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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · Geneva


PB/02/04/16
16 April 2002

REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION

Marie Heuzé, Director of the Information Service at Geneva, explained at the outset that today would be a particularly busy day at the Commission on Human Rights with voting underway. She expanded on the democratic processes taking place in Afghanistan, East Timor, the Secretary-General's reaction to the return of constitutional order in Venezuela; and announced forthcoming press conferences. The humanitarian organizations continued to update the press on the obstacles they faced in bringing aid to the occupied territories. Today's briefing included an update by UNRWA and ICRC.

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Human Rights

Véronique Taveau, ...

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Ms. Taveau highlighted the High Commissioner Mary Robinson's statement to the Commission yesterday, in which she reported on the status of departure of the visiting mission. She was in the presence of the two eminent persons who would accompany her, Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former African National Congress Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa. Mrs. Robinson reiterated in her speech that the mission was ready to leave at the earliest opportunity. In that connection, Ms. Taveau reminded journalists about the resolution concerning the visiting mission to the occupied territories, as mandated by resolution L.13 voted on 5 April at the Commission's "special sitting" on the Middle East. It had been adopted by 44 votes in favour, 2 against and 7 abstentions.

In response to a question about the difference between a draft decision and a draft resolution, Ms. Taveau explained that the former was more concise that the latter. However, the value of both was the same.

Middle East - humanitarian

Ms. Heuzé gave the floor to two prominent humanitarian organizations active on the ground, UNRWA and ICRC. The Chief of the UNRWA Liaison Office in Geneva had received many queries concerning the access into Jenin for humanitarian agencies. He confirmed that yesterday morning ICRC and UNRWA ambulances had briefly entered Jenin camp. Eight bodies had reportedly been evacuated. The problem was twofold: the dead bodies were not easily retrievable but had to be wrested from rubble. The equipment, of the kind used after earthquakes, had not yet been obtained. The other problem was that there were survivors in the rubble and they had to free themselves as best they could.

UNRWA had also tried yesterday to deliver food and medicines but the authorization came so late that the truck was only allowed in at 6.00 p.m., at which point they were no longer allowed to unload aid supplies and were forced them to return. Today, more UNRWA trucks had been sent to the entrance of the camp in the hope of unloading the food. Thousands of people in the camp obviously had no food or clean water for some time. The fears of a humanitarian catastrophe had not subsided.

In response to a question on whether Israel had made efforts to make available the equipment to find survivors and dead people, the ICRC spokesperson said that the responsibility for retrieving casualties lay with the Israeli army and authorities, in keeping with the Geneva Conventions. Humanitarian organizations could never substitute the responsibility of States. Since the Israelis were to conduct that work in the presence of the ICRC and Palestinian Red Crescent, the ICRC had held discussions with the Israeli army (IDF) to explain that this was not a classic post-disaster operation and special equipment was needed. The question of security was all-important since they could not be sure that houses did not contain arms, mines etc. Therefore, today the IDF would retrieve the bodies from the rubble, hand them over to the Palestinian Red Crescent, which would then take them to Jenin morgue for identification and burial. The humanitarian community would try to respect the dignity of the dead and their families would be uppermost in their concerns.

A journalist wondered if the IDF had gone into Jenin with them yesterday and how many bodies he was talking about. The ICRC spokesperson said he had no figures at this point but significant numbers of civilians remained inside their homes. Since ICRC had gone in with the IDF, people would not come out but would do so when the humanitarian organizations entered alone. They had evacuated 7 dead, 2 wounded and 4 sick civilians. Whereas UNRWA took care of food relief, ICRC concentrated on the medical and water situation. Asked to comment on allegations that the Israelis had carried out mass burials and transporting of bodies into Israel to cover up the situation, he said that the truth would emerge after some time. The ICRC would not investigate the matter since the accounts varied widely. The priorities were to help the survivors in the camp and evacuate the bodies. ICRC was setting up a programme today for families to report missing persons. Eventually, a picture would emerge of those unaccounted for or held in detention. UNRWA had set up a database because all refugees were registered; thus in due course accurate figures could be given. It had also taken aerial pictures of the damage inflicted on camps in order to evaluate the financial support required from donors.

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