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Source: Commission on Human Rights
2 April 2002


Press Release


Commission on Human Rights
58th session
2 April 2002

Debate Continues on Situation in Occupied Arab Territories

The Commission on Human Rights was addressed this morning by the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, the Prime Minister of Togo, and the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, who variously described internal efforts to advance fundamental rights and freedoms and gave opinions on such matters as combatting terrorism and resolving the Middle East conflict.


And Ton-Nu-Thi Ninh, the Vietnamese Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister, charged that the response to the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States had been increasing unilateralism and, among other things, an attempt to label Palestinians as terrorists who could be justifiably attacked. The root causes of the Middle East conflict and the unfair sufferings of the Palestinians were not being sufficiently addressed, Mrs. Ninh said.

The Commission also carried on this morning with its debate under its agenda item on the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine. Several speakers called for an international peace-keeping force to be dispatched to the region.

In a series of points of order, Palestine, Syria, Malaysia and Sudan contested whether Israel was entitled to additional speaking time in the debate. The Chairman of the Commission said Israel had not used all of its speaking allocation as a "concerned country" following the Special Rapporteur's presentation of his report last week on the human rights situation in the occupied Arab territories. After an intensive exchange of views on rules of procedure, the Israeli delegation was given the floor to use its remaining speaking time.

Also participating in the morning's substantive debate were representatives of Jordan, Oman, the United States, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Cyprus, Morocco, Yemen, Qatar, and Mauritania.

The following non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provided statements: the World Young Women's Christian Association; the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists; the World Union for Progressive Judaism; the Arab Organization for Human Rights; Amnesty International; the Cairo Institute for Human Rights; Human Rights Watch; and Al-Haq.

Palestine and Israel spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. to continue its debate on the situation in the occupied Arab territories. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson is also expected to speak on the topic.



TON-NU-THI NINH, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, ...


The Middle East conflict had been reduced to a fight against terrorism, whereby the Palestinian people and their leaders were labelled terrorists and against whom all means were justified, thus allowing the true cause of the conflict to be sidelined, Mrs. Ninh said. The profound origin of suicide attacks -- the utter despair resulting from an occupation and humiliation that had become unbearable -- was not given sufficient attention. In order to fight violence, appropriate answers must be found for the major problems facing the world, including famine and poverty, pandemics, ignorance, racism, intolerance and discrimination. Sustainable development had to be established.


SHEBAB A. MADI (Jordan) said if Israel truly wanted peace it should end the occupation of the Arab territories. If Israel wanted security and an end to violence it should end the occupation of Arab territories. Israeli and Palestinian children could live in peace only if Israel ended its occupation.

The Commission should find a mechanism to end the occupation of Arab territories.

HAMOOD AL-TOWAIYA (Oman) said that over eighteen months ago the situation in the Middle East had changed. The Israeli occupying forces had intensified their violence against the people occupied. This situation had passed all limitations of international norms. The Palestinian people were suffering in their own land. The Commission had condemned the occupation as illegal; however, the Government of Israel had ignored all resolutions calling for its withdrawal from the territories it had occupied.

The continued occupation by Israel had aggravated the human rights situation. The initiative started by the Saudi Prince was designed to end the Israeli occupation and give peace guarantees to both parties. The gravity of the situation made it incumbent upon the international community to seek a durable solution to the problem through implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions and other decisions taken by the Commission.

KEVIN EDWARD MOLEY (the United States) said his country had been working hard to ensure an end of the violence in the region. The best means was through ensuring respect for human rights. The United States had been deeply involved in the many attempts to reach a cease-fire. Only through cooperation could negotiations be successful. The Mitchell recommendations and the Tenet plan needed to be adhered to. The United States had recently supported a Security Council resolution which affirmed a vision of a region where both Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side in peace.

There was a cycle of violence and the human rights record on both sides had been poor. Casting all blame on Israel as this Commission had been known to do was not balanced and not fair. It could only lead to more harm in the region. The imbalance could be seen in the item currently being discussed, in the work of the special envoy, and in the language in several resolutions. This imbalance put the Commission in the situation of supporting terrorist acts against Israeli civilians as opposed to supporting the upholding of all human rights.

HABIB MANSOUR (Tunisia) said the Middle East situation was critical. The Special Rapporteur had reflected the despair of the Palestinian people in his report. Israel persisted in using force against Palestinians, causing thousands of casualties. Israel had also continued its policy of house demolitions, blockades of Gaza and the West Bank and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure.

Tunisia reiterated its profound concern over the deterioration in the situation in the occupied territories and the continued breaches of international humanitarian law by Israel. Israel must withdraw from all territories it had occupied since 1967. Tunisia reiterated its support for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and called on all parties involved to move towards a just solution of the conflict. The international community was called on to assume its responsibility in this matter.

NASSER SALMAN AL-BOODI (the United Arab Emirates) said the violence in the occupied territories had exceeded all existing international norms and had gone beyond all bounds. The Israeli occupying army had destroyed all Palestinian infrastructure, and it kept ambulances from transporting the wounded and the dying. The violation of all international norms by the Israeli aggression had led to the deterioration of the lives of Palestinian civilians. The different resolutions calling for an end to the occupation had not been implemented by Israel. The Israeli action in the occupied territories was in contravention of all international norms on human rights.

In accordance with Security Council resolutions, Israel must withdraw from all occupied Arab territories, including Palestine and the Syrian Golan. Without withdrawal, peace would remain a very remote possibility.

WALID NASR (Lebanon) said occupation was prohibited under international law, and the Israeli occupation and aggression were leading only to destruction and to systematic human rights violations. The Israeli forces had occupied and established settlements and had disrupted towns and villages, totally changing the demographics of these communities. A Commission resolution had called for the end of the occupation and for a special envoy to investigate human rights violations in the region. The envoy's report clearly reflected the truth. The right to life was being violated everyday. It was clear that there had been no improvement.

The Israeli Government believed only in the flouting of force. This was not a surprise, since Israel had systematically violated human rights. The Israeli Supreme Court itself had taken a decision which went against human rights. Men and women, children and the elderly were all victims of these sufferings. Israel claimed all these actions were in self-defence. However, if a State occupied another by force, could the former State really hide behind the principle of self-defence? Without Israel's behaviour, there would be peace.

YAAKOV LEVY (Israel) said a fundamental element in all agreements between Israelis and Palestinians was the total and absolute renunciation of violence and terrorism, a commitment to crack down on terrorists and a pledge to resolve all differences through negotiations. Contrary to some claims, suicide bombings against Israelis were not a result of current frustrations. The first suicide bombing took place just months after the Oslo Accords were signed. In March, Israel had suffered terrible casualties -- 122 Israelis had been murdered. Israel faced many dilemmas, in particular that of defending herself against terrorists who purposefully established their bases of operation within civilian institutions.

Israel was cognizant of the risks entailed in current operations against terrorist cells who purposely located themselves in population centres or in refugee camps. But Israel was compelled to dismantle laboratories for the preparation of bombs, suicide belts, and the Kassam II rockets in these camps. Had Yasser Arafat fulfilled his obligations to dismantle such facilities, had he arrested terrorists instead of providing them with safe haven, and had he stopped the constant incitement of Palestinians to violence, there would be no need for Israeli action.

HELENA MINA (Cyprus) said Cyprus firmly held the position that the Palestinian problem was at the core of the Middle East conflict and that without its settlement, the international community could not hope to achieve a comprehensive and lasting solution to the problem. Cyprus continued to aspire to a situation of peace, stability and security for all States, including Israel. Non-selective, comprehensive and immediate implementation of the Mitchell Report and the Tenet Plan was necessary. That would be an important initial step to put an end to the unrest and create the prerequisites for a resumption of the peace process.

Cyprus had made its own contribution to initiatives that might help the region, including through hosting of meetings, the next of which would be a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Right of Palestinian People planned for next month. Meanwhile, acceptance and implementation without any delay of Security Council resolution 1402 was of the utmost urgency and all efforts must be directed to that end.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco) said the situation in the occupied territories continued to deteriorate. Israel was responsible for massive, flagrant and systematic violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people, including collective punishments, sealing off of towns, destruction of houses and hospitals, assassination of Palestinian leaders, indiscriminate and excessive use of force, curfews for weeks on end, confiscation of lands, the killing of doctors and nurses, and attacks on ambulances.

The excessive use of force had resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries among the Palestinian civilian population. More than half of the victims were children. According to the Special Rapporteur, children who threw stones were arrested, placed in detention and subjected to brutalities, threats, humiliations, and sleep deprivation. They were kept in painful positions and then sentenced to several months in prison. The humiliation of the Palestinians produced only hatred. The international community must protect the Palestinian people. Morocco called for an end to the cycle of violence and condemned the killing of civilians. The Saudi initiative was an historic opportunity to bring peace and security to the region.

AHMED HASSAN (Yemen) said the serious violation of human rights in Palestine was against international standards and against international instruments, including resolutions and documents of the Security Council. Israel, however, had continued to violate the human rights of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Its perpetration of violations had been witnessed by members of the international solidarity group who served as human shields to the President of the Palestinian Authority.

The occupying armed forces had been destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian economy, including facilities built with the assistance of the European Union. Arab countries had shown their willingness to establish peace in the region, with the latest Saudi initiative being the latest effort.

FAHAD AWAIDA AL-THANI (Qatar) said the report of the Special Rapporteur made clear reference to Israeli violations of human rights in the occupied territories. The Israeli Government had systematically infringed and violated human rights. Qatar had condemned the escalation of violence and the treatment of President Yasser Arafat. These abuses were in clear violation of all international obligations that had been demanded from Israel.

In fact, Israel's behaviour was a slap in the face to all those who worked for peace in the Middle East. The violations of human rights had no precedent in history and could only mean that Israel did not recognize the right to life. The international community must extend international protection to the Palestinian people and to put an end to the crimes committed against them. Peace -- the will of all -- could only be achieved with the total withdrawal of Israeli troops.

ABDOULAYE MAMADOU BA (Mauritania) said there was an escalation of violence in the occupied territories and a deterioration in the situation of the Palestinian people. Recent Israeli actions had taken place after the endorsement of a peace initiative by Saudi Arabia and after a Security Council resolution calling for establishment of a Palestinian State.

Israel must put a halt to the present escalation and withdraw from Palestinian towns. Dialogue and negotiations were the best way to reduce tensions and bring a just and lasting peace to the region. An international force should be established in the occupied territories.

CHARLOTTE ANGERGARD, of the World Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), speaking on behalf of five NGOS, said that during the last eighteen months, the situation in the Palestinian territory had been deteriorating with more deaths and violence perpetrated by the occupying Israeli forces. The damage caused by the Israeli forces was not only against human life but involved destruction of infrastructure and plantations. In addition, children had been victims. Among other things, they were being denied their right to education.

The relevant United Nations resolutions and international humanitarian standards should be implemented to save the Palestinian people. The international community should take further measures aimed at protecting the Palestinian people and should see to it that a Palestinian State was established.

DANIEL LACK, of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, said that in the form in which it appeared, the report of the Special Rapporteur was valueless. It sought to deny the unbridled terrorist campaign of the extremist Islamic terrorist groups backed by the Palestinian Authority. It did not sufficiently examine the root causes of the Arab-Israel conflict, including the continued denial of the right of existence of the State of Israel.

Not only was the report a valueless document, it was a hindrance to finding a way out of the current deadlock. The report explained terrorism by reference to the term "occupation", thereby endorsing the mendacious mantra endlessly intoned by all PLO spokesmen and their terrorist backers. The Khartoum triple "no" -- no recognition, no negotiation and no peace -- had been the response to Israel's offer to negotiate a permanent peace. Unless the Commission condemned Palestinian terrorism it would bear a direct responsibility for contributing to plunging this region into a bloodbath.

DAVID LITTMAN, of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said the jihad ideology was part and parcel of the 1988 Charter of Hamas. The Charter offered stereotypical images, perpetuated in a culture of hate. Aside from the mad gibberage inspired by the protocols of the Elders of Zion, it was committed to a jihad ideology against the Jews. Article 8 was the slogan of Hamas, inducing its agents to kill infidels when required. Article 13 of the Charter left no doubts, saying there was no solution for the Palestinian situation except through jihad. Article 28 had an even stronger message: "Israel, Judaism and Jews challenged Islam and the Muslim people".

In a report last year, the High Commissioner had referred to hate speech and incitement. She had been shocked by calls, broadcast on Palestinian television and radio, urging the killing of all Jews. At Durban, she identified personally with Jews, who had been vilified en bloc, as in the 1930s. The current policy of silence by Muslim leaders and the international community on the ideology of jihad implicitly condoned as normative a great evil, thereby encouraging future Islamist terror crimes worldwide.

MOHAMED FAYEK, of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said that in Palestine Israel had been launching a campaign that had never been used before in the world. In order to punish the population and to kill innocent people, the occupying power was using terrorism as a pretext. It was also shelling ambulances transporting wounded Palestinians. The continuation of the occupation had been a violation and defied international human rights standards. The Israelis had been killing and detaining Palestinians. In addition, the Sharon Government had rejected the peace initiative presented by the Saudi prince.

Security could not be attained by the use of force. Israeli should immediately stop its violence and its siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

MELINDA CHING, of Amnesty International, said if human rights were at the heart of this conflict and if human rights were not firmly on the agenda of the cease-fire talks there could be no durable cease-fire and no sustainable peace. Armed Palestinians had breached fundamental principles of international humanitarian law on numerous occasions. It was not acceptable to deliberately target civilians, to set off a bomb where women and children were standing, to shoot a girl on a street, to arbitrarily target cars on roads or to kill people who were held as prisoners. These actions were shocking. Yet they could never justify the human rights violations and gave breaches of the Geneva Convention which, over the past 18 months, had been committed daily, hourly, even every minute, by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians.

Israeli forces had consistently carried out killings when no lives were in danger. The Israeli authorities' failure to carry out proper investigations into unlawful killings sent the message that Palestinian lives were cheap. The Commission must send a strong message to all Governments involved in the peace process that human rights could not be neglected. The Commission must make every effort to reach consensus on all resolutions on this topic. Security could only be achieved through full respect for human rights, not at their expense.

DIANNE LUPPING, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said crimes against humanity had been perpetrated by the Israeli army not only during the current intifida, but also in 1948 and 1967. These violations amounted to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Israel was now conducting one of its most ferocious attacks against civilians. Attacks were made under the pretext of fighting terrorism, but targeted civilians, including women, children and medical staff.

Israel pursued a shoot-to-kill policy, which resulted in a high death toll and casualties among the Palestinian population. Victims were denied access to medical aid and human rights defenders were targeted, homes and schools were taken over by the army, property and land were extensively destroyed. Other violations included closures, ethnic cleansing, genocide and population transfers. There must be immediate deployment of an international force to protect Palestinians, and sanctions imposed against Israel by UN member States.

BABATUNDE TAIWO, of Human Rights Watch, said the human rights crisis in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza had intensified, with increasingly grave consequences for the lives of ordinary people. An estimated 500 civilian Palestinians, including 100 children, had been killed by Israeli security forces or settlers. At least 200 civilian Israelis, including a dozen children, had been killed during the last eighteen months. The predominance of civilians among those killed and gravely wounded reflected a pervasive disregard for civilian lives and well-being by the forces of the occupying power and by armed groups resisting their presence.

Israeli security forces had been responsible for extensive abuses, including use of excessive and indiscriminate force, unlawful killings, and collective punishment on a wide scale. The Commission should address the systematic and grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in occupied Palestine.

HANAN EL MASU, of Al-Haq, said the situation in Ramallah was indicative of a growing humanitarian crisis. Today the city was in its fifth day of extended curfew. Snipers were posted on rooftops and tanks and armoured personnel carriers patrolled the streets. Restrictions on movement had affected medical teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. Searches and raids had been carried out in offices and businesses throughout the city. The offices of NGOs and civil society organizations, including Al-Haq, had also been targeted. It was imperative that the international community take immediate action to force Israel to end its attacks on innocent Palestinian civilians.

The Commission must take immediate action by censuring Israel for its invasions and must call for a full and immediate withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories by Israel; take steps to ensure that Palestinians were provided access to humanitarian assistance including food and water; immediately and unequivocally condemn all attacks upon hospitals and medical personnel; and call for the immediate provision of an international protection force to provide security for the Palestinian civilian population.

Rights of Reply

A Representative of Palestine, speaking in right of reply, said that for the last four days the Israeli army had completely encroached on all Palestinian cities and villages. Every hour there was a massacre by Israeli forces resulting in the death of tens of Palestinians. The Israeli forces were preventing ambulances from transporting the wounded to hospitals, leaving them to bleed to death on the streets. If the Commission did not condemn Israel, it would put itself in a position of defending military occupation and grave violations of human rights.

A Representative of Israel, speaking in right of reply, said Israel, like all nations, had the right to self-defence. The right to life that recently had been brutally taken away from 42 Israelis by terrorists must also be defended by this Commission. The Ambassador of Lebanon was reminded that Israel had come into possession of the territories when Arab States attacked in 1967 and that Israel had repeatedly suggested negotiations. That had also been the offer at Camp David in 2000 -- rejected by the Palestinian Authority. Even yesterday Lebanon had served as a base for an attack against Israel by four Hezbollah terrorists. The Commission should understand the security issues involved when Israel was trying to defend herself against terrorism and trying to maintain her democratic nature. Before the violence, there had been 120,000 Palestinian daily workers in Israel. Could Israel tolerate a situation in which some of these workers imported violence and placed bombs? Would any State accept that and act differently? Israel was trying to respect human rights during this phase of violence conducted against her. It was not an easy task.

A Representative of Palestine, in a second right of reply, said he did not accept lessons from the Israeli side concerning the internal affairs of Palestine. If Israel withdrew from all the Arab territories it had occupied since 1967, there would be peace.

A Representative of Israel, in a second right of reply, said human rights violations, even when committed by Palestinians, were not an internal affair of the Palestinian Authority but deserved consideration by the Commission. Israel grieved for everyone killed and wished for the cycle of violence to end. It also wanted to hear more condemnation of the killing of Israelis. Israel was willing to negotiate the issue of territories she had come into possession of as a result of the 1967 war. This would involve difficult compromises on both sides.

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