduced is a draft resolution on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (document A/C.3/57/L.35) which would have the Assembly reaffirm the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine and urge all States and the specialized agencies and organisations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination. 

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Introduction of Drafts

The Committee began its work this afternoon by hearing the introduction of five draft resolutions.

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The representative of Egypt then introduced the final draft before the Committee today on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (document A/C.3/57/L.35) which he said was a text calling for peace.  He hoped the draft resolution would send the message to the international community that it was time for peace to reign over the land of Palestine.

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Statement by Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Territories

JOHN DUGRAD, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, said he had visited the occupied territories twice in 2002:  in February and late August.  His report to the Committee would address only security and human rights, the humanitarian crisis, settlements and self-determination, and the treatment of children.  At the outset, he accepted that Israel had very real and legitimate security concerns.  Waves of suicide bombers had inflicted very deep wounds on Israeli society.  Israel had both the right and the obligation to protect its people from further attacks.  He also stressed that suicide bombings violated the rights to life, one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law.  Israel could not therefore be faulted for requesting the Palestinian Authority to take all steps to prevent such actions and to punish those responsible.

At the same time, it was necessary to ask whether the measures resorted to by Israel -- particularly curfews and closures -- always served a security need.  Often Israel's measures appeared so disproportionate, so remote from the interests of security, that one was led to wonder whether or not they were designed to punish, humiliate and subjugate the Palestinian people.  Israel's legitimate security needs must be balanced against the legitimate humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.  To Mr. Dugard, there appeared to be no such balance.  Human rights had been sacrificed to security.  And that in turn had led to a greater threat to Israeli security -- the hopelessness and despair which led inexorably to suicide bombings and other acts of violence against Israelis.

The humanitarian crisis caused by Operation Defensive Shield last March and April, and Operation Determined Path in June, and the subsequent military operations in the West Bank and Gaza were well known.  Lives had been lost; livelihoods destroyed; and the social, political and economic fabric of Palestinian society had been damaged -- possibly beyond repair.  Over 50 per cent of the population in the territories was unemployed, and some 1.8 million Palestinians received food aid.  He said that 22 percent of children under the age of five suffered from acute or chronic malnutrition.  Mental health problems had also increased among many children.  Health care had suffered drastically , and as could be expected, the situation in the refugee camps was particularly bleak.

The gravity of the situation was indisputable, as was the need for humanitarian assistance on a massive scale.  If that was not forthcoming, the Palestinian people would suffer irreparable harm.  He would endorse and add his own voice to those that had called for humanitarian assistance from the international community.  At the same time, it must be made clear that by providing such assistance the international community relieved Israel of its burden of providing assistance in kind, and its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Such assistance might even be seen as contributing to the funding of the occupation in a way.

He said settlements constituted a serious violation of international humanitarian law, particularly the tenets of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  He added that the settlements and their bypass roads and buffer systems had fragmented both land and people and had negatively affected the prospects for self-determination of Palestinians living in those areas.  They also foreclosed the possibility of a Palestinian State, as they destroyed Palestinian territorial integrity.  The determination of Israel to maintain and to expand such settlements was increasingly seen as a serious threat to a two-State solution to the conflict.  Overall, the basic freedoms of the Palestinian people to movement and to a decent living were sacrificed in the interest of security and the comfort of an alien settler community.  The anger and humiliation that that situation had engendered in Palestinians was impossible to assess.

Children had suffered greatly as a result of the military incursions into Palestinian territories.  Many had been killed, and some 350 were reportedly being held in detention.  Over 2,000 had been rendered homeless; over 200,000 children -- and some 9,000 teachers -- were unable to reach their classrooms; and over 500 schools had been shuttered due to Israeli military closures or curfews.  In his report to the Commission on Human Rights last March, he had called on Israel to conduct a full investigation into the treatment of Palestinian children in detention -- treatment which had been alleged to involve degrading or inhumane punishment or torture.  Amnesty international had recently made a wider call for an investigation into the treatment of both Israeli and Palestinian children.  Surely the time had come for concerted action on the part of the international community to take steps to protect children in the region.  Failure to do so was a recipe for disaster in the future.

Dialogue with Special Rapporteur

Opening the dialogue was the representative of Israel, who said his delegation welcomed paragraph two of Mr. Dugard's statement.  Sadly, however, it was very regretful that it had not been included in the report itself.  He expressed dismay at the Committee's annual ritual of vilification of the State of Israel in the form of the report just presented.  He recalled that just yesterday the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had told the Committee that there was never an excuse or occasion to condone terrorism.

The report before the Committee seemed to suggest quite the opposite.  It was biased and would not serve the cause of human rights.  Instead, it seemed to support or promote Palestinian intransigence.  The report was replete with attempts to justify Palestinian acts of terror rather than to address the decision of the Palestinian Authority to turn away from legitimate attempts at negotiation and dialogue.  In so doing, the report was giving license for the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians.

Even more troubling than the Special Rapporteur's distorted descriptions of the situation were the prescriptions he offered to remedy it.  That prescription would have an adverse effect on the situation on the ground.  In a period when all were calling for an end to violence, and the classification of suicide bombings as a crime against humanity, the Special Rapporteur had chosen to highlight the irrelevance of his mandate by refusing to address either issue resolutely or truthfully.  Sadly, neither his factual distortions nor his political editorializing would promote the notion that only dialogue and negotiation would bring and end to the conflict.  The report did not advance the cause of human rights or the cause of peace.  It would only enforce the Palestinian will to reject Israeli legitimacy and to claim more innocent Israeli lives.

The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that her delegation was facing increasing difficulties in providing humanitarian assistance in the occupied territories and had repeatedly called on Israel to address that situation.  What was the Special Rapporteur's assessment of that situation, as well as other Israeli anti-terrorist measures?

The Observer of Palestine warmly welcomed the report and expressed her delegation's deep appreciation for the work of the Special Rapporteur.  The report gave a comprehensive and full account of the situation of the people in the Palestinian occupied territories as a result of the continued Israeli occupation.  She would not get into specifics at this time but would make a full statement during the general debate on this item.  She said, however, that because of the Rapporteur's first-hand visits, he had been able to get a true picture of the situation on the ground.  Those visits had reiterated that the fact remained that if there were no occupation, there would be peace in the region.

The representative of Syria said most of the paragraphs in the report did indeed reflect the situation as it existed today -- a catastrophic and continuous violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people.  The only reason that situation existed was because of the continued Israeli occupation.

The representative of Egypt affirmed the Special Rapporteur's assessment that sacrificing Palestinian human rights to security concerns would only lead to more violence.

The representative of Libya agreed that there was no balance between Palestinian humanitarian concerns and the Israeli's security concerns.  He added that the settlements were illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Responding, Mr. DUGARD said it had been his impression that the Israeli authorities did allow humanitarian assistance to reach the parties concerned, although problems tended to arise as such goods were inspected for security reasons.  As for the erection of security fences, he said he would rather refer to it as a "wall", since it made the old Berlin Wall look small by comparison.  He did not believe that building a wall was a substitute for negotiation and dialogue between the two sides.

As for restructuring his mandate, he said the situation in the territories had changed drastically over the years with much less control being exercised by the Palestinian Authority and much more being exercised by the Israeli side.  He believed that in the present context, the emphasis should be on violations of humanitarian law committed by the occupying power.  On the proposed withdrawal of citizenship of Arab-Israeli's, he recalled the similarities of such initiatives to activities undertaken by the apartheid regime in South Africa some 20 years ago, and hoped Israel would not resort to such tactics.

To Israel, he said it was difficult to deal with accusations the delegation had made.  He drew Israel’s attention to the fact that paragraph two of his statement would appear in the addendum to his report.  He said there was a real need for dialogue between Israel and the international community on the subject of terrorism and human rights violations flowing from the occupation.  Clearly, the Committee was not the appropriate body.  There was perhaps a smaller forum that could handle the task.  This was a situation where the Israeli Government saw itself under threat and subsequently resorted to specific measures to protect itself.  On the other side, the Palestinian side, there was the hopelessness and despair that drove people to resort to violence.

For himself, having witnessed violation of human rights and deplorable humanitarian conditions in the occupied territories, he could not take the view that the overall difficulties were unrelated to occupation.  Why would a young boy or girl strap explosives and blow him or herself up?  Was it because of hatred of Israel or over despair for their future.  He appealed to the Israeli delegate, "with tears in his eyes" to ask himself why young Palestinian children would commit such acts.  He reiterated his hope for an open dialogue within the United Nations on the matter.

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