Press Release

13 March 1997


GENEVA, 11 March (UN Information Service) -- A special rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights this afternoon said there were still "serious human rights concerns" in the Middle East as a result of Israel's occupation of Arab territories.

The charges by the investigator, Hannu Halinen of Finland, were echoed by Nabil Ramlawi, observer for Palestine, who decried torture of Palestinians by Israeli authorities and expanded settlements on occupied Arab territories. The representative of Syria, as well as the representative of the League of Arab States, also condemned Israeli violations of human rights.

But a spokesman for the World Jewish Congress, a non-governmental organization, protested the singling out of Israel for criticism and called the Special Rapporteur's report "one-sided and deeply flawed" for ignoring abuses by the Palestinian Authority.

The remarks came as the Commission took up a discussion of the human rights situation in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. At the start of the afternoon session, the Commission also heard statements on the organization of its work, an agenda item opened this morning.

Also speaking on the question of human rights in the territories occupied by Israel were the representatives of the Netherlands, on behalf of the European Union, and Swaziland. Israel exercised its right of reply. The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor on that issue: Amnesty International and the International Federation of Human Rights.

On the question of the organization of the Commission's work, statements were made by the representatives of Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Canada, El Salvador, Netherlands and Colombia. The Latin American Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, a non-governmental organization, also made a statement.

Violation of Human Rights in Occupied Arab Territories

As the Commission took up the question of the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, it had before it the report of Special Rapporteur Hannu Halinen (document E/CN.4/1997/16). The report states that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority showed concern and made efforts to advance human rights. There have been steps taken in the right direction, like the release of prisoners and the advancement of the Palestinian economy. Israel should not be criticized in international forums, rather awareness about the human rights situation should be encouraged within that country. And the international community should gently convince Israel that cooperation with the United Nations is in its best interest.

According to the document, the Special Rapporteur accepted Israeli promises that it will fully cooperate with him. He expresses concern, however, over reports of practices amounting to torture during interrogation by Israeli security officials. He said all allegations of torture should be investigated by independent judicial bodies. The Committee against Torture recommended an immediate end to current interrogation practices. He called on Israel to bring to trial or release "large numbers" of persons in administrative detention, some held for years.

The Special Rapporteur also notes that Israeli settlements on occupied Arab territories contradict the Geneva Conventions and urges that no new settlements should be built and no existing ones expanded. He urges Israel to stop closure of occupied territories and other indiscriminate measures which it said amounted to collective punishment. He also commends the Palestinian Authority for upholding human rights, although it was not legally responsible as long as the occupation continued. That cooperation meant that human rights concerns related to actions by the Palestinian Authority -- torture, administrative detention and restrictions on the freedom of press and opinion -- could be resolved.

The report calls for the full implementation of the Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, which could end human rights concerns. It also calls on the Commission not to repeat old human rights accusations, but rather to work on resolving them "in a constructive and forward-looking manner".

Under this item, the Commission also has before it a report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.4/1997/13) on human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan. The document indicates that the Secretary-General brought the resolution on the subject adopted at the fifty-second session of the Commission (1996/2) to the attention of all governments, as well as to all concerned specialized agencies. The Department of Public Information (DPI) also continued to provide coverage of all meetings of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

According to another report (document E/CN.4/1997/14), the Secretary-General brought to the attention of all governments, as well as to all concerned specialized agencies, resolution 1996/3 adopted by the fifty-second session and titled, "Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine". No reply had been received from Israel at the time of the preparation of the report.

Also among the documents before members are: a note by the Secretary-General (document E/CN.4/1997/15) listing reports issued by the United Nations since the closure of the fifty-second session on investigating Israeli practices affecting human rights of Palestinian people in the occupied territories; a letter (document E/CN.4/1997/107) dated 6 December 1996 from the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, condemning the Israeli High Court's decision legitimizing the use of physical violence during interrogation of Palestinian detainees; a note verbale (document E/CN.4/1997/109) dated 3 December 1996 from the Permanent Mission of the League of Arab States to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the High Commissioner for Human Rights/Centre for Human Rights, condemning Israel's sealing of Arab territories, among other practices; and a letter (document E/CN.4/1997/116) dated 20 February 1997 from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva explaining the decision by the Supreme Court of Israel to allow the use of physical pressure during interrogation of a detainee.

Statements in Debate

Introducing his report, Special Rapporteur HANNU HALINEN said human rights could not be set aside to await the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Some serious human rights concerns still prevailed in the area, most of them caused by the foreign occupation of the Palestinian territories. Settlements, closures, prisoners and detainees -- and their treatment -- were some of those concerns. The Commission should focus on finding remedies for those problems. What was needed was effective, concerted action by the relevant parties, bilaterally, regionally and globally, in order to focus on human rights in the context of the peace process in the Middle East.

NABIL RAMLAWI, observer for Palestine, thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report, which he said highlighted the great suffering of the Palestinians and the grave deterioration of the human rights situation in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Indeed, the deterioration of the human rights situation in those territories had come as a result of the occupation. The occupation had to end for the situation of human rights to improve. The settlement by citizens of an occupying State in the occupied territories "is a grave violation of the principles and norms of international law". The settlements were a violation of self-determination because they in effect sought to usurp Palestinian territories. Those settlements were also a violation of agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the previous Israeli Government.

The Palestinian observer said that, while torture existed in countries around the word, only in Israel was it legal, according to an Israeli Supreme Court decision permitting the use of torture and physical pressure during interrogation of Palestinian prisoners. Other Israeli violations included the destruction of houses, the uprooting of fruit trees and the closure of Palestinian territories. Israel had also carried out deliberate killings of Palestinians. Those practices could destroy the peace process and cause the region to relapse into war and bloodshed.

TAHER AL-HUSSAMI (Syria) said systematic and sustained violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Syrians had started 30 years ago, when Israel occupied the Syrian Golan. Foreign occupation in itself constituted a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the population suffering under its yoke. Occupation practices were even more likely to be flagrant, vicious and grave when the occupation was combined with colonization. The Israeli colonial occupation authorities had progressively tightened their grip on the population of the Golan through a series of measures designed to "Judaize" and annex the territory.

He said the reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories confirmed Israeli measures of repression, terrorism, detention, imprisonment and isolation. The human rights of the Arab citizens of the occupied Arab territories could only be guaranteed by the end of the Israeli occupation, which was also the only way to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region. Syria, for its part, remained committed to the peace process, in accordance with the Madrid principles.

TALAL FARHAN SHUBAILAT, of the League of Arab States, said Arab States had entered into peace talks with Israel based on the Madrid principles at the end of 1991. Despite Israeli procrastination in honouring the agreements undertaken, there had been some progress towards peace. The current Israeli Government said it wanted peace, but would not commit itself to what peace demanded. But more dangerous were the measures taken by Israel in the occupied Arab territories; those measures violated the rights of the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Israel was making a serious mistake if it thought it could get peace without the Palestinian people achieving their legitimate right of self-determination and an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital, and without Israel's withdrawal from the Syrian Golan and southern Lebanon.

MOSES M. DLAMINI (Swaziland) said all countries concerned in the Middle East should be persuaded to honour to the letter all the agreements concluded from 1991 to 1995. The violation of sovereignty occurred not only when unlawful occupation took place, but also when peaceful coexistence and development were impeded. The present Government of Israel should endeavour to stick to its agreements and negotiate, rather than resort to war.

The representative also called on the Commission to widen its study of human rights violations in the African continent, which was flooded with weapons by some countries. Those weapons served to maim women, children and the elderly.

PETER VAN WULFFTEN PALTHE (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the protocol concerning the redeployment in Hebron marked an important breakthrough in spite of bloody episodes of violence and terror. He deplored that, in the name of security and public order considerations, incidents of torture and other serious human rights abuses in the region had occurred. Those included incidents of unlawful imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment of detainees by Israel. The European Union was also concerned about reports that indicated a worrying increase in human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority. Those ranged from arbitrary political arrests and prolonged detention without charge or trial to the widespread use of torture and unlawful killings.

The continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, as well as the confiscation of Palestinian property, were major concerns of the Union, he continued. They contravened the agreements concluded within the framework of the peace process and, hence, constituted a major obstacle to peace. A total halt to work linked to the settlements was indispensable to restoring confidence in the peace process. The Union was concerned about the increasing problems Palestinian residents of Jerusalem faced as a result of measures taken by the Israeli Government and judiciary. The repeated closure by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza and the restrictions on freedom of movement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, constituted impediments to the stability and development of those areas. The blockade of the territories had had harmful consequences for the Palestinian people and for the Middle East peace process.

The European Union remained committed to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, he added. It would use all its political and moral weight to ensure that all the provisions in the agreements already reached were fully implemented by both sides in a timely fashion. The appointment of a Union Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process had met with a positive response. The European Commission and the Union's member States had also committed themselves to the socio-economic development of the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

MORRIS B. ABRAM, of the World Jewish Congress, said that while the agenda focused three days on Israeli practices, it devoted only five days to grave human rights violations around the world under its item 10. Israel was also included alongside Rwanda, East Timor and the former Yugoslavia in this item. The Commission's concentration on Israel stole time away from other human rights situations in places too horrible and numerous to mention but known to all. Furthermore, the extraordinary mandate of the Special Rapporteur constituted irrefutable evidence of the unequal treatment of Israel. His mandate should be amended to investigate the human rights situation of the 98 per cent of the Palestinian population under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. The Special Rapporteur had ignored abuses by the Authority, which made his report "a one-sided, deeply flawed document".

AZIZ SIDDIQUI, of the International Federation of Human Rights, said the violent clashes which erupted in September 1996 between Israeli armed forces and Palestinians had resulted in the death of 64 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers, and in the wounding of an estimated 1,600 Palestinians. The situation in the occupied territories remained tense. The main causes of the clashes -- including Israel's imposition of closures, its activities in Jerusalem, the expansion of settlements and the presence of Israeli troops in the Palestinian territories -- not only remained unresolved, but were becoming worse due to Israel's ongoing actions. Freedom of movement was more restricted than ever. Meanwhile, the 1996 total closures had devastated the economies of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

FIONA McELREE, of Amnesty International, accused Israel of effectively legalizing torture. Israel, in response to those accusations, said ill-treatment did not constitute torture. Amnesty International had noted the case of a Palestinian who died from violent shakes administered by Israeli authorities. Israel said its detainees were under constant medical supervision. But those health professionals were part of a system which tortured detainees. Israel said that those subjected to physical force were terrorists, but civilians were deliberately and arbitrarily killed in Israel and the occupied territories by armed groups. International acquiescence in the face of Israel's effective legalization of torture undermined international human rights established by the United Nations over the past 50 years.

Organization of Work

As it discusses the organization of the work of this session, the Commission has before it a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding Colombia (document E/CN.4/1997/11). The report recalls that in a Statement by its Chairman, the fifty-second session had requested the High Commissioner to establish an office in Colombia to assist the authorities in developing policies and programmes for the promotion and protection of human rights. The report indicates that the High Commissioner estimates that the office will open by mid-March, following an agreement reached with the Government in November 1996.

Statements in Debate

TADEOUS T. CHIFAMBA (Zimbabwe) said he hoped this session of the Commission would break away from the past, when the polarization of views had led to confrontational debates. The draft resolution contained in document E/CN.4/1996/L.2 would go a long way to facilitate transparency and ensure that all the decisions and resolutions finally adopted were an embodiment of the widest range of views of the Commission.

ROSS HYNES (Canada) said his delegation welcomed possible ways of advancing reforms of working methods and of the manner the Commission made decisions. Likewise, Canada was committed to developing and strengthening United Nations mechanisms related to human rights and to obtaining clear consensus on such methods. Translating those mechanisms to real world, real life situations was also important. Canada strongly believed that the Commission should not escape its responsibilities to act where human rights violations occurred. While it adhered to the principle of seeking consensus on all issues, Canada believed no formal decision should be made regarding decision-making processes, as that might lead to inflexibility. Furthermore, Canada shared the views expressed this morning by the Netherlands and Germany relating to the rights of others to express their opinions, and appealed that distinguished guests should be shown respect.

ALEXANDER A. KRAVETZ (El Salvador) said the Commission should seek to obtain consensus, try to start work on time, focus its activities and be brief.

Mr. VAN WULFFTEN PALTHE (Netherlands) said it was unfortunate that, among the large number of countries that had discussed document E/CN.4/1996/L.2 this morning, none of the draft's co-sponsors had invited other countries to participate in discussions on decision-making processes and, in particular, consensus. He considered the majority vote as democratic and that the draft contained in the above document was a political statement.

JIGMI Y. THINLEY (Bhutan) said the Commission had, regrettably, become a place where polarization had become glaringly visible. Many delegations were particularly disconcerted over the clear preference for confrontation in the way the Commission conducted its business. What was needed were corrective measures undertaken with sincerity to make the environment in the Commission more conducive to cooperation and harmonious endeavours. The Commission should adopt "friendly and effective persuasion", instead of coercion.

GUSTAVO CASTRO (Colombia) said that following negotiations in 1995 and 1996 between the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of Colombia, an office in Bogota was now at the disposal of the High Commissioner. Colombia hoped experts could be sent to the country to analyse the existing human rights situation. He recognized that human rights violations were serious and that the United Nations human rights office in Bogota represents a form of international cooperation, effective dialogue and intervention.

LOURDES CASTRO, of the Latin American Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, called for the prompt establishment of the United Nations human rights office in Colombia. More significant support needed to be given to that initiative by the international community. The situation in Colombia had deteriorated: there were now some 300,000 victims, while around 180,000 people had been displaced. The Association's main objective was to strengthen the office now -- any further delay, bureaucratic or political, might have serious consequences. The group hoped to be able to present a report on the human rights situation in Colombia at the next session of the Commission in 1998.

Right of Reply

YOSEF LAMDAN (Israel), in response to a statement by the observer for Palestine, said it was completely false to state that Israel had injected the HIV/AIDS virus into 300 young Palestinians during the intifadah. One could measure the quality of that speaker's statement by his lie.

The observer for Palestine said the Israeli press had reported the information he had referred to. He noted that the Israeli representative had not spoken of the other violations mentioned by the observer for Palestine.

The representative of Israel replied that it was a lie to affirm that such a calumny had appeared in an Israeli newspaper.

The observer for Palestine said the Commission should check all allegations of violations of human rights in the occupied territories. The injection of the HIV/AIDS virus by the Israeli army into 300 Palestinian youths during the intifadah constituted a heinous violation of human rights.

LI BAODONG (China), exercising his right of reply, said that this morning the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden had said her country sought to avoid confrontation in the field of human rights. However, she had launched an attack against China and provoked confrontation. That practice could only be detrimental to the normal course of human rights. Yesterday, the Commission had heard the High Commissioner and a number of countries call for equality and mutual respect to be used to promote human rights. In order for respect to be given, it needed to be reciprocated.

IAN MOLANDER (Sweden) said the distinguished speaker from Sweden had this morning addressed the entire agenda, and particularly agenda item 10. Freedom of speech was a fundamental human right that should be upheld in the room.

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