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        General Assembly
26 December 2007

Original: French

Third Committee

Summary record of the 23rd meeting
Held at Headquarters, New York, on Wednesday, 24 October 2007, at 3 p.m.

Chairman: Mr. Wolfe ........................................................................... (Jamaica)
Later: Mr. Gibbons (Vice-Chairman) ......................................................... (Ireland)


The meeting was called to order at 3.10 p.m.

Agenda item 70: Promotion and protection of human rights (continued) (A/62/36, 369 and 464)


(c) Human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives (continued) (A/62/213, 223, 263, 275, 313, 318, 354 and 498)

1. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967), introducing his report (A/62/275), said that the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had worsened since the report’s publication on 17 August 2007. Gaza remained an imprisoned society as a result of the complete closure of the main crossing points and 80 per cent of its population were now living below the poverty threshold. Since Israel refused to recognize Gaza as an occupied territory, Israeli banks had discontinued dealings with banks in Gaza, a move which had serious consequences for its inhabitants, who used the shekel as their currency. There had been some improvements in the West Bank since Hamas had seized power in Gaza (release of almost 350 Palestinian prisoners, payment of some of the tax revenue due to the Palestinian Authority, relaxation of travel restrictions in the Jordan Valley and granting of 3,500 residence permits to Palestinians), but the overall situation, in particular its humanitarian aspects, continued to worsen (increase in the numbers of checkpoints and roadblocks (currently 571), military incursions and arrests and murders of militants, continued construction of the wall (which was being rerouted in the Hebron area, increasing the amount of Palestinian land in the closed zone to 13 per cent from the 10.2 per cent indicated in the report) and continued expansion of settlements, with new housing being built and further land confiscated). The problem of prisoners was more acute than ever: there were some 11,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

2. Having reviewed the situation since the publication of his report, he turned to the report’s conclusions on three main points: the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which was seriously threatened by the dispute between Fatah and Hamas; the consequences of 40 years of occupation of the Palestinian Territory, concerning which he would request a new Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice; and the role of the United Nations in the protection of human rights in the Palestinian Territory. On the last point, he questioned the role of the Quartet, which reported to the Security Council but had not been established under a resolution of the Security Council or the General Assembly.

3. Since the Quartet was guided by the political will of its most powerful member and paid little attention to the human rights of the Palestinians, it must be asked whether the best interests of the United Nations, which was responsible for protecting those rights, were really served by remaining in the Quartet. He was calling for a serious debate on the issue among all United Nations stakeholders: if the Secretary-General was unable to persuade the Quartet to adopt an even-handed approach to the Israel/Palestine dispute, which took account of fundamental Palestinian rights, he suggested that he should consider withdrawing the United Nations from the Quartet.

4. Mr. Mansour (Observer for Palestine) thanked the Special Rapporteur on behalf of the Palestinian people and its leaders for the frankness of his report, his sincerity and his description of the real situation, which unfortunately risked exposing him to much criticism. He assured the Special Rapporteur of the cooperation of the Palestinian people in his ongoing work.

5. Ms. Schonmann (Israel) vigorously disputed the objectivity and impartiality of the Special Rapporteur’s report. The problem lay in the very nature of his mandate, unchanged since 1993, which required him to examine violations of human rights allegedly committed by Israel without considering those committed by Palestinians. The report was a caricature: it presented a very simplistic view of the situation and contained a number of factual and legal errors and distortions of reality, as well as using inflammatory language (referring, for example, to the “arrest” of Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit). The Special Rapporteur also cited at length a report published in 2006 by the non-governmental organization Peace Now regarding land ownership in the West Bank, but failed to note that Peace Now itself had retracted its report because it contained factual errors.

6. Beyond the report’s errors of fact, the Special Rapporteur had departed from the United Nations doctrine of unequivocally condemning terrorism, regardless of the circumstances in which it was committed. By advancing the position that terrorism was a relative concept, he demonstrated a deliberate blindness to the glorification and perpetration of acts of terrorism by certain Palestinian groups. He advanced arguments that legitimized acts of terrorism directed at innocent civilians and compared Palestinian terrorists with resistance fighters throughout history. A cursory look at the Hamas Charter, calling for the annihilation of Israel might help to reveal the lack of any relativity in its vision of the right to self-determination; it was no surprise therefore that the official spokesman of Hamas had wholeheartedly welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s latest report.

7. The report struck a blow at the current preparations for peace talks by reflecting an approach that sought to undermine core humanitarian principles, including the principle of self-defence, and could be regarded only as a step backwards in the protection of human rights, not just in the region but throughout the world.

8. Ms. Abdelhady-Nasser (Observer for Palestine), speaking on a point of order, said that the statement by the representative of Israel had been unacceptably long.

9. Ms. Mtshali (South Africa) said that the Palestinian people had a right to self-determination, a principle that was enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The question of Palestine, which had been on the agenda for more than 60 years, remained unresolved. Her Government was very worried by Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinian Territory and recalled that any solution to the conflict would necessarily involve the creation of an independent State of Palestine, having East Jerusalem as its capital and living side by side with Israel, with both States enjoying secure and internationally recognized borders. She asked the Special Rapporteur what role the United Nations ought to be playing in the Quartet with regard to human rights violations and how the Organization could be more effective in securing Palestinian self-determination and the establishment of an independent State, given that he felt that the Quartet did not speak for the majority of the Member States. She also asked whether there was a need for a new Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of prolonged occupation and what steps the international community should take to improve the worrying situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israel and to ensure that Israel, the occupying Power, respected the Fourth Geneva Convention.

10. Mr. Queiros (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority must respect internationally established human rights and fundamental freedoms. He asked the Special Rapporteur what measures he thought the two parties should take as soon as possible to improve the human rights situation in the occupied territories and what the international community could do to improve the situation. He shared the Special Rapporteur’s opinion that the political rift between Gaza and the West Bank that had occurred in June 2007 when Hamas had come to power had had a negative impact on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. The European Union was opposed to the division of the Palestinian territories and was concerned at the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in Gaza, where it continued to provide humanitarian aid to the population. He asked the Special Rapporteur what he thought the international community should do to promote national reconciliation, strengthen Palestinian institutions in Gaza and improve the humanitarian situation there. Referring to the considerable number of deaths in Gaza since Hamas had taken power, he asked what measures the Special Rapporteur believed should be used to combat impunity there. Concerning the improvement of the situation in the West Bank since Hamas had come to power in Gaza, he asked the Special Rapporteur whether he had any additional information on other measures taken to improve the situation.

11. Mr. Al-Saif (Kuwait) said that he had noted with regret and concern the Special Rapporteur’s assessment of the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Apart from the proposal to request a new Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice, he would like to know what other measures the Special Rapporteur advocated for ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory.

12. Mr. Edrees (Egypt) said that the vital, cross-cutting issue of human rights could not be viewed in isolation from the rest of the question of Palestine. He stressed that human rights were enshrined in international norms and that there was no room for compromise as to their application. He was pleased that the Special Rapporteur had referred to the comments made by the former Envoy to the Quartet in his end-of-mission report and hoped that the United Nations would play a more active role in the Quartet. His Government was concerned at the information in the report concerning the expansion of Israeli settlements, which were illegal and threatened the possibility of lasting peace. He wished to know more about the political repercussions of the situation created by those settlements.

13. Mr. Al-Shami (Yemen) said that the Special Rapporteur had shown courage in describing in his report the violations of Palestinians’ human rights in the occupied territories since 1967; he hoped that action would be taken on his conclusions.

14. Mr. Abdeen (Sudan) said that the report described the situation in the occupied territories objectively and asked the Special Rapporteur to point to any measures that would enable the United Nations to force Israel to apply the resolutions on Palestinian human rights in particular and the question of Palestine in general.

15. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that “terrorism” was indeed a relative concept. Two individuals accused of terrorist activities had subsequently become prime ministers of Israel. Terrorism must be condemned from a moral and legal standpoint, but there was a danger that focusing on it too much might result in the real issues being ignored.

16. Replying to the representative of South Africa, he noted that the Oslo Accords had not lived up to Palestinian expectations because they had failed to take into account the issue of the human rights of the Palestinian people. The Quartet should put more emphasis on human rights. Requesting a further Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice might make it possible to determine whether Israel was still occupying Gaza and to identify more clearly the legal aspects of the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories. With regard to Palestinian prisoners, according to humanitarian law, they ought to be imprisoned in the occupied territories, not in Israel. The Israeli Government must comply with its obligations in that regard.

17. Replying to the representative of Portugal, he said that in order for human rights to be respected in the occupied territories, the problem of the separation wall and the increase in the number of checkpoints and border crossings needed to be solved urgently. As far as national reconciliation was concerned, the United Nations should act as a go-between in trying to bring the two sides closer together. The international community must give its attention to the serious allegations of human rights violations in Gaza and the West Bank.

18. Replying to the representative of Kuwait, he said that the Third Committee should recommend to the General Assembly that it consider asking the International Court of Justice for an Advisory Opinion on the legal consequences of the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories.

19. Replying to the Egyptian representative’s question about settlements, he noted that even though the Israeli Government was claiming that it had put a freeze on the establishment of new settlements, work on them was continuing, funded and supported by the State.

20. Replying to the representative of Yemen, he noted that the Quartet could contribute to the implementation of United Nations resolutions by insisting that the Israeli Government comply with its international obligations. In its statements, however, the Quartet had all too often criticized the Palestinian Authority while ignoring the serious human rights violations committed by Israel.

21. Mr. Ramadan (Lebanon) endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions and recommendations. The report admittedly contained repetitions, but those only served to demonstrate the persistence of Israeli practices. He wondered whether killings and systematic violations could be deemed to constitute a policy and whether the fact that the silent majority closed their eyes to those human rights violations implicated them legally.

22. Mr. Rees (United States of America) said that his Government shared the international community’s concerns about the hardships faced by Palestinians. It disagreed strongly with the criticism levelled at the Quartet, of which the United Nations was a member and whose goal was to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace and to set normative parameters for acceptable action by the parties. The suggestion that the United Nations should consider withdrawing from the Quartet was irresponsible. The Special Rapporteur was implying that the Quartet had no legitimacy, when in fact the Security Council has endorsed its efforts to advance peace on a number of occasions.

23. His Government was troubled by the Special Rapporteur’s superficial treatment of the complicated and illegitimate situation in Gaza, where Hamas had seized power violently, and strongly disagreed that Fatah had seized power by similar means in the West Bank. Such accusations could only further complicate an already difficult situation.

24. His Government had a long-standing commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and to the creation of a Palestinian State. Since 1993, it had delivered more than US$ 1.7 billion in aid to the West Bank and Gaza to combat poverty, create jobs, improve education, build roads and water systems, construct and equip medical clinics and promote good governance. In 2007, it had been the largest bilateral contributor of assistance to the Palestinian people, spending over US$ 204 million.

25. His Government was concerned that the Special Rapporteur had devoted no more than a passing reference to acts of terror directed towards Israeli citizens. His implication that terrorism could be justified under any circumstances was disturbing. There could be no peace until there was an end to violence. The Special Rapporteur’s allusions to apartheid were also inappropriate. While his Government regretted the loss of all innocent life, both Palestinian and Israeli, there was a clear distinction between military operations by the Israel Defense Forces and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza.

26. He believed that seeking a further Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice would be inconsistent with Security Council and General Assembly support for the peace process. His Government was attempting to advance bilateral talks between the parties in preparation for the international meeting to be held later in the year. At a time when efforts were being made to reach a solution, the Special Rapporteur should have focused on objective reporting rather than producing a biased report that detracted from efforts to advance peace.

27. Ms. Halabi (Syrian Arab Republic) endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s opinions and commended the efforts that he was making to fulfil his mandate. As a national of a country that had long practised racial discrimination and apartheid, he was well placed to promote the dialogue needed to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict.

28. Ms. Sutikno (Indonesia) said that the present year was no cause for celebration, marking as it did the fortieth anniversary of the occupation of Palestinian territories. The Palestinians would remain the primary victims of the occupation for as long as it continued. She welcomed the release of 225 Palestinian prisoners and the amnesty for 175 Fatah militants, as well as the remittance of $119 million of Palestinian tax funds to the Palestinian Authority. The violation of human rights had a serious impact on the situation in the West Bank. She endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion that the International Court of Justice should be asked to give an Advisory Opinion and wished to know what that Opinion would achieve. She also wished to know what approach the Special Rapporteur might adopt in order to contribute to the work of the Quartet, particularly with regard to the inclusion of human rights aspects.

29. Mr. Sergiya (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) welcomed the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report and asked about new mechanisms or measures that would help to end the occupation and enable the Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination, which was recognized by the United Nations and all other international organizations.

30. Mr. Badji (Senegal) said that the report laid bare the human rights situation in the occupied territories. It valuably drew the attention of the international community to its responsibilities by calling upon it to protect the rights of Palestinians, restore justice and respect international law by condemning the Israeli occupation and acting on the Advisory Opinion. He hoped that the Committee would follow up the report and that the international community would take into account the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations.

31. Ms. Medal (Nicaragua) welcomed the recommendations contained in the report, which were extremely pertinent, particularly concerning the role of the United Nations. The Palestinian people should be permitted to exercise their right to self-determination and the violations to which they were subjected should be brought to an end.

32. Mr. Ferrer (Cuba) said that his Government had always supported the cause of the Palestinian people. His delegation looked forward to further details from the Special Rapporteur concerning the impact of the separation wall on the ability of the Palestinians to exercise their fundamental rights.

33. Ms. Abdelhady-Nasser (Observer for Palestine) said that the Special Rapporteur, in common with other international entities, had based himself on international law, international humanitarian law and human rights law in considering the situation in Palestine. His detailed factual report amply demonstrated that the Israeli Government was violating the human rights of Palestinians. The time had come to identify what the international community, in particular the Security Council and civil society, could do to end that situation.

34. Mr. Dugard (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that the 2004 Advisory Opinion had been confined to the question of the legality or illegality of the separation wall being built within Palestinian territory. It was important to consider all aspects of the occupation, particularly given that it had been accompanied by colonialism, which was in violation of the obligations by which Israel was bound. He noted that the Advisory Opinion could provide legitimacy for United Nations action on the subject.

35. Replying to the questions by the Indonesian representative, he reiterated his complaint that the Quartet did not take the human rights content of the situation sufficiently seriously.

36. Replying to the issue raised by the Libyan representative, he said that any peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question should inevitably take into account human rights.

37. Replying to the remarks by the Observer for Palestine, he said that States and civil society alike should play a more pro-active role and that the Quartet should devote more attention to human rights.

38. Replying to the comments by the United States representative, he noted that the United States Government had imposed its will on the other members of the Quartet, who had indicated that they were prepared to accept the Advisory Opinion. On the subject of terrorism, he did not wish to underestimate its importance but felt that it could be used as a distraction. He disputed that the separation wall was being built for security purposes; it was clearly intended to enclose Israeli settlements within Israel. Lastly, although it was politically incorrect to suggest that some Israeli practices in the occupied territories were akin to apartheid, it could not be ignored that many of those practices in the West Bank and East Jerusalem discriminated on racial grounds against Palestinians.


The meeting rose at 6.15 p.m.

This record is subject to correction. Corrections should be sent under the signature of a member of the delegation concerned within one week of the date of publication to the Chief of the Official Records Editing Section, room DC2-750, 2 United Nations Plaza, and incorporated in a copy of the record.

Corrections will be issued after the end of the session, in a separate corrigendum for each Committee.

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