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SUMMARY RECORD OF THE 19th MEETING
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Thursday, 27 March 2003, at 3 p.m.
Chairperson : Ms. AL-HAJJAJI (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya)
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE (agenda item 8) (E/CN.4/2003/27, 28, 29, 30 and Add.1, and 130; E/CN.4/2003/G/2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 33, 39 and 40; E/CN.4/2003/NGO/19, 34, 47, 128, 129, 133, 180, 211, 215, 221 and 261; A/57/207 and 366 and Add.1)
40. Mr. DUGARD (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967), introducing his report (E/CN.4/2003/30), said that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory had deteriorated radically over the past year. Violations of human rights and international humanitarian law were frequent, regular, substantial and effectively unchallenged. The credibility of the legal orders designed to promote human rights and ensure respect for international humanitarian law was thus threatened. If the international institutions established to protect human rights in time of peace and armed conflict could not respond more positively and effectively to the crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, the major advances of the past 50 years in those areas would be seriously undermined.
41. Over 3,000 lives had been lost since the start of the second intifada in September 2000. Most of those killed and injured had been civilians and several had been foreigners, including some of those killed in suicide attacks; one American peace activist had recently been bulldozed to death by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Such killings violated not only the right to life but also the cardinal principle of international humanitarian law that armed forces should direct their operations against combatants and military targets, not civilians.
42. Israeli military operations during 2002 - including bombing, curfews and roadblocks - had created a grave humanitarian crisis and destroyed the foundations of Palestinian economic and social life, with food shortages, widespread poverty and malnutrition, and restricted access to health care and education. Israel, which was directly responsible for that crisis, had violated the most basic principles of the international human rights covenants, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention, under which, as the occupying Power, it was required to ensure that the occupied population was adequately provided for.
43. Children had probably suffered most from the current conflict, yet many deaths of children had simply been dismissed as “collateral damage”. In addition, in the context of a dramatic rise in the number of arrests and detentions generally, there had been reports of torture and inhuman treatment of juvenile detainees, which the Israeli authorities had failed to investigate.
44. The past year had seen an intensification of Israel’s practice of destroying Palestinian property, either in the course of military operations or as collective punishment, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. A recent report by the World Bank put the losses from physical damage to property for the first eight months of 2002 at US$ 423 million. Meanwhile, Israeli territorial expansion continued: the number of settlers had increased by 6 per cent in 2002 while, according to recent reports, the planned security wall between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, which had been expected to place an estimated 10 per cent of Palestinian land within Israel, would be extended to include a further 40,000 settlers and 3,000 Palestinians.
45. Nowhere was Israel’s material breach of United Nations resolutions clearer than in the area of settlement expansion. As the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had said the previous day, there was real concern that the West had been guilty of double standards, on the one hand insisting that Security Council resolutions on Iraq must be implemented while, on the other hand, appearing rather quixotic over the implementation of resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine. In an age when material breaches of United Nations resolutions carried serious consequences, that was a matter that required the Commission’s consideration.
46. His current report examined the question whether the measures taken by Israel could legitimately be said to fall within the bounds of proportionality and military necessity. The conclusion was that, even giving Israel a wide margin of appreciation, it was very difficult to justify such action.
47. Mr. LEVY (Observer for Israel) said that, although the Special Rapporteur’s report demonstrated the beginnings of an understanding of the unlawful and justifiable nature of terrorism and of the right of States to take steps against it, it still failed to recognize the terrorism and security threats that necessitated them. The report had not cited a single instance of Israel’s actions against terrorism that was considered to be legitimate and proportionate.
48. The humanitarian situation in the territories was indisputably serious, but the Special Rapporteur ignored a more immediate cause of the poverty and deprivation there: the appalling and widespread corruption throughout the Palestinian Authority, as a result of which much of the international donor aid had been siphoned off for personal gain. The Special Rapporteur did not address the resulting dilemma facing the international donor community, namely, whether it was supporting corruption and financing terrorism by funding the current Palestinian regime.
49. As in previous reports, the Special Rapporteur ignored the calculated use of Palestinian children by terrorist organizations, both as combatants and as human shields, in explicit violation of the fundamental principles of international law. Nor did he mention the indoctrination of Palestinian children in school and in summer camps and through television propaganda.
50. The security fence was one of a series of defensive measures Israel had been forced to adopt after the Palestinian leadership had rebuffed repeated overtures to resolve the security crisis. Its location had been determined purely by security considerations and his Government had clearly stated that it had no political significance with regard to future agreements. On the contrary, the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion that the fence should follow the 1967 line was tantamount to determining its location according to political criteria and indicated that he himself was taking up a political position on the issue of borders - an issue that even the Palestinians had agreed should be left to permanent status negotiations.
51. The report’s treatment of the issue of proportionality was highly inconsistent. Not only did the Special Rapporteur contradict the statement made in paragraph 45 by continually passing judgement on the proportionality of Israel’s measures, he had also edited out of the scenario the Palestinian terrorism that necessitated Israel’s action. Similarly, in painting a picture of random and arbitrary interruptions to the functioning of health and humanitarian services, the report made no reference to the use of ambulances and humanitarian vehicles for smuggling ammunition and terrorists.
52. Every step taken by Israel cited in any of the Special Rapporteur’s reports to date had been presented as excessive, if not illegal. Yet in such an appalling scenario - not of Israel’s making - the choices were far more complicated than the report suggested. An effective fight against terrorism could not be conducted without risk to civilians if terrorists resorted, for example, to disguising themselves as pregnant women or aid workers.
53. He said that, in paragraph 11 of the report, the Special Rapporteur had made his clearest statement to date that terrorists were in a different moral league from those fighting terrorism. The report also noted that the right to life applied to Israelis as well as Palestinians (para. 6). Nevertheless, his delegation would have hoped for a more clear-cut statement, along the lines of the recent concluding observations on Israel’s initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which had recognized the climate of fear created in Israel by the continuing acts of terror, in particular the deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians, including children, by Palestinian suicide bombers.
54. Mr. RAMLAWI (Observer for Palestine) said there were no reasons to hope that renewed consideration of the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories would bring about any improvement. None of the human rights violations would have taken place had it not been for Israel’s continued military occupation, which was itself a grave violation of human rights.
55. The violations were clearly premeditated, since they followed systematic patterns and extended to all aspects of Palestinians’ everyday life. Insofar as they involved, inter alia, the wilful killing of Palestinians, deliberate exposure of civilians to harsh living conditions, denial of food and medicine, and collective punishment, the actions of the Israeli occupying forces violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Daily killings of Palestinians by Israelis continued to add to the death toll of civilians, including children; 8,000 of the 25,000 Palestinians injured had been permanently disabled; over 30,000 homes, shops and other Palestinian properties had been destroyed.
56. More than ever before, the world was called upon to uphold the principles and objectives of the United Nations in the face of a challenge from a State that behaved as if it was above the law. Nazism had been condemned in the past for acts of killing and genocide over a period of six years; the world had also condemned Israel for similar crimes against the Palestinian people over a period of 50 years. Yet, though the old nazism had been eliminated, the new Nazi zionism had not.
57. Mr. SALLOUM (Syrian Arab Republic) said that there were only five Syrian villages left in the Syrian Golan, with 25,000 Syrian inhabitants out of the original 160,000, the Israeli occupying forces having destroyed most of the towns and farms there and built more than 40 civil and military settlements.
58. Referring to the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (A/57/207), he said the occupation per se was a gross violation of human rights and that the only way to put a stop to human rights violations was to end the occupation. In particular, Israel’s decision to impose its national laws on the inhabitants of the Syrian Golan constituted an attempt to annex it and impose a de facto situation on the international community, in violation of Security Council resolution 497 (1981), which called upon Israel to rescind its decision of 14 December 1981 to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan.
59. The continuing Israeli occupation had had a catastrophic effect on all aspects of the Syrians’ lives: employment opportunities were limited and they were effectively prevented from exporting their agricultural produce, while little of their income was left after paying high taxes. The objective was simple: to force them to abandon their lands. At the same time, Israel provided a range of facilities to settlers, in contravention of the relevant Security Council resolutions, which considered the settlements to be a flagrant violation of international law.
60. In the educational and cultural field, Israeli policy was to impose the Hebrew language, culture and history on the Arab inhabitants of the Golan, while not allowing them to use their own language and forcing them to use school books that distorted Arab history and culture.
61. He called on the United States of America, as one of the sponsors of the peace process, to shoulder its full responsibility and abandon its biased support for Israel so that it could function as an objective mediator. The United States should not only reject racist Israeli policies and legislation, but also take a firm position reflecting that conviction. Mere verbal condemnation of Israeli human rights violations had already prolonged the occupation and undermined the peace process.
62. It was high time that the Commission members and the international community as a whole united to force Israel to respect human rights by obliging it to withdraw unconditionally from all the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories occupied in 1967, in accordance with United Nations resolutions and with the principle of land for peace.
63. Lastly, he said his delegation welcomed the High Commissioner’s proposal to visit the region to assess the situation on the ground, and hoped it would be possible for the visit to take place during the current session: it would be too late after the end of the session.
64. Mr. KRIEKOUKIS (Observer for Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union, drew attention to the obstacles facing the Union’s humanitarian and development programmes in the occupied territories and asked the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 for his assessment of the Israeli restrictions on the access of international humanitarian personnel to the occupied territories and how the situation might be improved.
65. In the context of Israel’s settlements policy, he asked about the possible impact of the construction of the new security fence on human rights. Noting that the debate in the Commission had been adversely influenced by the disparity between developments in the field and the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, he wondered whether the time had not come for the Commission to reformulate the mandate so that it was more in keeping with such developments.
66. Mr. VIGNY (Observer for Switzerland) said that his Government supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. He asked whether the Special Rapporteur had had any contacts with the Israeli authorities during his visits, and whether there was any way in which Israel might be persuaded to take part in a constructive dialogue on its human rights and humanitarian law obligations. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations in that regard would be of interest to the Commission.
67. Ms. KAMINSKY (United States of America) said that her delegation noted with sorrow some glaring deficiencies in the report. Did the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 mean to suggest that some rough moral equivalence existed between indiscriminate suicide bombings in Israel and the excessive use of force by the IDF? Was he suggesting that there need not be zero tolerance for terrorism? Was he implying, by omission, that organizations like Hamas or Islamic Jihad did not warrant explicit condemnation as terrorist organizations?
68. Mr. KHABBAZ-HAMOUI (Syrian Arab Republic), having paid tribute to the wisdom of the Special Rapporteur and expressed the hope that his mandate would be renewed, said he would like to know whether there was any possibility of cooperation - if cooperation did not already exist - between the Special Rapporteur and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, whether information was exchanged between them and, if so, to what extent.
69. Mr. RAMLAWI (Observer for Palestine) said that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur did not cover violations of human rights in Arab administered or occupied territories. His mandate was to study infringements by Israel of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention and human rights violations by Israel. The Secretariat should correct the title of the report to bring it into line with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
70. Mr. SOUALEM (Algeria) said that the Special Rapporteur’s report painted a faithful picture of the violent, barbaric acts perpetrated against the Palestinian people for five decades. He doubted whether any other State member of the international community which had committed so many abominable crimes would have benefited from impunity for so long. The Palestinian Authority and the League of Arab States had always distanced themselves from acts of terrorism and had condemned them. In a similar vein, his Government wished to express its disapproval of acts of terrorism committed by an army which engaged in deliberate destruction, planned sabotage, political assassination, the dismantling of democratic structures and the razing of infrastructures that had been financed by the international community.
71. Mr. DUGARD (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that the issue in question required a careful weighing up of Palestinian actions and Israeli responses. He agreed with the observer for Israel that an attempt should be made to grapple with the real humanitarian dilemma of the situation. Personally he approached the matter from the perspective of human rights or humanitarian law, whereas the observer for Israel tended to emphasize the security aspect. Israel could not, however, always justify its action on the grounds of security. He failed to see how the increase in the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza or the deprivation of the Palestinian population of food, education and medical services could be regarded as security measures.
72. Replying to the observer for Greece, he said that his own impression was that access to the West Bank and Gaza for donor agencies was possible, albeit severely restricted by roadblocks and checkpoints, which were sometimes manned by very young soldiers without proper instructions.
73. The security wall or fence had a wide range of implications for human rights. Palestinians who were cut off from their land and employment suffered economic loss. Families were separated. But the main issue was the de facto annexation and fragmentation of Palestinian land, which rendered self-determination meaningless. His own mandate was quite correctly defined, since Israel was in effective military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The focus of attention should therefore fall on Israeli human rights violations in those territories.
74. With regard to the comments by the observer for Palestine, he said that it was difficult to avoid examining the actions of Palestinian militants within Israel itself. His credibility would be zero if he ignored suicide bombings and failed to appreciate that, to some extent at least, the response of the Israelis was a reaction to them.
75. In answer to the observer for Switzerland, he explained that he had had no contact with the Israeli authorities. The Israeli Government disapproved of his mandate and, while he was not denied access to the West Bank or Gaza and was allowed to travel freely in the occupied territories, he was not permitted to meet Israeli government officials despite the fact that such contacts would be constructive, helpful and in the best interests of Israel.
76. In reply to the questions by the representative of the United States of America, he said that acts of terror and suicide bombings should be condemned and there should be zero tolerance for terrorism committed by non-State and State actors alike. As for the moral equivalence of such actions, the situation was a complicated one, inasmuch as civilian deaths were being caused by both suicide bombing by non-State actors and military action carried out by a disciplined State actor in reckless disregard of human life. He found it difficult to single out one sort of killing as being more morally reprehensible than the other, because the outcome was the same, namely the loss of innocent life.
77. Lastly, in reply to the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic, he stated that he read carefully the reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, but acted independently of it.
78. Mr. RAMLAWI (Observer for Palestine) said that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 had not ended with the Oslo agreement. It would cease only when Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories came to an end. He suggested to the representative of the United States of America that she recommend to her Government that Israel be added to its list of terrorists.
79. Mr. UMER (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian State with Al-Quds al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital, the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland, restoration of the dignity and security of Palestinian life and the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure were among the fundamental objectives of OIC. Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands was taking on more sinister forms and the behaviour of the Israeli authorities constituted a flagrant violation of international law. Israeli atrocities against innocent civilians had risen sharply since the Commission’s previous session and had left over 2,000 dead and more than 25,000 wounded, including 500 children. Palestinian homes had been destroyed and the Israeli army had re-occupied six towns.
80. OIC rejected all attempts to equate the legitimate freedom struggle of the Palestinian people with terrorism. Liberation from tyranny and occupation was a universal right and those who denied it were the real terrorists. The international community had failed to provide ordinary Palestinians with protection from Israeli terror and repression and their isolation was giving rise to despondency and frustration. The intifada was therefore a manifestation of the popular will to recover freedom and dignity.
81. He called upon the international community to act forcefully to prevent further bloodshed, since the prospects of peace in the Middle East were inextricably bound up with justice. For that reason, it was also incumbent upon that community to ensure the physical protection of the Palestinian people and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the occupied territories.
82. Mr. AL-FAIHANI (Bahrain) said that the human rights situation in the occupied Arab territories had deteriorated in the past year and was likely to worsen still further unless serious negotiations were resumed between the Palestinians and Israelis. He thanked the Special Rapporteur for his perspicacious report. The immense sufferings of the Palestinians had been aggravated by their inhuman treatment and the destruction of their property. Violations of their civil, economic, social and cultural rights were becoming more frequent and the unacceptable acts of terrorism which had been committed were a response to that situation. Israel must understand that its policies would not generate security and that all parties had to enjoy a secure environment.
83. To that end, Israel must withdraw from all the Palestinian territories and from all the Arab territories occupied since 4 June 1967. Such a withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital would help to end the Middle East conflict. The international community must intervene immediately to halt Israel’s maltreatment of the Palestinian people and to revive peace initiatives, so that stability and security could be established and the cycle of conflict and violence could be replaced by fruitful cooperation.
84. Mr. LEVY (Observer for Israel), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the words spoken by the observer for Palestine at the end of his statement should have set off the alarm bells. The silence of the Chair, the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur was perplexing. It was hardly surprising that the observer for Palestine was pleased with the one-sided report.
85. Ever since its establishment as a democratic State, Israel had been committed to upholding human rights and the rule of law. Despite the continuous threats to its very existence and an ongoing state of emergency, his Government had never claimed that security dilemmas constituted an exceptional circumstance justifying the use of unlawful means. On the contrary, Israeli society had always been self-critical, pluralistic and open. An independent judiciary had been in the forefront of safeguarding human rights and the Chief Justice had been internationally recognized and praised.
86. Paradoxically, his Government’s concern for human rights and its openness and willingness to subject its security measures to judicial and public review had made it an easy target for criticism from other, undemocratic States which repressed their own people and denied them their basic human rights. In seeking to find a correct balance between security and human rights concerns, every issue of his Government’s public policy was subjected to public scrutiny and debate, in which the Hebrew and Arabic media enjoyed freedom of speech and opinion.
87. His Government took a keen interest in sharing its human rights dilemmas with the international United Nations human rights forums, hence the regular and detailed reports it submitted to the treaty-monitoring bodies. Nevertheless, for such a dialogue to take place, basic rules of equity and conduct must be scrupulously observed. Similarly, the principle of reciprocity implied that the same criteria must apply to all States.
88. It was ironic that Governments which regularly violated human rights and the rule of law in their own countries, professed their devotion to those principles in other States. It was also inconceivable that, notwithstanding the existence of many other conflicts and disputes, only the Arab-Israeli conflict should form the subject of a separate agenda item. The credibility, professionalism and moral standing of the Commission had been critically undermined by a biased and discriminatory approach.
89. Mr. RAMLAWI (Observer for Palestine), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the representative of Israel had talked about sounding the alarm over a comparison of nazism and zionism and also about Israel’s upholding of human rights. The alarm bell had started ringing, however, at the founding of Israel back in 1948. The Middle East had never experienced a war before the establishment of Israel. Israel had been set up by committing crimes against humanity and by acquiring land through force and those practices were still being employed. The war in Iraq was being waged because of Israel. Colin Powell had intimated that, after the war, the map of the whole region would be redrawn in accordance with the interests of Israel, to make the latter stronger than any other Arab country in the region, or even than all the Arab States put together. Every war in the region had been fought because of Israel. Alarm bells had rung in 1948 because Israel had been established on the basis of a Nazi ideology. The current killing, torture and human rights violations being committed by Israel were even worse than what had been done by the Nazis.