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        Economic and Social Council
6 April 2001

Original: English


Fifty-seventh session


Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,

on Thursday, 29 March 2001, at 3 p.m.

Chairperson : Mr. DESPOUY (Argentina)






The meeting was called to order at 3.05 p.m.


QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE (agenda item 8) (continued ) (E/CN.4/2001/3, 7, 27-30, 108-114, 118, 121, 130, 133, 136 and 142; E/CN.4/2001/NGO/7, 18, 53, 74, 118 and 149; E/2000/112-E/CN.4/S-5/5 and Add.1; E/CN.4/S-5/3)

21. Mr. LITTMAN (World Union for Progressive Judaism), recalling that in a statement to the Commission 10 years previously he had spoken of the leaders of the first intifada deliberately inciting children to violence and using them in armed conflicts, in contravention of article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, said that nothing had changed in the second intifada. A major cause of the criminal manipulation of Palestinian children was the systematic misuse of education by the Palestinian Authority. Very young children were being indoctrinated by teachers to prepare for the jihad, including praise of suicide bombings.

22. His organization urgently called upon the Commission, the European Union, UNESCO, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Switzerland, the depositary State of the various Conventions concerned, to begin inquiries into the grave abuses of the Palestinian Authority education system. The Commission should act to put an end to hate teaching in Palestinian schools and to the criminal use of children in conflicts.

23. Ms. LAMBERT (Center for Economic and Social Rights) said that the refusal of Israel to apply the principles of human rights and humanitarian law to its conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories was a fundamental challenge to the credibility of the United Nations, and the Commission must develop effective measures to establish the rule of international law in those territories. The Human Rights Inquiry Commission established pursuant to Commission resolution S-5/1 of 19 October 2000 had urged “the organs of the United Nations” to “rehabilitate their reputation” through decisive “follow-up action”. That should be the Commission’s top priority at its current session.

24. Her organization thus urged the Commission to take the following steps: declare that the root cause of the conflict was Israel’s continued occupation, confiscation of land, water and other resources, and construction of settlements; call upon Israel to take immediate and effective measures to end its occupation and cease violating human rights and humanitarian law; request the General Assembly to support the call to reconvene the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention; request the Secretary-General to carry out an analytical study relating to issues concerning the compensation of victims of violations of human rights and humanitarian law; request the Security Council to consider the establishment of an effective international protection force to safeguard the rights of Palestinian civilians; and decide to establish an effective international mechanism to undertake on-site monitoring and reporting of violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law by all parties.

25. Mr. ISSA (International Federation of Human Rights Leagues) said that the Federation and its member organization in Palestine, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), were concerned at the escalating violence against Palestinians on the part of Israeli forces and settlers and the increasingly repressive forms of collective punishment, and other policies and practices designed to cripple the Palestinian economy. Violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention continued, and the perpetrators had either not been properly investigated or prosecuted or had enjoyed complete impunity.

26. There were many cases of disproportionate use of force against unarmed Palestinian civilians who posed no threat but who were directly targeted and killed or injured. Most of the non-peaceful demonstrators who had been killed had simply been throwing stones, but heavy weaponry and live ammunition were used against them, usually without prior notice. Children suffered disproportionately and clearly marked medical personnel and ambulances had been deliberately attacked. Israeli settlers continued to pose a threat to Palestinians, and the settlements were used to launch attacks. Extrajudicial killings had become a regular feature of Israeli policy.

27. His organization called on the Commission and the international community to send an international protection force to the occupied territories, send effective international humanitarian assistance to the area, reconvene the adjourned conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and monitor and follow up implementation of the resolution adopted at its fifth special session, the recommendations of the High Commissioner and the report of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission, as well as to request visits by the various special rapporteurs, none of which had so far taken place.

28. Ms. DOSWALD-BECK (International Commission of Jurists) said that her organization was deeply concerned at the appalling situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The Fourth Geneva Convention continued to apply throughout the territories that Israel had controlled since 1967. Certain security measures might legitimately be taken under the Convention, but they must be in accordance with international law. In any case, it was doubtful whether the law relating to the conduct of hostilities in armed conflict was the correct yardstick for dealing with the violence, since the Convention was aimed at limiting the action that could be taken against persons and property in occupied territory. It would therefore be more consistent for security measures to be in conformity with the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

29. Another cause for concern was the Israeli’s Government policy of carrying out extrajudicial killings of those considered a threat. Such a policy was a grave violation of the Convention. Moreover, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provided that no derogation to the right to life might be made when a state of emergency was declared. Perpetrators of illegal violence should be brought to justice in accordance with the rules of due process. The Palestine Authority, too, should bring to trial persons guilty of killing civilians and should ensure that such trials were fair. It should also abandon the death penalty. The provisions of the Convention relating to the free passage of food, relief and medical care, the care of children, access to legal counsel and the ban on the destruction of property were also being violated. Her organization welcomed the announcement that a national commission for human rights in Israel was at an advanced stage of planning.

30. Ms. LUPING (Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies) said that all States Members of the United Nations, other than Israel, recognized that the Fourth Geneva Convention applied to the occupied territories and constituted binding international humanitarian law. The international community was fully aware of the gross violations of international law that continued to be perpetrated by Israel. The State Department report of the United States Government, for example, cited official Israeli statements that firearms had been used by Palestinians in 30 per cent of demonstrations, from which it followed that in 70 per cent they had not. A number of deaths and injuries had occurred during demonstrations at which protestors had not used live firearms. The report also referred to the variety of means used to disperse demonstrators, including rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition, adding that live fire had been used in cases where the lives of soldiers, police or civilians had not been in imminent danger. The report had confirmed that Israeli forces had shelled Palestinian institutions and civilian areas in retaliation for individual Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians or settlers. Such bombing of civilian areas was, in yet another breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a form of collective punishment Meanwhile, Israeli settlers who had harassed, attacked and occasionally killed Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as damaging property, generally escaped prosecution.

31. Israel’s Ministry of Finance was cited as estimating that, since the beginning of the intifada, there had been a 30 to 50 per cent decline in economic output in the occupied territories. Unemployment of Palestinians had nearly quadrupled, the poverty rate had doubled and the loss of income was estimated at US$ 500 million. Within Israel itself, the report stated that police had failed to protect Arab lives and property attacked by Jewish citizens. Moreover, the Government had made little headway in reducing institutionalized discrimination against Israel’s Christian, Muslim and Druze citizens. Israel’s military and political commanders had created a humanitarian crisis in which Palestinians felt increasingly desperate, as evidenced by the recent return of suicide bombers.

32. The lives of Jewish women and children were endangered when they were settled in illegal militarized settlements, as the recent tragic death of a Jewish Israeli child in Hebron showed. Words of condemnation from the international community had failed to secure peace. Strong, effective steps must be taken, including sanctions, embargoes and the immediate deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

33. Ms. ZERRIFFI (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) said that the roots of the crisis extended deeper than the current intifada: Israel’s continued occupation of the Arab territories and its violations of international human rights and humanitarian law had created an explosive situation that had been ignited by the provocative visit of the current Prime Minister to the Haram al-Sharif. Over the past few months, Israeli actions had become more extreme and had included the use of heavy weaponry against unarmed demonstrators throwing stones and the bombing of Palestinian residential areas. There had also been a policy of extrajudicial killings: since 9 November 2000, at least 10 Palestinian leaders had been assassinated.

34. Israel also continued to establish and maintain settlements in the occupied territories, which not only violated the Fourth Geneva Convention but also created a fait accompli in advance of final status negotiations. It was part of a larger policy of population transfer designed to replace the Palestinian population with an Israeli one. In 2000, the Israeli authorities had demolished 223 Palestinian-owned buildings in the West Bank (including occupied East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip.

35. The closure policy, which had been imposed with unprecedented severity, not only constituted collective punishment but had also imposed a stranglehold on the territories. The Palestinians had suffered social and economic suffocation, with restrictions on their freedom of movement, freedom of religion, access to medical facilities and access to education.

36. Her organization called on the Government of Israel to observe the Fourth Geneva Convention and to meet its international obligations. Meanwhile, the Commission should urge the international community to send an international protection force and to reconvene the adjourned Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in order to put pressure on Israel to implement the Convention.

37. Ms. CARCAÑO (Women’s International Democratic Federation) said her organization sympathized with the Palestinian people and condemned the acts of violence that had caused suffering and sorrow to a multitude of victims, particularly children. The Israeli armed forces should withdraw immediately from the esplanade of the mosques in Jerusalem and from around the cities of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel should implement Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the international community should take action to ensure respect for the rights of the Palestinian people and the cessation of all violence. Only thus would a lasting peace be achieved.

38. Mr. SAFI (International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations) said that, since September 2000, 3 million civilians in the West Bank and Gaza had been living under a siege imposed by the Israeli military occupation. All movement of people and goods was restricted and food, fuel and other basic necessities were running short. The World Food Programme (WFP) was currently distributing flour in Gaza. Poverty levels had doubled in five months. The siege had caused more than $2 billion in losses to the Palestinian economy and unemployment levels had soared to 48 per cent.

39. Up to 200,000 Israeli settlers, on the other hand, moved freely in and out of the West Bank and Gaza. Their settlements were supplied with food and all other necessities. At its fifty-sixth session, the Commission had called on Israel to end its human rights violations, but the cold-blooded murder of children, the plight of Palestinian refugees and Israeli intransigence demanded punitive action and not just another condemnatory resolution.

40. Mr. AL-ZULOF (Defence for Children International) said that one of the tragedies of recent months had been the international community’s silent complicity with the Israeli war against Palestinian children, characterized by endless condemnations but little practical action. The reality was a simple one: the Palestinian people had an undisputed right to self-determination and Palestinian refugees had the right to return to their homes and land. That must be the starting point of all international initiatives. Enforcement would be required, however, otherwise Israel would continue to flout United Nations resolutions and international law.

41. In the first place an internationally endorsed boycott should be adopted. The boycott should extend to trade with, investment in or travel to Israel and should include countries such as the United States which supported Israel financially and militarily and military hardware companies that supplied Israel. Secondly, the international community should send a temporary protection force. Thirdly, an international tribunal should be established for the purpose of prosecuting those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem after 29 September 2000.

42. Ms. ROBERT (Médecins du Monde) said that her organization, which had been active in Palestine since 1994, had in September 2000 launched an emergency programme to support Palestinian hospitals treating those injured in the confrontations. It had also carried out a survey of 96 injured people in a variety of hospitals in six towns. Its findings were, first, that the services had been overloaded and that non-urgent surgery had had to be postponed; that the curtailment of the hospital staff’s freedom of movement as a result of the closures imposed by the Israeli military authorities had heavily disrupted the health services and that the ambulances provided by the Palestinian Red Crescent regularly came under fire and had therefore been unable to play their full role. The repeated violation of the principle of the neutrality of medical services had gravely affected the quality of care provided to the victims of the confrontations.

43. Nearly all the 96 victims in the survey had been injured by live bullets from the 5.56 mm calibre light firearms used by the Israeli armed forces. They were mostly young, 68 of them being between 12 and 25 years of age and 29 were minors. Medium- and long-term care for the injured would constitute a major challenge for Palestinian society. The trauma and depression suffered by them and their families would also need to be taken into account. Her organization urged the Commission to consider how an inquiry mechanism could be set up to establish responsibility for the injuries inflicted and to look into the possibility of creating a compensation fund for the victims.

44. Mr. AHMAD (World Muslim Congress), having pointed out that the origins of the Palestinian problem lay in the decisions taken soon after the end of the First World War and the subsequent League of Nations mandate, said that practically every human right of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories was currently being violated. Israeli Governments had gone back on their commitments under the Oslo Accords and the peace process had been brought to a standstill. Palestinian lands were hermetically sealed off by the Israeli Army and 3 million civilians were living under siege. The Palestinian economy had suffered losses of up to $2 billion and unemployment had soared to 50 per cent. Israel had withheld from the Palestinian Authority funds collected as customs duties.

45. Innocent Palestinians had been massacred by Israeli soldiers targeting the upper body of unarmed, stone-throwing youths. Nearly 400 Palestinians had been murdered since September 2000 and thousands had been handicapped for life. Israel’s so-called security interests did not accommodate the existence of Palestinians. Areas were being cleared of their Palestinian residents and more Israeli settlements were planned. The 180 or so Jewish settlements built on occupied territory were illegal. The United Nations and the Commission had set in place the necessary legal measures to restore human rights in occupied Palestine. The challenge was to find ways and means of overcoming Israel’ s adamant inflexibility.

46. Mr. CASTRO (Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America), speaking also on behalf of the Movimiento Cubano por la Paz y la Soberanía de los Pueblos, Federation of Cuban Women, Centro de Estudios Europeos and Centro de Estudios sobre la Juventud, said that the 50-year tragedy of a colonized people deprived of their goods and resources and subjected to forced displacement continued without any solution in sight. The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and independence was unquestionable on historical, moral, legal and political grounds. Yet, while ethnic cleansing was condemned in other parts of the world, the Palestinian people were denied its right to exist as a nation and as an independent State. Israel, with support from the United States, used force and intimidation to flout the will of the international community as expressed in United Nations resolutions.

47. The organizations he was representing condemned United States policy in the region, which encouraged Israel not to implement United Nations resolutions while hypocritically alleging violations of human rights and international law as a pretext for launching barbaric acts of aggression against other, particularly Arab, States. The international community should require Israel to lift the restrictions on Palestinian access to Jerusalem immediately and to free all Palestinians and Arabs imprisoned for their national liberation struggle, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

48. Lastly, the international community should denounce the possession by Israel of dangerous nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, which constituted a threat to international peace and security.

49. Mr. GADIR (Arab Organization for Human Rights) said that, at each of its sessions, the Commission reiterated the hope that the situation in the occupied territories would improve. However, Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention had become steadily more serious. Since the outset of the second intifada, Israel had been waging an undeclared war on innocent Palestinians using an arsenal of heavy weapons. Some 450 people had been killed and a further 20,000 wounded. The blockades had led to hunger among Palestinians, and repressive measures had even been imposed on Arab residents in Israel. The zone of pillage extended across Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Moreover, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority had also become a target. The Palestinian people’s determination to reject the 30-year occupation and associated humiliations had not, however, been broken.

50. The Government of Israel had been encouraged in its actions by the failure of the international community to impose appropriate sanctions and the situation was likely to deteriorate further. The Commission, for its part, should: strongly condemn Israel for its aggression against the Palestinian people; adopt the necessary protective measures to prevent a repetition of the Haram-al-Sharif massacre; and recommend a reconvening of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

51. Ms. HOTER (Society for Threatened Peoples) expressed concern about the exacerbation of violence since the second intifada: 329 Palestinians - mostly civilians, including 90 children - had been killed, while many thousands more had been wounded. On the Israeli side, there had been 47 casualties. The Israeli security forces had used excessive force in response to Palestinian demonstrators - including live ammunition against stone-throwing children - and had carried out extrajudicial executions in violation of both Israeli and international law. The Commission must urge the Government of Israel to abide by its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

52. Ms. BRUSCA (North South XXI) said that the international community appeared incapable of ensuring that its resolutions were implemented and that international law was respected in the occupied territories. European States paid lip-service to the Palestinian cause while continuing to support Israel. She wondered whether the High Commissioner’s decision not to seek a second term had been prompted by the failure on the part of Governments to comply with their human rights obligations and precipitated by political harassment on the part of the Israeli authorities during her visit to the area. The international community was constantly giving in to the political blackmail practised by Israel and its protector, the United States.

53. The Government of Israel acted with arrogance and impunity, convinced of the superiority of the Jewish people. The sole object of the war being waged was to replace Palestinian civilians with hundreds of thousands of settlers from all over the world. Increasingly, the Government of Israel sought not peace, but the subjugation of the Palestinian people, a trend confirmed by the recent election of Ariel Sharon with his odious past. How much longer would the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Israeli leaders and the policy of racial discrimination followed by the Israeli occupation forces be tolerated and the United Nations remain paralysed?

54. Mr. MANSOURI (Europe-Third World Centre) said that his organization strongly denounced the economic, military and psychological pressures being inflicted on the Palestinian people. Palestinian hopes for peace had been dashed by the Government of Israel’s continued refusal to implement United Nations resolutions. Certain Western Governments, international organizations and the media, having failed to make a proper analysis of the situation condemned both sides equally, thus placing the oppressed and the oppressor on an equal footing.

55. The children of the intifada were treated as terrorists by Israel and Israeli snipers were authorized to shoot them in the head. The fanaticism of Israeli settlers was likely to result in further massacres.

56. Israel continued to claim to be an underdog despite being a nuclear power and having the support of the United States and other Western States. It lost no opportunity, however, of demonstrating its supremacy and its determination to violate international law. The Commission should recommend that the Security Council send forces to protect the Palestinians from the Israeli army. The United Nations should also insist that the Government of Israel respect the relevant resolutions concerning the decolonization of the Palestinian territories.

57. Mr. AL-MAIMAN (Muslim World League) welcomed the reports of the High Commissioner and the Human Rights Inquiry Commission. Their findings were balanced and provided further confirmation that human rights in Palestinian territories were being violated. Regrettably however, certain United Nations mechanisms had failed to respond to the Commission’s recommendations. The use of excessive force by the Israeli forces and their destruction of Palestinian property were of great concern to his organization, as was the increase in the numbers of children being killed. An international tribunal should be established as a matter of urgency to prosecute such crimes and the international community should condemn the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

58. The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people wished to work in partnership with Israel, but Israeli arrogance stood in the way of a just peace. His organization called upon both parties to embark on unconditional negotiations with the participation of the United States. The Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention should also be reconvened at the earliest opportunity.

59. Mr. WAREHAM (International Association against Torture) said that the hypocrisy which risked undermining the Commission’s credibility had been clearly demonstrated in relation to the agenda item under discussion. The international community was once again confronted with an oppressed people flinging stones in challenge to a heavily armed, internationally supported opponent. In the current situation, however, there could be no “media blackout”, no disingenuous claims by Western Governments that they did not know what was happening. The Commission had received evidence from irrefutable sources of the excessive use of force by the Israeli armed forces, their use of torture, and their imposition of closures and curfews which denied the Palestinian people their basic rights. The use of extrajudicial killings were also well documented. The failure on the part of Israel to respect human rights and international law - in particular the original partition agreement - called into question the legitimacy of the State of Israel itself.

60. In vetoing the draft resolution calling for an observer mission to protect Palestinian civilians in the Security Council that week, the United States delegation had termed it “unbalanced and unwise”. His organization found it incredible that a “balanced” approach should be sought to the issue. Where was the balance when one side had rifles and the other stones, where one side suffered five times as many casualties as the other?

61. For its part, the Commission should: condemn the escalation of violence in the region resulting from Israel’s violations of human rights and humanitarian law; ensure that the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention took immediate steps to ensure that its provisions were respected; and call on the Security Council in general, and the United States in particular, to reconsider the vetoed draft resolution to establish an observer force.

62. Mr. FALK (Member of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission) said that the Inquiry Commission had been encouraged by the strong support voiced for its conclusions and recommendations (E/CN.4/2001/121). It had been faced with the challenge of conducting an objective inquiry in the absence of Israeli cooperation. It had, nonetheless, made great efforts to reflect fairly both Palestinian and Israeli perspectives and had leant over backwards to ascertain the best Israeli arguments on contested issues. A commitment to objectivity did not, however, imply a posture of “neutrality” and the Inquiry Commission had been able to reach some very firm conclusions. The Israeli Security Forces had used excessive and disproportionate force from the outset of the second intifada and the Israeli occupation and policies of response had resulted in an intolerable situation for the entire Palestinian population.

63. The Palestinian and Israeli people had been yearning for peace, and had suffered its absence for decades. However, during the Oslo process, a dangerous misapprehension had arisen that human rights and international law considerations could be put aside for the sake of the negotiations. In fact, such considerations constituted the prerequisite for durable peace and must inform the entire process.

64. In the occupied territories, the Inquiry Commission had heard many expressions of disillusionment concerning the resolutions passed by international organizations. The credibility of the Commission on Human Rights (and of the United Nations system as a whole) was challenged by its inability to implement its resolutions. To say that the time for rhetoric, denunciation and defensiveness was over did not mean that very difficult political obstacles did not remain. For that reason, among others, the role of NGOs was crucial. It was vital to create a climate of opinion, especially in Europe, to induce Governments to take their responsibilities seriously in respect of the implementation of international law.

65. The Inquiry Commission had been encouraged by the extent to which its own assessments had coincided with the most trustworthy third-party views, including those of leading NGOs, experienced international civil servants and representatives of the European Union. There was a general consensus as to what was responsible for the ascending spiral of violence, and the steps needed to reverse the process.

66. At the current juncture, there was every justification for an international presence of a monitoring and protective character in Palestine that would provide the beleaguered people with some kind of transparency. He hoped that those European States that had abstained on the draft resolution calling for such a presence - and the United States, which had vetoed it - would reconsider. Israel had been given ample opportunity to take the steps needed to uphold international law, but it had been unable and unwilling to do so. If the fundamental provisions of the Geneva Conventions were upheld, almost all of the violence would cease overnight. It was as simple as that, and so was the responsibility before the international community.

67. NGOs should take the initiative to bring citizens from both communities into creative and constructive contact. Steps should also be taken to examine the particular vulnerability of the Palestinian refugees who accounted for half the population of the occupied Palestinian territories and almost two thirds of the total Palestinian population. Their vulnerability required action which went beyond the humanitarian relief currently provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He urged the Commission on Human Rights to take its responsibility for action seriously and show that it could do more than just “talk”.


The meeting rose at 6.15 p.m.

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