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Agenda item 69: Promotion and protection of human rights (continued) (A/68/487)
69. Mr. Falk (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967), introducing his final report (A/68/376), said that visiting Palestine and speaking face to face with the people with whom his mandate was concerned was of vital importance in understanding the impact of occupation on human rights. In his five years as Special Rapporteur, despite repeated efforts, he had only been able to visit Palestine on one occasion, and then only the Gaza Strip via Egypt. Noting the consistent non-cooperation of the Government of Israel with his mandate, he expressed concern that the efforts of future Special Rapporteurs would be hampered by Israel’s continued non-cooperation, which contradicted its obligations to cooperate with the United Nations. He once again appealed to the Organization to address that issue as effectively as possible before his successor assumed the mandate in March 2014. Israel’s recent decision to reengage with the Human Rights Council might make it more feasible to exert pressure on Israel to that end.
70. The inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination had been furthered when the General Assembly had voted to confer on Palestine the status of non-member observer State in 2012. In light of that development and of the fact that continuing Israeli settlement in Palestinian territory — reflecting a deliberate policy of creeping annexation that had been discernible for some time — was at least partially irreversible, it would be misleading to continue to speak of the Occupied Palestinian Territory as if the belligerent occupation were temporary. Israel’s persistent violations of its obligations as an occupying Power under international human rights and humanitarian law had been repeatedly specified in United Nations resolutions. In that regard, the international community and the United Nations in particular bore a heavy responsibility for safeguarding human rights, including the territorial rights of the Palestinian people, by ensuring that Israel fully respected those obligations.
71. In approaching his mandate, he had quickly come to the conclusion that the voice of the United Nations could no longer be taken seriously if not implemented through action as well as expressed in word. In that spirit, his report set forth a model for legal analysis of potential ways of holding accountable international corporations that profited from their dealings with illegal Israeli settlements for contributing to violations of international law, in particular, international criminal law. The analysis was informed by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and also took note of such self-regulating mechanisms as the United Nations Global Compact. The two case studies cited were presented in the hope that the companies would bring their activities in line with international law and that their examples would prompt other corporations with similar activities in the settlements to review their operations there from the perspective of international law. The report also noted that the duty to protect included an obligation on States to protect against human rights abuses by private actors, such as companies.
72. The first case study related to the Dexia Group, a European banking group, and considered whether such activities as loans benefiting settlements granted by Dexia Israel, as a subsidiary, could be imputed to the Dexia Group. It determined that there was a strong case for doing so, given the relationship between the Group and its subsidiary. The analysis went on to explore the possible international criminal responsibilities of individuals in the Dexia Group for the activities of Dexia Israel. While he acknowledged that Dexia Israel was not a retail bank, the general analysis stood in respect to the type of banking activities that contributed to illegal settlements, including the granting of loans. The analysis also considered the obligations of France and Belgium, as part-owners of the Dexia Group, to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law.
73. The second case study concerned the privately-held Re/Max International, a real estate company based in the United States, with an Israeli franchise. The activities in question were the promotion, advertising and sale of properties in unlawful Israeli settlements. Those activities supported the argument that Re/Max contributed to the transfer of citizens of the occupying Power into the occupied territory, with adverse human rights consequences for Palestinians. While the analysis was intended to offer a preliminary assessment of the legal plausibility of the cases, there were sufficient grounds to conclude that such institutions might be held accountable for their involvement with settlements in occupied Palestine.
74. The report also reiterated his concerns regarding water and sanitation. Owing to Israel’s near-exclusive control over all water resources in Palestine, many Gazan families, struggling at or below subsistence levels, were forced to purchase clean water from external sources. The Israeli blockade and the lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, destroyed during Israeli military operations, exacerbated the water scarcity. Furthermore, recent developments in Egypt had complicated an already difficult situation in the Gaza Strip, which was nearing catastrophic proportions. It was the responsibility of the Organization, in its role as the protector of acutely vulnerable people, to take seriously the situation in Gaza before a humanitarian catastrophe of great magnitude unfolded.
75. In the West Bank, the restrictions on access to water for Palestinians had led to a severely disproportionate higher rate of access to water by a far smaller number of Israeli settlers. The ability of the Palestinians to improve the existing water and sanitation infrastructure was controlled by the Joint Water Committee, in which Israel could veto any proposal. The Committee’s past record of approvals for wells and wastewater facilities suggested that their decisions were deeply skewed in favour of settlements and deprived Palestinians of their fair share of water and right to develop that infrastructure. It was therefore crucial that the international community assist with meeting immediate water and sanitation needs and pressure Israel to end discriminatory policies and practices that induced a water and sanitation crisis in occupied Palestine.
76. If current diplomacy failed to resolve the conflict, the General Assembly should request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice as to the legal consequences of a prolonged occupation of Palestine, which should be viewed as a de facto annexation. Israel should cease the creation and expansion of settlements, return settlers to the Israeli side of the Green Line and provide reparations to Palestinians affected by settlement-related activities since 1967. Israel should also inform national franchises and subsidiaries of global companies of their corporate responsibilities and potential liability in overseas courts for corporate complicity in violations of international law. Furthermore, all companies with relations to settlements comparable to those used as case studies in his report should review their arrangements to ensure respect for international law and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Belgium and France should compensate Palestinians negatively affected by Dexia Israel’s involvement with settlements. Lastly, Israel should immediately end its unlawful discriminatory policies with regard to water resources.
77. Ms. Rasheed (Observer for the State of Palestine) said that her delegation and the Palestinian people as a whole appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s tireless efforts to relay to the international community an accurate account of the myriad of human rights violations in the occupied State of Palestine. Despite being denied entry into Palestine, in violation of Israel’s obligation to cooperate with the Organization, he had carried out his mandate in a commendable manner. The Special Rapporteur’s reports on the corporate responsibility of companies and States involved in commercial activity with the settlements had placed attention on an issue that had been previously neglected at the United Nations. Moreover, some companies had taken his recommendations and changed their policies, ending their commercial relationships with the settlements, a positive development. Her delegation wondered whether the Special Rapporteur had received any additional feedback or correspondence from any of the companies, beyond that mentioned in the report. She would also like to know what the Special Rapporteur’s successor must do to keep the focus on that topic and how the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council could exert pressure on the more than 500 companies which currently had commercial relationships with settlements and the Governments which were shareholders in those companies.
78. Ms. Pérez Álvarez (Cuba) said that her delegation would welcome more information on additional or new actions that human rights organs and mechanisms could take to persuade the occupying Power to fulfil its obligations under international law, in the light of the Special Rapporteur’s dismay that the United Nations had not done more to induce Member States to fulfil those obligations.
79. Mr. El Hacen (Mauritania) said that his delegation would welcome more firsthand information from the Special Rapporteur, who had been able to visit Palestine only once because of the Israeli authorities’ non-cooperation, on the extent to which the Gaza Strip had become, as was often reported, a large prison as a result of the embargo imposed on it. He also wondered what was preventing the United Nations from implementing its resolutions and thus transforming its words into actions.
80. Mr. Storaci (Observer for the European Union) said that his delegation welcomed the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine and urged all parties to refrain from actions that could undermine the prospects for peace. The European Union would continue to act in accordance with its well-known principles, international law and international humanitarian law. The construction of settlements and the separation barrier on occupied land, the demolition of homes and evictions were illegal under international law and threatened to make a two-State solution impossible. The way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both States. Upholding their commitment to existing European Union legislation and the bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products, the European Union and its member States did not support calls for a boycott, divestment and sanctions in relation to the businesses studied in the Special Rapporteur’s report. As a strong supporter of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the European Union believed those guidelines should be applied globally.
81. Ms. Sukacheva (Russian Federation) said that her delegation supported efforts to study the human rights situation in Palestine and make effective recommendations to improve it. The Russian Federation condemned the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. A settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would only be possible if Israel ceased to commit its acts of provocation. Her delegation agreed with the Special Rapporteur that construction companies carrying out activities on Palestinian territory must comply with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
82. Mr. Meyer (Norway) said that Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank violated international law and threatened the basis for a two-State solution. His delegation called on Israel to ensure that persons in its custody were fully protected from all forms of inhuman treatment, in accordance with its responsibilities, and that Israeli settlers did not harass and intimidate Palestinians with impunity. The human rights violations in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities were also cause for great concern, with the killing of women in the name of family honour increasing in Palestine in recent years and the Palestinian Authority failing to protect women at risk. Norway condemned the use of the death penalty in Gaza and had raised the issue on several occasions with the de facto authority. His Government called on all parties to respect their human rights obligations and take confidence-building measures in support of the peace process.
83. Ms. Alsaleh (Syrian Arab Republic) expressed appreciation for the Special Rapporteur’s courageous and committed conduct of his difficult mandate in an era marked by politicization and double standards in human rights-related issues where the agendas of certain States were concerned, particularly when it came to protecting Israel’s exemption from human rights law. Her delegation called on those States supporting Israel’s flagrant violations of the rights of the Palestinian people and the companies that financed the construction of illegal settlements in Palestine, in particular Belgium, France and the United States, to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and to halt the spread of the culture of impunity in Israel, with the Zionist entity continuing to commit crimes tantamount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to the reports from the fact-finding commissions. She enquired about the likelihood, in the Special Rapporteur’s view, of the implementation of any of his current recommendations and wondered whether he had ever heard of the United Nations applying a single one of the recommendations contained in earlier reports.
84. Ms. Al Dosari (Qatar) said that she welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s analysis of the legal and rights-related responsibilities of the private sector in occupied Palestine as a valuable contribution to raising international awareness of the continuing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people. Her delegation would like to know whether the Special Rapporteur had information on the extent of the activities of foreign companies in that area, including the number of companies. Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to water constituted a violation of a fundamental human right and also endangered the Palestinian people’s right to development on its own land, posing a real threat to a sustainable resolution of the Palestinian issue.
85. Ms. Almeida Watanabe Patriota (Brazil) said that the findings of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Gaza, particularly with regard to food security, were alarming. The disproportionate use of force and the destruction of infrastructure were highly objectionable, as was the growing number of persons held under administrative detention by Israel. Several Palestinians continued to resort to hunger strikes as a form of peaceful protest to encourage Israel to engage in dialogue with protestors.
86. Brazil called on Israel to refrain from all settlement activities in the occupied territories in fulfilment of its international legal obligations, not as a concession to be made in negotiations, and to protect the Palestinian population in those territories, particularly in East Jerusalem, from any form of discrimination, including with regard to access to water and other resources. Israel must also accept and comply with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. She commended the Special Rapporteur for his excellent work.
87. Ms. Tsheole (South Africa) said that her delegation concurred on the need for Israel to cease the expansion of settlements and to expedite a return to the 1967 borders, lest it undermine the two-State solution and threaten the viability of a Palestinian State. South Africa called on the international community to encourage the path of negotiation over that of conflict and remained committed to a just and lasting resolution.
88. Ms. Abubakar (Libya) said that her delegation welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, which reflected the reality of the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. The continued construction and expansion of settlements by Israel, preventing the Palestinian people’s exercise of its right of self-determination and of sovereignty over its natural resources, constituted a violation of international law, international humanitarian law and of Israel’s obligations as occupying Power. Libya called on the United Nations to assume its responsibilities vis-à-vis the Palestinian people in order to end its suffering and realize its right to self-determination and sovereignty over its territory. Her country welcomed the General Assembly’s decision to grant non-member observer State status to the State of Palestine and looked forward to welcoming it as a full-fledged member of the United Nations soon.
89. Mr. Eshragh Jahromi (Islamic Republic of Iran) said that his delegation welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s impartial and informative report, which attested to the structural violence that continued to be perpetrated against the innocent Palestinian people. The concept of apartheid hardly began to describe the institutionalized aggression faced by the Palestinians. The Israeli regime’s settlement campaign had reached a seven-year high in the first half of 2013 alone, underscoring the occupying Power’s unwillingness to respect international law. His country fully supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and appreciated his tireless and honest work throughout his tenure.
90. Mr. Sareer (Maldives) said that his Government had great hopes for the recently revived peace process. Unfortunately, abuses on the ground continued. The Special Rapporteur’s report highlighted a new facet of international complicity in inflicting abuse upon the people of Palestine through business activities, with many reputable companies in effect facilitating the wilful destruction of Palestinian property. Given the legal difficulty of imposing an embargo, as proposed by the Special Rapporteur, on all business ventures dealing with settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, ranging from foreign investment to the mere sale of a product, he enquired what potential such a strategy had to succeed?
91. Mr. Awal (Indonesia) said that his delegation condemned the violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people, including the prolonged detention of thousands of Palestinians, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which had worsened, and the deplorable humanitarian conditions in which the population lived. Those policies and the continued construction of illegal settlements, despite the recent resumption of direct negotiations with the Palestinians, suggested that Israel had little interest in resolving the conflict or acknowledging the authority of the United Nations and constituted the most formidable obstacle to the prospect of a two-State solution.
92. Indonesia welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s conclusion that companies, individuals and groups must also observe international law with regard to their activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and that parties that rendered assistance in the construction of settlements were also implicated in violating international law. Israeli occupation interfered with Palestinian national development plans and paralysed efforts to make any significant economic or social changes. His Government fully supported the two-State solution as the means of achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
93. Mr. Masood Khan (Pakistan) said that the courageous voice of the Special Rapporteur must not be hushed or ignored. Pakistan shared his grave concern for the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and agreed that all stakeholders risked losing their credibility if they remained unable to match their words with actions in protecting the rights of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian cause, as the longest-standing and most glaring issue on the United Nations agenda, must be addressed before the Committee’s concern for the range of human rights discussed at the session could be taken seriously.
94. Mr. Falk (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) expressed gratitude for the widespread support for the notion that the continued expansion and, indeed, the mere existence of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine was both an affront to international law and a challenge to the United Nations. As it was the Organization’s partition solution that had posed the problem of Palestine in the first place, it had a special responsibility to the people of Palestine, who had been allowed to languish in refugee camps, live under occupation with no rights and lose their land and resources for decades. That debacle constituted one of the cruellest failures of international law to uphold fundamental rights.
95. The near-catastrophic situation in Gaza must be addressed in a manner that went beyond words. In that context, the emphasis on corporate responsibility in his report was a step towards demonstrating that his mandate took the Palestinian people’s suffering seriously and sought to enforce the will of the international community and act in solidarity with civil society, which regarded the situation in Palestine as one of the great injustices of the day. The issue of the protection of the Palestinian people had become a challenge to the responsibility of all Governments, one that they must rise to by affirming international law as a guide that could no longer be ignored. One way of not ignoring it was by implementing it through tangible actions.