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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
General Assembly
28 October 2005

General Assembly
GA/SHC/3832

          Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixtieth General Assembly
Third Committee
28th & 29th Meetings (AM & PM)

THIRD COMMITTEE APPROVES TWO DRAFT RESOLUTIONS ON ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN,
CONTINUES DIALOGUE WITH HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS
Reports Heard concerning Human Rights of Migrants, Palestine Territories ,
Internally Displaced Persons, Health Standards, Effects of Economic Policies
(Issued on 31 October 2005.)

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Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to continue its general discussion of human rights questions.

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Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories

JOHN DUGARD, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied by Israel since 1967, said the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to challenge the commitment of the international community to human rights.  The past year had seen the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and forces from Gaza, but it had also witnessed the continued territorial expansion of Israel into the West Bank, with a concomitant infliction of human rights violations on the Palestinian people.  In August and September 2005, Israel had successfully withdrawn its settlers and forces from Gaza, and the Government was to be congratulated on both its decision to withdraw and on the manner in which it executed the withdrawal.  However, while Gaza might no longer be colonized, it was still controlled by Israel.   Israel controlled the borders of Gaza, its territorial sea and its airspace, and the residents of Gaza were denied free access to the West Bank and neighbouring territories.

In the weeks following the withdrawal, Israel had subjected Gaza to intensive bombardment and sonic booms, and it had revived its practice of targeted killings of militants, he continued.  More than 650 Palestinian prisoners from Gaza were still detained in Israeli jails.  In those circumstances, and in light of the fact that Gaza was a component of the Palestinian territory that remained largely physically occupied by Israel, it was impossible to suggest that Israel had ceased to be an occupying Power.   Israel therefore remained subject to the obligations of humanitarian law, including the obligation to promote the welfare of the people of Gaza.  While it might not be able to fulfil all its humanitarian obligations in Gaza, as it no longer had a presence there, it was clearly obliged not to impede access to medical care and other resources outside Gaza.

He said that in his report, he had predicted that Israel would drag out decisions on the future of Gaza to distract world attention from its territorial expansion in the West Bank.  Unhappily, he said, that prediction had proved to be accurate.  The wall Israel was constructing would, when completed, run for more than 700 kilometres, of which less than 20 per cent would run on the Green Line –- the de facto border between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.   Israel claimed that the wall was being constructed for security reasons, to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel.  While the Israeli High Court accepted the right of Israel to build a wall to protect its settlers, it failed to deal with the question on whether settlements were illegal, which they were under international law.  It was surely not possible for Israel to unlawfully place thousands of settlers in the occupied West Bank, and then to lawfully build a security wall to protect them.  Furthermore, Israel was using the wall as an instrument to dramatically change the character of East Jerusalem, which it occupied illegally.

The wall, and the occupation of the West Bank, essentially served the interests of the settlers, he said.  However, in the process, they inflicted serious human rights violations on Palestinians.  The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination was seriously undermined by the diminution and fragmentation of Palestinian territory, and personal freedom was endangered by the large-scale arrest and detention of Palestinians.  Security operations, the destruction of homes, the restrictions on freedom of movement, and the confiscation and destruction of land to build the wall had generated a humanitarian crisis.  In 2004, the International Court of Justice had held the wall to be illegal, settlements to be unlawful, and many features of Israel’s occupation practices to be contrary to humanitarian law and human rights law.  It remained for the political organs of the international community to convert that legal opinion into political action but, sadly, that was not being done.  It was hard to understand how the United Nations, as a member of the Quartet, could be a party to statements that deliberately ignored the pronouncement of their own judicial body, as endorsed by the General Assembly, he added.

Discussion

In the discussion following Mr. Dugard’s presentation, the representative of Israel said his Government had emphasized for more than a decade the problematic nature of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.  The mandate only examined one side of the conflict; prejudged key issues; was unique and extreme in comparison with the wide range of regional and thematic rapporteurs working on issues of international concern; and was in direct contrast to the current wave of United Nations reforms.  The Rapporteur, in his reports and discourses, had misused his position as a platform for promoting his personal prejudices and political agenda.  Regrettably, his report, like previous ones, was characterized by serious errors of omission and commission, as well as distortions of both fact and law, all in the cause of advancing a one-sided political agenda.

Furthermore, the Rapporteur’s report not only did nothing to advance the prospect of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, but repeatedly set itself in opposition to the framework agreed by the parties and the international community for resolving the conflict, Israel’s representative said.  The Rapporteur also repeatedly had dismissed the delicate process painstakingly crafted in the Road Map document.  Whether it was on the issue of Jerusalem, settlements, or final status of negotiations, the Rapporteur seemed to envision a system where Israel made concessions without receiving anything in return, where terrorism was relegated to a non-issue at best and even justified at worst, and where Israel held all the responsibility to make peace a reality.  Those working for peace knew that progress must be built on the fulfilment of obligations by both sides, but for the Rapporteur, there were only Palestinian rights and Israeli obligations.

In response, Mr. DUGARD said his agenda was to respect human rights and humanitarian law in the region.  He also had a political agenda, which was similar in a sense to that of the Israelis, in that he favoured the establishment of two States.  However, they disagreed as to the extent that Israel was interested in promoting that agenda.  Regarding the withdrawal from Gaza, he could see that such a withdrawal had been a great success and he offered his congratulations.   Israel’s official position was that it was still the occupying Power in the region, although it had a reduced responsibility.  Regarding the wall and settlement expansion, Mr. Dugard said he feared that the construction of the wall, the expansion of settlements and the changes to Jerusalem’s character had very serious implications for a two-State solution.

Thanking the Special Rapporteur on behalf of her delegation and the Palestinian people as a whole, the observer for Palestine asked Mr. Dugard what the latest information was on 88 Palestinian homes that had been subject to demolition orders to make room for a park, as well as what steps should be taken by the international community and the United Nations to ensure Israel’s compliance with the International Court of Justice’s opinion.  In response to the Israeli representative’s comments, she said there had been endless statements of distortion and lies by the Israeli Government.  They should be condemned and stopped, because the United Nations officials were only carrying out their mandates.  Furthermore, if there was no occupation, there would be no human rights violations, and therefore there would be no need for such a mandate as that of the Special Rapporteur’s.

Responding to the observer for Palestine, Mr. Dugard said he had visited the area to be demolished during his last visit.  His understanding was that at the present time, legal proceedings had been launched against the demolitions and that the issue was still before the courts.  Regarding the failure of the Israeli Government to heed the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, he said that the establishment of a register to record damages that had been suffered by Palestinians was inevitably something that could not be done overnight.  However, it did seem that the United Nations had been somewhat slow in establishing such a register.  When he had made any sort of inquiry on the subject, it had been suggested that the matter was still being considered, and that the proposed structure and budgetary implication of a register were being examined.  As to what more could be done, the Security Council should, as the General Assembly had done, approve the advisory opinion and make it quite clear that it did accept it.  The Quartet should do more to promote the findings of the International Court of Justice, as it seemed to ignore them completely, and should take a much more active role, he added.

Responding to comments by the representative of the United States, who said she was disturbed that the report was polemical, one-sided and biased against Israel, as well as failed to recognize the obligations of both sides, Mr. Dugard said that as the present meeting was intended to be a dialogue, he would welcome the comments of the representative on the United States’ attitude towards the advisory opinion of the Court.  He believed that many people and States had the fear or feeling that the failure on the Quartet’s part to attempt to implement the opinion stemmed from the fact that the United States dictates the opinion of the Quartet.  That was a widely held assessment and he said he would appreciate it if the United States delegate would inform delegates of her Government’s attitude towards the opinion.

Turning to a question from Jordan ’s representative on the applicability of human rights law regarding the responsibility of Israel in Gaza, Mr. Dugard said the area had undergone a major change as a result of the withdrawal, but Israel was obligated to promote the welfare of the inhabitants.  By obstructing the trafficking of goods in and out of Gaza, as well as by denying the people of Gaza the right to leave to obtain medical care and for other reasons, Israel clearly did not contribute to its obligation to improve their welfare.

Mr. Dugard responded to questions and comments from the representatives of the Sudan and Libya on forcing Israel to respect international law concerning the wall, from Syria’s representative -- who called upon the international community to bring pressure to bear on Israel to stop its grave violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories -- and from Egypt’s representative on recommendations to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people.  He said that if the construction of the wall was discontinued and the wall that had already built was destroyed, such actions would dramatically improve the lives of Palestinians because the wall had severely interfered with their basic freedoms.  There still existed serious obstacles in the freedom of movement in the West Bank, and there were still checkpoints, which all affected the economic situation of Palestine, continued to obstruct its improvement, and continued the humanitarian crisis.

Responding to questions from the representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of the European Union, on detention conditions of Palestinian prisoners and on progress on the registration of damages, Mr. Dugard said that as a result of the Israeli Government not speaking to him about his mandate, he had had to rely heavily on reports from non-governmental organizations and interlocutors, who had informed him that prison conditions were far from desirable and that there were still allegations of torture.  Those reports were very disturbing, but he had no firsthand information, nor had he had the opportunity to consult with the Israeli Government on that matter.

When the same representative asked him about the question of the death penalty in Palestine, Mr. Dugard said the violation of human rights by the Palestinian Authority did not fall within his mandate.  However, he said he felt compelled as a human rights lawyer to draw attention to the fact that the Palestinian Authority had been responsible for starting to execute Palestinian criminals, and he called upon the Authority to desist from such a practice, although he had not had any discussions with them on the matter.

Responding to a question from the representative of Venezuela on the Palestinian people’s access to water as a result of the construction of the wall, Mr. Dugard said access to water was one of the most important issues in the Middle East.  The Closed Zone, which was between the Green Line and the wall, did include many wells, and that meant that the Palestinian access to water had been substantially reduced, although the people in Gaza did now have access to those resources.

Turning to a question from the representative of Cuba on what other bodies and organizations should be involved in solving the problem of the construction of the wall, Mr. Dugard said that civil society had an important role to play in the whole procedure.  Similarly, responding to a question from China’s representative on his contact and cooperation with civil societies, Mr. Dugard said he had received excellent cooperation from many non-governmental organizations, both Palestinian and Israeli.  Much of the information contained in his report was based on information received by Israeli non-governmental organizations, which had been most helpful, he added.

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For information media • not an official record

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