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1. Mr. Falk (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) noted with dismay his inability to fulfil his duties due to the non-cooperation of the Government of Israel, which, despite his repeated attempts to work out a satisfactory arrangement, persistently refused him access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory to assess the situation on the ground. He requested the support of Member States in the fulfilment of his mandated tasks. A mission to the Gaza Strip scheduled for Spring 2011 had proceeded instead to Egypt and Jordan for security reasons. Many useful meetings had been held with representatives of Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and notable personalities who had travelled from the Occupied Palestinian Territory to discuss the human rights situation in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. Helpful discussions with the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers regarding his mandate were also held. Another mission to the region was planned for early 2012.
2. His report gave special emphasis to two sets of concerns, namely, the abuse of children held in detention, especially in the West Bank; and the upsurge of settler violence and the failure of the occupying Power to accord adequate protection to Palestinians living under military administration. Since the deadline for submission of his report, several developments of note had taken place.
3. First, the Palmer Report of the Panel of Inquiry appointed by the Secretary-General to investigate the flotilla incident of 31 May 2010 had been released. The report had been adopted by Israel and strongly criticized by Turkey, especially the claims that the blockade of Gaza was lawful and that Israel had the right to enforce it under international law, even in international waters. The report had disagreed on those central issues with the earlier findings of an expert panel appointed by the Human Rights Council. His mandate and several other special procedures had also disagreed, and had issued a joint press release to dispute several claims contained in the Palmer report. Their statement had been particularly critical of the treatment of the Gaza blockade in the report as a mere security issue, thereby ignoring the adverse humanitarian impact on food, water, health and well-being in Gaza. The report was deficient from an international humanitarian law standpoint in that it did not assess the contention that the blockade, which had lasted more than four years, seemed to be a form of collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, by its reasoning, which was inconsistent with the weight of expert opinion among international law specialists, the Palmer Report had provided a formal justification for the continuing denial of fundamental human rights to the people of Gaza.
4. Second, the recent request by the President of the Palestinian Authority to admit Palestine as a Member State of the United Nations was directly relevant to the Palestinian struggle to realize the right of self-determination. Statehood, even without membership, would enlarge the institutional options for Palestine to fulfil its rights under international law and to participate in peace negotiations on the basis of sovereign equality. Moreover, as the right to self-determination, to which the statehood issue applied, was inalienable and not subject to negotiation, it was not appropriate to defer consideration until direct negotiations between the parties resumed.
5. Third, serious concerns had been raised about an Israeli plan to forcibly displace Bedouin communities in Area C of the West Bank, an area that comprised 59 per cent of West Bank territory and was under the full control of Israeli occupying forces. Bedouins, a community doubly marginalized as indigenous and non-Palestinian, had been victimized by over six decades of occupation. The Bedouins’ pastoral way of life was under increasing threat from Israeli settlement plans and the resulting increase in house demolitions and attempts to displace them, in violation of their right to maintain their way of life under occupation.
6. There had been alarming increase in settler violence against Palestinians in 2011, with United Nations sources reporting injuries to 178 Palestinians, including 12 children, in the first half of the year alone, as compared to 176 for all of 2010. Furthermore, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem had videotaped several incidents of settler vandalism against Palestinian agricultural land and villages, an almost daily occurrence. Also disturbing was the pattern of passive support for settler activities exhibited by Israeli security forces and border police, who would shoot tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians while doing nothing to stop settler violence. Settler harassment of Palestinian children on their way to school had discouraged many from attending school, thereby obstructing their right to education. In areas like Hebron, where settler violence was severe, international civil society organizations had stepped in to protect schoolchildren directly. Overall, the failure to prevent and punish settler violence remained a serious violation of Israel’s fundamental obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians living under occupation.
7. During his recent mission, the Special Rapporteur had paid particular attention to the disturbing impact of prolonged occupation on Palestinian children, whose development was deformed by pervasive deprivations affecting health, education and an overall sense of security. Settler violence, night raids, detentions, house demolitions, threatened expulsions and other practices aggravated the insecurity of Palestinian children in the West Bank, while children in Gaza were traumatized by periodic violent incursions and sonic booms from overflights, compounded by the four-year closure and the unrepaired destruction of refugee camps, residential communities and public buildings by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. The available evidence suggested a pattern of increasing abuse, both deliberate and resulting from the continued hardship of occupation. Moreover, child development experts agreed that children suffered much more from violations than did adults, and that protecting their rights should be a matter of urgent concern to the international community.
8. Many arrests of Palestinian children arose from allegations of stone throwing at settlers or Israeli security personnel in the West Bank. When the children of Israeli settlers were accused of assaulting Palestinians, they were subject to Israeli criminal law, which offered far more protections for minors than the military law under which Palestinian children were tried. Military law had no protective provisions regarding the presence of a parent during interrogation, the hours during which the interrogation must be conducted, or respect for the dignity of the child during the arrest process. According to United Nations agencies and reliable human rights organizations, Palestinian children were routinely arrested in the middle of the night, removed from their parents’ home for questioning, abused in detention, and subjected to conviction procedures that appeared to preclude the possibility of innocence. Those arrest procedures seemed systematically intended to frighten and humiliate, and to force them to identify protest leaders in demonstrations and to refrain from peaceful anti-occupation demonstrations in future. Between 2005 and 2010, 835 children aged 12 to 17 had been prosecuted for stone-throwing. There was also abundant anecdotal evidence of child abuse associated with interrogations and arrests of children, including instances of infants threatened at gunpoint. In view of such incidents, it was little wonder that the number of children suffering from stress disorder had greatly increased.
9. In closing, he recommended the immediate adoption of B’Tselem’s guidelines for the protection of Palestinian children living under occupation who were arrested or detained, as the minimum basis for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights standards. Materials needed for repair of water and electricity infrastructure should be allowed into Gaza forthwith, to avoid further deterioration in the health of the civilian population. Appropriate detention and imprisonment policies and practices should be developed for Palestinians, including full observance of the prohibition on transferring prisoners who were convicted by Israeli military courts of security crimes to the occupying country. The unlawful blockade of Gaza, which undermined the basic rights of an occupied population and which was irrelevant to the security of Israel, must be lifted immediately. Lastly, he requested the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the legal status of prolonged occupation, as aggravated by prohibited transfers of large numbers of persons from the occupying Power and the imposition of a dual and discriminatory administrative and legal system in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
10. Ms. Rasheed (Observer for Palestine) thanked the Special Rapporteur for his tireless efforts to raise awareness of the countless human rights violations committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Special Rapporteur should be encouraged to continue to disseminate the truth regarding the unjust situation faced by the Palestinian people and recommendations on how to remedy it. As noted in his report, the failure by Israel to uphold the basic rights enumerated under international law of persons it detained in the Territory — many of which were imprisoned in Israel — was a clear violation of the country’s obligations as an occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions. The over 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israeli prisons and detention centres, including women and children, were subjected to numerous human rights violations, ranging from detention in unsanitary conditions and solitary confinement to humiliating interrogation methods and even torture. In that connection, she asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the legal ramifications of deporting Palestinian prisoners outside of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
11. Mr. Bustamante (Observer for the European Union) said that the European Union remained concerned about the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and called on Israel and all actors to fully adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law, combat impunity and focus on accountability. All parties had the responsibility to prevent, investigate and remedy violations. Noting with alarm the alleged attempts to limit the freedom of expression of civil society organizations and human rights defenders exercising their legitimate right to non-violent protest, he reminded all parties that human rights defenders’ efforts to challenge injustice and raise awareness of human rights made them essential in bringing about positive and lasting changes in society. The popular movements and changes witnessed throughout the Arab world in recent months bore witness to the aspirations of populations everywhere to freedom, independence and democracy. Such aspirations were no less prevalent among Palestinians in the territories occupied since 1967. In that connection, he asked the Special Rapporteur to describe the influence of recent developments in the wider region on the efforts of his mandate and those of the United Nations and other actors to promote the defence of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
12. Mr. Waheed (Maldives) said that human rights development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory could not be fully realized without conferring formal statehood on Palestine. Expressing concern at the continuing neglect of the basic human dignity of the Palestinian people under occupation, he stressed that the international community must continue to focus on such issues as the growing scarcity of clean water, the need for new schools, and the creation of a dual legal system in the West Bank under which children were prosecuted. Polarized stances such as the Israeli settlers’ refusal to relocate even in the face of Government intervention and the Palestinian insistence that all settlements must be removed, neither served the common good nor facilitated much-needed dialogue.
13. When an occupying Power administered justice over and controlled a subdued populace, the grievances on both sides could only increase, thereby diminishing the possibilities for effective diplomacy. International recognition of Palestine as a State would enable the Palestinian people to police itself, negotiate its own interests and develop its own social and economic infrastructure in peace with Israel. His Government fervently hoped that the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur would be implemented and that the Security Council would vote in favour of a free and independent Palestinian State.
14. Ms. Alsaleh (Syrian Arab Republic) said that her delegation lauded the efforts of the Special Rapporteur in carrying out his difficult mandate at a time when politicization and double standards dominated the human rights debate, as evinced by the hegemony exercised by some powerful countries over their weak counterparts.
15. The Special Rapporteur had faced numerous obstacles to the discharge of his duties created by the Israeli occupier, who had hindered him from entry into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, thereby preventing him from confirming the existence of Israeli violations of human rights. It was ironic that the United Nations had played a role in cancelling the Special Rapporteur’s visit to Gaza when he was finally able to gain access to the territory through the Rafah crossing between 25 April and 3 May 2011, a period during which Gaza had received heads of State, ministers and officials from all over the world. Those events demonstrated the lack of will on the part of the United Nations to take effective steps towards tackling the blatant and systematic violations of the fundamental human rights of Palestinians living under occupation.
16. In his report, the Special Rapporteur had rightly highlighted fears of Israeli settlement expansion, particularly in Occupied Jerusalem, the capital of the future State of Palestine, in flagrant violation of the rights of Palestinians and destroying the opportunities to establish a viable Palestinian State. Beyond those violations mentioned in the report, Israel was also responsible for the desecration of holy sites, attacks on Palestinian families by settler militias and the systematic starvation of the people of Gaza by a blockade that constituted collective punishment, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Her delegation fully endorsed the recommendations contained in the Special Rapporteur’s report, despite the fact that they did not cover in detail the criminal record of the Israeli occupation. She wondered to what extent such recommendations, be they the ones contained in the current report or those in the tens of reports preceding it, could be applied.
17. Ms. Tawk (Lebanon) said that her delegation particularly welcomed the focus on the impact of prolonged occupation on the rights and well-being of children. She noted with alarm the trauma inflicted on Palestinian children by the increase in home demolitions and confiscations, and by the collective punishment imposed on children by the blockade on Gaza. Also deeply disturbing was the increase in settler attacks on children and schools, carried out with the protection of the occupation army. In light of the systematic violations of international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the equally persistent stalemate between the parties, she enquired why the United Nations had been incapable, in that particular conflict, of acting on the values it had established and of upholding the principles contained in its Charter. The United Nations was the international actor best positioned to ensure respect for the rights of victims under international humanitarian law and to help reach a fair settlement of the conflict, one that would redress the historical injustice done to the Palestinian people.
18. Mr. Abdullah (Malaysia) said that the Malaysian Government and people were unwavering in their support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian State, and for the membership application of Palestine in the United Nations, based on a two-State solution and taking into account the security concerns of both parties. As the Special Rapporteur had noted, the Palestinian people’s inalienable right of self-determination underpinned the discussion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
19. Malaysia was deeply anguished by the unending cycle of violence that had come to characterize the conflict. The only way forward was to guarantee the basic human rights of Palestinians, including their right to an independent State. In that connection, the heightened focus in recent months on the issue of Palestinian self-determination must be channelled constructively to promote cooperation among nations, with a view to fulfilling the historic responsibility of the United Nations towards the Palestinian people. Malaysia would continue to support all international efforts to find a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
20. Mr. Monzer Fathi Selim (Egypt) said that his delegation would like to know what kind of support the Special Rapporteur sought from the international community in order to enable him to carry out his mandate effectively, in light of existing obstacles.
21. Mr. Falk (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that the basic principle of international humanitarian law that governed the deportation of Palestinian prisoners outside the territory in which they were arrested as a result of the occupation held that a prisoner could not be transferred outside the territory occupied. The issue arose in two different settings: in the first, a Palestinian arrested in the West Bank or East Jerusalem was subsequently convicted and transferred to a prison in Israel. That common scenario had the effect of denying a prisoner contact with friends and family over many years or even decades, constituting an additional punishment. The second setting involved forcible deportation in the course of the recent prisoner release; Palestinian captives had been sent to neighbouring countries. Due to claims that the prisoners had consented to the deportation prior to being released and that Israel had committed to allowing family reunification in whatever country they were sent to, further clarification was needed on what was, nonetheless, a serious issue.
22. The Palestinian people’s struggle for realization of their rights, in particular the right to self-determination, did indeed benefit from regional developments associated with the Arab Spring, as the citizenry of various Arab countries was extremely supportive of the Palestinian quest for peace and justice. Moreover, the more democratic the new reforming Governments in the region became, the more attentive they would be to their own citizenry and, consequently, the greater interest they would take in pursuing an internationally agreed resolution to the conflict and a sustainable peace. Addressing the hardship and isolation of the people of Gaza produced by the blockade was a priority that enjoyed wide regional support, as was the understanding that Palestinian statehood was a component of self-determination that should not be tied to negotiation of final status issues. Given that reality, there was no credible reason to defer Palestinian statehood and United Nations membership. Denying the Palestinian people that right merely expressed the failure of the international community and the United Nations system to act in accordance with the global rule of law, which should treat equals equally.
23. It was unfortunate that any country was allowed the impunity that Israel enjoyed in relation to the fundamental norms of international criminal law. The resulting political inability to implement the recommendations for further action contained in the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict related directly to the question of why the United Nations had not been more effective in protecting the legal rights of the Palestinian people. He stressed that a sustainable and just peace and Palestinian self-determination would not be achieved unless Palestinian legal rights were upheld. It was not enough to have a bargaining situation that reflected the relative power of the two sides and excluded consideration of the kind of rights under international law reflected in United Nations resolutions but excluded from past negotiations. It was time for the Organization to use its authority to insist that any diplomatic framework must be sensitive to the legal rights, grievances and claims of both sides, leading to greater balance and more effective negotiations.
24. With regard to the obstacles he had faced in the discharge of his duties, the issue was not personal, but one of principle that should apply to all Member States. Membership entailed an obligation to cooperate with the Organization in the discharge of its international functions, as well as with treaty obligations that reinforced that basic obligation. Israel had refused to cooperate with several United Nations enquiries, including his, that had been conducted in as honest and professional a manner as possible but without its cooperation, therefore lacking adequate exposure to the full range of relevant evidence. He hoped that, within the coming months, the Organization would begin to treat that kind of obstruction as a high-profile concern, and not just for his sake.
The meeting rose at 12.50 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.