Press Release

18 October 2000

The Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights concluded its general debate this afternoon after listening to statements and hearing calls for an end to the recent violence in the occupied Palestinian territories, and for the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people.

Many delegates welcomed the agreement reached in Sharm El Sheikh by Palestinian and Israeli leaders, and congratulated all the participants in the summit on their achievements. Speakers expressed the hope that this could lead to a lasting cease-fire and could put the process of finding a long-term agreement back in the forefront of work by all sides. They agreed that finding peace would take strong determination and commitment by all parties involved in the conflict.

Calls were heard for the formation of an independent State for the Palestinians, with Jerusalem as the capital. Representatives also highlighted to the Commission the harmful way in which Jewish property and persons in some parts of Europe had been threatened as a result of the recent violence.

Representatives of the following countries spoke this afternoon: El Salvador, the Russian Federation, Pakistan, Norway, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Mauritania, Guinea, New Zealand, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, South Africa and Nigeria.

Speakers from the League of Arab States and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) also took the floor, as did representatives of the following non-governmental organizations: Habitat International Coalition, African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, Al-Haq (Law in the Service of Man), Indian Movement 'Tupaj Amaru', International League for Rights and Liberation of Peoples, International Young Catholic Students, World Federation of Democratic Youth, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

There were rights of reply by Israel and Lebanon.

The Special Session of the Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m on Thursday, 19 October to conclude its session.


V. M. LAGOS PIZZATI (El Salvador) said any situation which jeopardized observance of human rights should be given due consideration by the Commission, which was charged not only with monitoring human rights but with ensuring that such rights were promoted. The current situation had a broader, more dynamic context -- the search for a just and lasting peace -- and El Salvador approved of the Sharm El Sheikh agreement reached yesterday and hoped it could lead to resumption of efforts towards peace.

El Salvador fervently appealed to the parties involved to end immediately all acts of violence and provocation. Peace could not be considered a precursor to respect for human rights; El Salvador had learned that lesson. Human rights must be respected even in times of conflict, and in fact, reconciliation and respect for human rights were the way to achieve peace. El Salvador hoped that progress towards peace in the Middle East would now be resumed.

VASILY SIDOROV (the Russian Federation) said that the situation in the Middle East posed a threat to the interests and the rights of the peoples of the region, and to international peace and security. Recent agreements, it was hoped, should lead to a normalisation of the situation that would in turn allow for the improvement of the human rights situation. It was important to apply efforts to avoid a possibility of destabilization of the situation in the future.

From the beginning, the Russian Federation had taken steps to end the bloodshed in the Palestinian occupied territories. It was necessary to keep heads cool, and leaders should show a sense of responsibility and prevent the situation from sinking into an abyss of war and confrontation. The international community should continue to try to normalise events in the region and the decisions of the Special Session of the Commission should likewise mirror this.

IMTIAZ HUSSAIN (Pakistan) said the recent events were a reminder to everyone that political processes for resolving disputes, particularly those of territorial occupation, could not lead to enduring peace without addressing violations of fundamental human rights. Developments at Sharm El Sheikh were a cause for optimism and Pakistan hoped the agreement would be implemented fully. Pakistan steadfastly supported self-determination for Palestinians and continued to believe that early withdrawal by Israel was the only way to achieve lasting peace.

What had been witnessed was shocking -- brutal bombings of the Palestinian Authority offices and populated neighbourhoods by Israeli forces and killing of peaceful protesters, particularly children, once again showed the character of Israeli policy. These acts had put the entire peace process in jeopardy. Israel must end all violence and desist from threats and ultimatums. There should be an international mechanism to investigate the human rights violations of the Palestinian people and bring those responsible to justice. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should visit the region, along with relevant Commission Special Rapporteurs.

BJØRN SKOGMO (Norway) said the world had seen the horrifying situation in the Middle East. Norway welcomed the talks in Sharm El Sheikh, and hoped that they would create lasting peace.

Norway was concerned with some calls for a continuation of the violence. Thus, it called on all parties to act with goodwill and put into place the agreements of the past few days. A healthy Palestinian independent State would provide a form of stability within the region, and Norway continued to provide vast amounts of aid to the Palestinian people so that this idea could come to fruitition. The Government of Norway deplored the recent acts of excessive violence committed by the Israeli security forces. It urged the Israeli Government to respect human rights and human rights declarations made by the United Nations over the past fifty years.

KIM SONG CHOL (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) said his country was gravely concerned about the situation which had resulted in the killing of more than 100 unarmed civilians, including children. The use of excessive force by Israel in such a situation had to be condemned as a crime against the Palestinian people, a challenge to world peace, and a flagrant violation of international human-rights instruments. Regretfully, the right of the Palestinians to self-determination was still far from realization, and the current situation showed that there was no guarantee such a crisis would not recur unless Israel met international demands in relation to Palestine.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea strongly urged Israel to stop immediately any action hindering peace talks. The Special Session should take substantive action in response to the recent tragic events and should act to prevent any future repetition.

HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia) urged the Israeli authorities to cease all provocation, hostilities and acts of violence. The recent violence would not contribute to the on-going efforts to seek a solution for a just and sustainable peace. Recent violations reported by the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories were still occurring. Other concerns included that occupying forces appeared to have indiscriminately used excessive force in cases where there was no imminent threat to lives. It was with deep regret that the assurances and platitudes of the Israeli occupying power yesterday were not consistent with the Special Rapporteur's findings.

The representative of Malaysia noted with concern the use of undercover units to conduct operations against the Palestinians. The use of collective punishment contravened the Forth Geneva Convention as did the shelling of homes and the destruction of infrastructure.

Urgent action was required, and the Commission should consider the establishment of an international inquiry focused on human rights violations; the failure to establish one would be a regression of human rights work around the world. Malaysia supported the right of the Palestinians to their own homeland with Jerusalem as its capital.

NGUYEN QUY BINH (Viet Nam) said his country deplored the provocation carried out at Al-Haram Al-Sharif and was deeply shocked at the subsequent violence in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops. It condemned acts of violence and excessive use of force against Palestinians. Viet Nam had consistently expressed strong support for a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question and for the inalienable rights of the Palestinians to a State of their own with Jerusalem as its capital.

Both parties to the conflict must make all efforts to overcome current obstacles and persist in their efforts to reach a just and lasting solution to the problems of the region. For the moment, Israel was urged to abide by its obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions. The Commission should establish a mechanism for a speedy and objective international inquiry into the tragic events of the last few days with the aim of preventing any repetition.

OULD MOHAMED LEMINE (Mauritania) said that the Special Session proved the gravity of the recent events in Palestine, and reflected international solidarity with the people of Palestine, who had suffered from the violence of Israeli security forces. Israel should take the necessary measures to put the peace process back on track, and end grave violations against innocent unarmed people.

Mauritania shared the suffering of the Palestinian people who had the right to an independent State with Jerusalem as the capital. The way to a lasting peace had started with the agreement signed yesterday at Sharm El Sheikh, and Mauritania hoped, as it had always, that this signing would lead to a long-lasting peace for all in the region.

SEKOU CAMARA (Guinea) said the Special Session was warranted and was an opportunity to demand the implementation of basic human rights as protected, among other things, by the Geneva Conventions. The infernal cycle of violence was continuing; negotiations had gone on much too long; the many conferences, although apparently necessary, were beginning to tax everyone's patience. It was time for Israel simply to abide by the decisions of the Commission and the Security Council and to allow a free and sovereign Palestine. Excessive force against civilians did not help to achieve peaceful coexistence; only dialogue and cooperation could establish the mutual confidence needed to find a positive outcome to this situation.

There should be immediate cessation of repression, and an international committee of inquiry should be set up to look into the recent crisis.

ROGER FARRELL (New Zealand) said his country had been shocked and saddened by the outbreak of violence. Violations of human rights had been, it was claimed, committed by both sides. The Israelis and Palestinians should honour their leaders' agreement on the objectives set out in Sharm El Sheikh. New Zealand welcomed the agreement by both sides to the development of a fact-finding committee to look into allegations of human rights violations, and hoped that it worked in a speedy and objective manner; the parties needed to work fully with the committee and commit themselves anew to negotiating a comprehensive settlement to ensure a just and lasting peace in the region.

NUNZIO ALFREDO D'ANGIERI (Belize) said the gravity of recent events indicated once again the importance of the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State, and of the right to return of displaced Palestinians. The inability of the Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination and the economic stagnation of the Palestinian region, with its growing economic disparity with neighbouring Israel, had contributed greatly to the latest conflict. For peace to be sustainable there should be equality in the distribution of resources.

Attempts to redress the existing economic imbalance would be a major contribution to easing current tensions. Provocative acts also should be avoided. An independent inquiry into the recent bloodshed should be carried out, and an early warning mechanism set up to prevent a recurrence.

STEVE WOODHOUSE, of UNICEF, said that the events had been covered by many delegations, but his organization wished to highlight how they had affected the rights of the child. UNICEF made sure that the rights of children were always important everywhere; but in the Middle East violence, 28 children 'at least' had been killed, and many more had been injured. Peace and trust among children in the region had been destroyed -- it was up to the adults of both parties in the conflict to keep children away from the violence. The Israelis should ensure that children were not targeted during clashes, and the Palestinians should ensure that their children were kept away from the violence on the streets.

Nobody was innocent in the current conflict for exposing children to the clashes, and UNICEF called on both leaders to act now to stop the violence generally and end the pain children were suffering from.

SALLEHUDDIN (Brunei Darussalam) said the situation was grave and the guiding principles of the Commission were at stake. Brunei Darussalam reaffirmed its long support for self-determination for the Palestinians, based on UN resolutions, and it deeply regretted the recent events in Palestine.

A commission of inquiry should be set up by the Commission to look into these recent events, as proposed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And all relevant international and national parties should use their influence to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Middle East question. Brunei Darussalam also noted its agreement with the statement made on behalf of the Asian Group.

SIPHO GEORGES NENE (South Africa) said that his Government was concerned about the seriousness of the current situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which was a threat to peace not only of the region, but also of the world. South Africa called for the immediate and complete cessation of all hostilities in order to create a climate conducive to the resumption of negotiations, which should lead to the resolution of the final status issues.

South Africa gave full support to the efforts of the UN Secretary-General in the quest for peace. The depth of analysis of the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which were presented to the Special Session yesterday were also commended. The call for all parties to return to the negotiating table was supported by South Africa. There was a need for deep reflection with a view to implementing strategies for the promotion of tolerance and harmony among two kindred peoples. However, the achievement of peace, stability and security was based on the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

SAAD ALFARARGI, of the League of Arab States, said the question of the violation of the human rights of Palestinians had been before the Commission for decades, and always there had been international calls for Israel to respect human rights. There had been many resolutions. It was clear that troubles in the region would only end when Palestinians could establish a State without conditions and restrictions, with its capital in Jerusalem. Israel had continually used force of arms and methods of racial discrimination and provocations of all types to undermine Palestinians' efforts to achieve what they were entitled do.

There was no way to justify the recent, deliberate killings by Israel simply because Palestinians had engaged in rock-throwing; did they expect Palestinians to welcome them with open arms, after all Israel had done over the years? The Commission should not equate the victims with the aggressors. There should be a fact-finding commission established to investigate these most recent crimes. The High Commissioner and relevant Special Rapporteurs also should visit the region.

JOSEPH SCHECHLA, of Habitat International Coalition, said the Coalition was dedicated to the promotion of adequate housing as the human right for every man, woman and child to gains and sustain a secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity. Palestinians were entitled to these rights. From Habitat's perspective, Israel's systematic denial of the Palestinians' right to a place to live in peace and dignity lay at the very core of the Palestine problem.

Habitat called to the Commission's attention examples of dramatic violations of the right to housing during the recent violence in the Middle East. Confiscation of Palestinian lands and demolition of homes on dubious contexts was continuing, and these human violations cost the Palestinian economy huge amounts. Israel must respect human rights obligations, and this would go a long way for the social development of the Palestine people. Diplomatic and financial investments would only bear fruit if accompanied by the concomitant political will to implement the legal framework.

It was clear that the recipe for a peace process included the establishment of justice and human dignity, which the human rights norms were established to guarantee. Steps to peace should include Israeli withdrawal of forces; establishment of a permanent international human rights body to review the implementation of the peace process; and the mobilization of the Commission's thematic rapporteurs to give special consideration to the situation in Palestine within their competence and to cooperate as appropriate on matters of common concern.

DJELLY SAMURA, of the African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, said new tragedies in human rights were unfolding with the new millennium. The unbearable and reprehensible confrontation between Israeli security forces and Palestinians on 28 September had led to tragic events, and the Commission must act to establish peace in this region that was a crucible of religions.

African civil society and the international community expressed their profound indignation at the continuing unacceptable condition of the Palestinian people. Israel must be made to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention; it must respect the many resolutions passed by the Security Council and General Assembly; it must halt its establishment of settlements. The world must make an urgent response to the latest tragedy; a civilization which failed to solve its most crucial problems was a sick civilization. The Commission must act decisively; an international commission of inquiry should be established to look into the recent catastrophe.

MOHAMMED ABDRABBOH, of Al-Haq (Law in the Service of Man), said that the recent protests were the natural result of Israel's illegal policies and measures in the Palestinian occupied territories, which had led to a serious deterioration of the situation of human rights. However, many factors had contributed to the feeling that the human rights of Palestinians had fallen since the Oslo Accords. These include acts by Israel of land confiscation, restriction of freedom of movement, confiscation of identification cards, the demolishment of many Palestinian homes, and extensive violations of economic and social rights.

The excessive use of force had gone against international humanitarian law and the principles of proportionality. Air raids had been carried out against civilians. Medical personnel and journalists had been targeted during the latest conflict. Al-Haq requested that the Commission establish an independent international commission of inquiry, pressure Israel to adhere to all its international human rights obligations, and bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. It called on the High Contracting Parties to convene immediately and pressure Israel to implement the Forth Geneva Convention in the occupied Palestinian territories.

PIUS IKPEFUAN AYEWOH (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the group was deeply concerned over the excessive violence in the region that had led to many deaths and injuries; precious lives of innocent human beings, including those of children, had been lost. The peace process had been gravely threatened by these events; the situation recently had more resembled an all-out war. There had been massive violations of international human-rights instruments and international law; among other things, there had been a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel must abide by its legal obligations and responsibilities related to the protection of civilians in time of war. The Commission must take an urgent, constructive approach to these difficulties. The chance for peace still remained. Violence must cease, and there must be an objective, independent inquiry into recent violations of human rights. The African Group further called for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out an urgent visit to the region.

LAZARO PARY, of the Indian Movement 'Tupaj Amaru', said that convening the Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights was commendable. The conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis was tearing the Middle East apart, and had been doing so for 50 years. The conflict was a result of European colonialists, and their attempts to protect their strategic interests in the region which had led to further destabilization. The international community had not yet done the right thing and condemned the Israeli invasion and occupation of Palestinian lands.

Western countries were quick to tolerate the policy of Israel. Israel was conducting a policy of systematically destroying the people of Palestine. Israel was weakening the Palestinian people economically by closing opportunities for them. There could be no peace while Israel denied the self-determination of the Palestinian people, and while it acted against the proclamation of an independent Palestinian State. The Commission should set up an inquiry to investigate the human right abuses conducted by Israel.

ORETTA BANDETTINI DI POGGIO, of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said the League welcomed any sincere agreement that could put an end to the violence; it hoped for such a result from the accord at Sharm El Sheikh; unfortunately, the immediate news was not encouraging. Also, how could 'cease-fire' be the proper term when there was only one army involved, and the other side was unarmed civilians? Many years had gone by while the frustration of the Palestinian people had increased.

Most of the time, people resorted to violence because their rights were denied and their complaints were not heard -- because their fate was not taken into account. To what extent was the international community a sort of accomplice for not helping the Palestinians? No wonder people took up stones; no one was helping them. Israel, with the support of the United States, continued to deny international law and carry out deadly reprisals against the enchained Palestinian population. The Commission must not give equal respect to the hangman and his victims. An independent, impartial commission of experts should be appointed to carry out an investigation of the recent events.

ALEXANDRE OWONA, of the International Young Catholic Students, said that despite the hopes of earlier agreements, past attempts to bring peace to the region had failed. It was difficult to understand how Israel could commit so many human rights violations, especially its complete contempt of the opinion of the international community and the United Nations.

Nothing could justify the oppression suffered by the people of Palestine. Israel must come to see that most people of the region accepted the existence of the State of Israel. Israel then must recognise the dignity and respect of the peoples of the region, and must stop conducting violent actions against the Palestinians. All must learn to live together, but unfortunately the old times were still with us. The Commission must take measures to pressure Israel to implement a cease-fire and withdraw all forces from the occupied territories. The delegation also called for an end to the blind acts of terrorism and destruction of holy relics and places by all sides of the conflict.

Israel must be asked to stop its aggression which creates an atmosphere of hate and racism; rather trust must develop. Education must be made on fostering the peace, and if the leaders are unable to bring peace, they should resign.

MOHAMMED DAHLEH, of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, said there had now been eight summits on the Middle East, yet all of the resulting agreements had not prevented acts of violence and violations of the basic rights of Palestinians by Israel. Despite the Sharm El Sheikh accord of yesterday, therefore, the Commission should move forward and establish a committee to investigate the most recent events. Moreover, the committee should investigate among other things the violence committed within Israel, against Israel's population of close to 1 million Palestinians, who were continually discriminated against and 13 of whom had been killed during the latest crisis.

The Commission should not accept a fact-finding committee led by the United States; such a committee should not be a substitute for a committee of inquiry established by the Commission. The Commission also must condemn in the strongest possible terms the illegal police actions taken by Israel during the recent conflict.

ELIEL MASSON, of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said that the grim atmosphere of the 1930's had returned with calls for the killing of Jews by Islamic spiritual leaders. In a number of examples, he provided names of the spiritual leaders who had called for attacks on Jews, including the slaying of Israeli people and an all-out holy war against the State of Israel.

It was time for Muslim leaders worldwide to speak out against incitements which were in contravention of all the international covenants. A deep clash between the Palestinian people and the Israelis existed. It was possible, he said, for two people to live in the same land, and the fact that this land was invaded and occupied by Arabs in the seventh century did not mean that it must remain forever the territory of Islam. It was time to address these problems promptly in a meaningful way; otherwise the world would soon be engulfed in gloom and doom and a bloody clash of civilizations.

Rights of Reply

A representative of Israel, speaking in right reply, said that listening to some of the wild accusations levelled against Israel over the last two days, he could not help noting a correlation between the extremity of the attacks and the nature of the attacking countries' own human-rights records. Would these countries call for sending so many human-rights Special Rapporteurs to their own countries, as several of them had called for them to be sent to Israel? Lebanon was a case in point.

Why were civilians hurt and unfortunately killed in these riots? Because someone sent them to demonstrate, someone sent them to stand at the front of the crowds. Also, the demonstrators were not using only rocks -- they were using guns, incendiary bombs, and other weapons. Anyone who doubted it could consult photographs Israel had here for proof. Israel wished very much to halt the violence and end the loss of life, and would act to do so; it hoped the Palestinian Authority would approach that goal with similar commitment. Meanwhile, many of the issues raised at the Commission were to be addressed at the negotiating table, and certainly should not be addressed in the streets. Most countries which had spoken here would not tolerate the sort of riots Israel recently had had to contend with.

A representative of (Lebanon) said in a right of reply that his country did not try and give lessons in human rights. It did not bomb civilians, shoot unarmed civilians, unjustly hold people as prisoners, nor build camps for refugees who had no rights nor any chance to return to their homes. The Special Session of the Commission had been convened to investigate and discuss the recent human rights violations that had occurred in the occupied Palestinian territory.

For information media - not an official record