Question of Palestine home
Economic and Social Council
23 April 1998
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
SUMMARY RECORD OF THE 8th MEETING
Held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva,
on Thursday, 19 March 1998, at 3 p.m.
Chairman: Mr. CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh)
later: Mr. SELEBI (South Africa)
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE (continued)
THE RIGHT OF PEOPLES TO SELFDETERMINATION AND ITS APPLICATION TO PEOPLES UNDER COLONIAL OR ALIEN DOMINATION OR FOREIGN OCCUPATION (continued)
In the absence of Mr. Selebi (South Africa), Mr. Chowdhury (Bangladesh), ViceChairman, took the Chair.
The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m.
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES, INCLUDING PALESTINE, (agenda item 4) (continued) (E/CN.4/1998/4 and Corr.1; E/CN.4/1998/7, 8, 17, 18, 19, 20, 112, 116, 124, 125, 128, 133, 134, 136, 137, 141; E/CN.4/1998/NGO/61)
THE RIGHT OF PEOPLES TO SELFDETERMINATION AND ITS APPLICATION TO PEOPLES UNDER COLONIAL OR ALIEN DOMINATION OR FOREIGN OCCUPATION (agenda item 7) (continued) (E/CN.4/1998/30, 31, 125; E/CN.4/1998/NGO/30)
(Canada) expressed regret that, since the signing of the agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, there had been no progress in the Middle East peace process and the human rights situation in the occupied Arab territories had not improved. The Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had visited the area in November 1997, had been struck by the difficult living conditions of people in refugee camps. In order to improve those conditions, Canada had announced in March 1998 a grant of $4 million to a World Bank reconstruction programme in the West Bank and Gaza. Canada was also endeavouring to ease and extend family reunification and to help towards a viable and comprehensive solution to the refugee problem. Human rights, sound government and democratic development were major themes of Canada's development cooperation programme in the occupied territories. It was working in particular with Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations.
18.18. His delegation was still seriously concerned about Israeli practices in the occupied territories and was opposed to any unilateral action intended to predetermine the outcome of negotiations, including the establishment of settlements in the territories and unilateral moves to annex East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The designation of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as “resident aliens” and the withdrawal of their identity cards were contrary to international humanitarian law and to Israel's obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The search for peace was further complicated by regular housing demolitions, as also by the closing of the occupied territories and the restrictions placed on travel between Palestinian areas, which had been a major cause of economic stagnation in the West Bank and Gaza. At the end of 1997 there had been 382 Palestinians held under an administrative detention order, of whom 138 had been detained for over a year and 40 had been children aged under 16 years. The application of “moderate physical pressure” as a method of interrogation was unacceptable, even if it had been approved by the Israeli Government and Supreme Court. Canada called upon Israel to renounce that practice, which had been condemned by the United Nations Committee against Torture.
19. Canada noted too that, despite some positive signs, such as the permission given for regular visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the commitment to prosecuting security officials suspected of violating the law, and the respect accorded to religious minorities, the human rights record of the Palestinian authority remained a matter for concern. Arbitrary arrests, torture, deaths in detention and secret and summary trials were in conflict with the international norms that the authority had pledged itself to observe. Canada was ready to help in developing democratic institutions and to that end hoped to welcome in April 1998 a delegation from the Palestinian Legislative Council.
20. Finally, his delegation regretted that the Israeli authorities had not seen fit to give full collaboration to the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and hoped that the Commission would take account of the Special Rapporteur's observations on his mandate and on the method of examination of that question by the Commission.
(Malaysia) concurred with the assessment in the report (E/CN.4/1997/17) of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Halinen, to the effect that the human rights situation in the occupied territories remained disturbin g. The essential problem was the Israeli occupation of the Arab territories, which was illegal, constituted a grave violation of the right to selfdetermination, and entailed many consequences. For the maintenance of internal “peace”, grave violations of human rights were tolerated to the point of becoming systemic. Furthermore, occupation had led to the virtual dismantling of the social infrastructure, and the closure of the territories, in particular, was affecting the family structure. Above all, the occupation had extinguished hope, in particular among the children.
22.22. The year 1998 was that of the fiftieth anniversary not only of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also of the Palestinian tragedy, as well as the tenth anniversary of the intifada and the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Principles on Interim SelfGovernment Arrangements. That Declaration, in the view of his delegation, had not received the level of attention that it deserved. It had represented a historic turning point in the ArabIsraeli conflict and provided an honourable framework for negotiation which had made possible the signing of the Hebron Protocol. Deploring the unilateral formulation of new conditions for the peace negotiations by the Netanyahu Government, which thus again called in question all the agreements concluded, his delegation urged that Government to respect the commitments it had undertaken.
23. His delegation strongly felt that, in view of the historical responsibility that the United Nations bore towards the Palestinian people, since it had been the Organization which had adopted resolution 181 partitioning Palestine, as President Arafat had recently pointed out, item 4 of the agenda should continue to have priority for annual consideration by the Commission. In conclusion, he urged the Israeli authorities to extend their full cooperation to the Special Rapporteur and to provide information on the implementation of the relevant resolutions of the Commission.
(Pakistan), taking the floor on item 4, observed that the serious human rights violations that were still being committed in the occupied Arab territories were bound to undermine the Middle East peace process. He was convinced that there could be no lasting peace in the region without a peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, which meant that the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people must be protected and Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories. All attempts to alter the legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem must be rejected. Any measures that postponed the application of the agreements concluded, circumscribed the basic rights of the Palestinian people and aggravated the oppression in the occupied territories could not but adversely affect the peace process.
28. He hoped that the Israeli Government would concede to the realities on the ground and apply itself to solving all pending issues with the Palestinian national authority. Finally, he appealed to the international community to provide emergency assistance to the Palestinian people and demonstrate its solidarity through the intermediary of the Commission.
(Senegal) said that the current situation was marked by nearparalysis of the Middle East peace process and rising tension in the occupied Arab territories. Faced with those difficulties, the Commission must continue to encourage and consolidate the peace process through actions and attitudes calculated to inspire confidence among the Arab, Israeli and Palestinian populations. The Commission should, in particular, put out an appeal to the cosponsors of the peace process and to the international community at large to undertake the most appropriate actions in order to save the peace process.
30. His delegation considered that the protagonists themselves should demonstrate their will to resume the peace negotiations. For that it was imperative that unilateral measures, in particular those in pursuance of the Israeli policy of occupation of lands and forced settlement, should cease. It would be useful, also, for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to continue in regard to security, in order to step up the fight against terrorism and extremism of whatever leaning. Any damage to the credibility of the Palestinian authority must at all costs be avoided, for it represented the supreme embodiment of the peace process. Economic development of the Palestinian territories was also essential if peace was to be viable, for it was important that the living conditions of the Palestinian populations should be improved, particularly in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Finally, he saw an urgent need for greater involvement of the United Nations in the peace process in view not only of its historical responsibility in the handling of the Palestinian question and the role it played in providing education and information for the populations, but also of its activities in coordinating and intensifying assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.
31. In conclusion, his delegation considered it essential that the situation in regard to observance of human rights should rapidly improve in the occupied territories, that the problems posed by the spread of settlements should be solved, that the prisoners still held should be better treated, that housing demolitions should cease and that the practise of collective punishments should be relinquished. Senegal, which presided over the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, would for its part do everything in its power to facilitate the establishment of peace in the Middle East.
Mr. XIE Bohua
34. His delegation appreciated the efforts made by the parties involved in the Middle East peace process to overcome the obstacles to the reopening of negotiations with due regard for the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and the agreements concluded. It was essential to arrive at a fair and comprehensive settlement of the Palestine question in order to bring peace and stability to the region.
(Indonesia) said that her country, which had been subjected to colonial domination for more than three centuries, placed very high value on the right to selfdetermination, which was the most important collective right. That was why Indonesia had always supported the just struggle of the Palestinian people to exercise that right and establish a sovereign state on their own territory. Respect for that principle was the necessary precondition for bringing peace and stability to the region and securing the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. In that context, Indonesia reaffirmed its support for the Middle East peace process and the implementation of all the agreements signed between the parties concerned, together with the commitments made in pursuance of the decisions of the Madrid Peace Conference and the various United Nations resolutions on the question, in particular Security Council resolutions
, and of the “land for peace” principle, conditions which demanded Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied Palestinian territories, including AlQuds Al Sharif, occupied Syrian Golan and the occupied Lebanese territory, and the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
(Observer for Norway) noted that, in spite of the substantial assistance provided by the international community over recent years, living conditions in the occupied territories, particularly the Gaza Strip, were continuing to deteriorate, which showed that international aid must be coupled with the search for a political settlement by the parties to the conflict. The ultimate goal of the Middle East peace process was to establish democratic civil societies, living side by side in peace and security, whose members could exercise their right to selfdetermination. Violations of the letter and spirit of the peace agreements had often entailed serious human rights violations, which showed that any actions inimical to the implementation of the peace process were also obstacles to the effective exercise of human rights.
39. Norway urged the parties to refrain from any unilateral measures that would obstruct the “final status” negotiations, to safeguard both the letter and the spirit of the Oslo Agreements, and to intensify dialogue and cooperation between them in order to reactivate the peace process. It was their political and moral obligation to do so and thereby ensure a better future for their peoples. Norway for its part remained ready to help the parties move the peace process forward and improve the human rights situation in the countries concerned, in close cooperation with the international community and the United Nations.
(Observer for Yemen) noted that for years the Commission had been condemning the human rights violations committed by the Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories, Syrian Arab Golan and southern Lebanon, and that innumerable resolutions to that effect had been adopted by the Security Council and General Assembly. In the latest of those, resolution
, adopted at its tenth extraordinary session on 13 November 1997, the General Assembly had recommended that the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention should convene a conference on measures to be taken to enforce the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. But Israel continued to disregard it and was pursuing its policy of occupation associated with numerous highhanded actions, such as confiscation of lands, forcible expulsions and creation of settlements to alter the demographic composition of the territories, including Jerusalem, detention of Palestinians without trial and legal resort to torture during interrogations and at Israeli detention centres, which were recounted in full in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (
), as also in the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (
) or in the annual report for 1997 of Amnesty International.
41. It was evident that Israel was applying a systematic policy of apartheid in Palestine and the Commission should therefore look into the underlying reasons for that policy and give the question priority in its agenda. It was imperative that Israel should be prevailed upon to apply strictly all the rules of international law. In conclusion, he thanked the Commission and Mrs. Robinson for their action on behalf of the Palestinian people.
(Observer for the Islamic Republic of Iran) said that the list of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by Israel in the occupied territories was far too long for them all to be cited. They were in any case only the tip of the iceberg, for Israel had done and would continue to do everything it could to deprive the Palestinian people of their legitimate right to selfdetermination and all their other rights. The very name of Israel in fact evoked occupation, repression and violation of human rights. The impunity that Israel had enjoyed for many years despite all its crimes was, moreover, proof of the selectivity and subjectivity displayed by certain countries. If, as they claimed, they were concerned for human rights, those countries should sponsor a draft resolution on the violations committed by Israel in the occupied territories. By remaining silent, they had encouraged Israel to continue its inhuman practices, extending to the legalization of torture in flagrant violation of the international human rights instruments, in particular the United Nations Convention against Torture, and had induced the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories not to report all the infringements recorded so as to avoid any possible accusation of bias.
43. It was nonetheless clear that one could not and should not trust Israel, which, in defiance of all the basic international standards and signed agreements, was continuing its policy of occupation, the root cause of all the human rights violations perpetrated. It was imperative that all the Islamic countries should unite their political and economic potential so as to put an end to Israel's crimes if they were to obviate further deterioration of the situation in the territories.
(Observer for Algeria) observed that since the Commission's fiftythird session the situation in the Middle East had shown little improvement. It had even markedly deteriorated owing to the intransigence of the current Israeli Government, which took no account of the commitments entered into by its predecessor, so that the peace process had been brought to a standstill. Israel was stubbornly refusing the Palestinians their right to a sovereign State, with AlQuds as its capital, and was continuing its policy of building new settlements, in defiance of all the United Nations resolutions calling upon it to desist. Furthermore, the systematic resort to collective punishments, torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial execution in the Palestinian territories and in Syrian Arab Golan and southern Lebanon was totally at variance with the provisions of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a fact which could not but be of concern to the international community. It was clear that the only way to resolve the conflict was through complete withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied Arab territories and the exercise by the Palestinian people of their right to establish a sovereign State. Israel could not continue appealing to the preservation of its own security as a pretext for threatening that of neighbouring countries, for peace and security could not be other than indivisible for all the peoples of the region.
(Observer for Israel) wished it first to be understood that his delegation was able to take part in the debate on item 4 thanks to the firm position taken in his statement as outgoing Chairman of the Commission by Ambassador Somol of the Czech Republic, who had clearly indicated that the Commission would not tolerate being made a forum for antiSemitic remarks.
17. The time had come to set the record straight about human rights violations in “Palestine”. Even the Special Rapporteur on the question seemed to have approached his task wearing blinkers, for in his report (E/CN.4/1998/17) he gave only one version of the facts and put forward allegations which he had not even checked and had got from Palestinian sources quite plainly desirous of vilifying Israel. Moreover, the Rapporteur went beyond his mandate, in particular when he tried to insinuate himself into the Middle East peace process. If he wanted the Israeli Government to receive him and then only on condition that his mandate was amended he would have to keep to the facts, the whole facts and nothing but the facts.
48. It should first be clearly pointed out who were those truly responsible for human rights violations committed in the territories. It must not be forgotten that, while the Oslo agreements of May 1994 and September 1995 had not appreciably changed the legal status of those territories, the fact remained that very wide civil powers had been transferred by Israel to the Palestinian authority, which had formally undertaken to comply with internationally accepted norms and principles of human rights and the primacy of law. It was the Palestinian Authority which was from then on to ensure the protection and wellbeing of about 90 per cent of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, meaning that it had 2.2 million people under its direct jurisdiction, and to run all the main institutions established for that purpose, including the courts, the penitentiary establishments and the police and security forces. Consequently, it was the Palestinian Authority which must answer for human rights violations committed in the areas placed under its authority and control, and Israel should therefore not be accused of them, as it generally was.
49. For confirmation one need only refer to the information which appeared in governmental reports, e.g. from the United States and Canada, or which came from human rights defence organizations and in particular from Palestinian sources such as the journal People's Rights, published by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. The observers were unanimous in finding that the Palestinian Authority applied a systematic policy of denial of human rights in violation of the Oslo agreements, of international human rights law and of the human rights provisions in the “Fundamental Law” of the Palestinian Authority. He referred to various articles published, for example, in People's Rights (August 1997) or The Palestine Human Rights Monitor (MayJune 1997) which denounced among other things denial of the right to life, liberty and security of the person in the case of detainees, the practice of torture in Palestinian prisons, and extrajudicial executions, in particular of people suspected of cooperation with the Israeli authorities or selling land to Israelis, approved by the Palestinian Minister of Justice himself. Other fundamental rights were also constantly flouted, such as the right to a fair trial, as reported by Amnesty International, which had described Palestinian justice as “a travesty of justice”. The same applied to freedom of expression or freedom of association. The media were censored and journalists who criticized the Palestinian Authority, and especially Yasser Arafat, were victims of molestation and illegal arrest. Political parties and their leaders, together with trade unionists, opposed to the Palestinian Authority and the PLO were also systematically harassed and there were reported to be, according to statistics supplied by the Mandela Institute, over 1,000 political detainees in Palestinian prisons and detention centres.
50. Furthermore, human rights activists were also subjected to intimidation and harassment and sometimes even arrested, as had been the CommissionerGeneral of the Independent Commission for Human Rights set up by Yasser Arafat in 1993, according to information given by Amnesty International in its annual report for 1997. Finally, racism and antiSemitism were an integral part of the rhetoric of senior officials of the Palestinian Authority and permeated all the Palestinian media although, under the “Oslo II” agreements, the Palestinian Authority together with Israel had undertaken to proscribe incitement to racial hatred, including hostile propaganda.
51.51. It would perhaps not suit some members of the Commission that the veil was at last being lifted and the conspiracy of silence broken concerning human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority, for any criticism of that Authority and of the PLO was virtually taboo. Facts even uncomfortable ones nonetheless remained facts. There was no use, either, in arguing that the Palestinian Authority had little experience and still had much to learn. As the organization Human Rights Watch/Middle East had stated in a press release dated 3 October 1997, lack of resources or inadequate training could not justify or explain such disregard for the rule of law. The excesses committed showed the total lack of political will on the part of the Palestinian Authority's leadership to make human rights protection a priority. Those who claimed that the Palestinian Authority, not being at the head of an independent State, was not bound by international human rights instruments or the Geneva Conventions needed only to be reminded that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority were bound under the “Oslo II” agreement to respect human rights and apply the rules of international law. As, moreover, Pax Christi International had stressed in its report of July 1997 on the peace process, the Palestinian Authority had time and again declared its readiness to respect international conventions as if it governed an independent State. In any case, it had the obligation to respect human rights not subject to waiver, i.e. those that were enshrined in international customary law which had binding force and was applicable to nonState entities such as the selfgoverning Palestinian territories.
52. In conclusion, he expressed the hope that the Commission, which had lost much of its credibility because of its selective and partisan approach to human rights in various parts of the globe, particularly the Middle East, would rise to the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration and show it was capable of impartiality, determination and courage by daring to tackle the subject of the human rights violations committed by the Palestinian authority.
53. Mr. Selebi (South Africa) took the Chair.
(Observer for the Syrian Arab Republic) said that for the past 50 years Israel had been preventing the Palestinian people from enjoying their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination, proclaimed in particular in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would be difficult for the Palestinians to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration when the Israeli occupation forces were demolishing their houses, confiscating their lands and killing their children. In face of that situation, it was the urgent duty of the Commission on Human Rights to find the means of compelling Israel to respect all the United Nations resolutions concerning the occupied territories so that, in particular, the Palestinians could create an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital.
55. Mr. DLAMINI (Observer for Swaziland) …
56. Regarding the situation in the Middle East and occupied Palestine, his Government invited the international community and all parties concerned with the Middle East peace process to find ways of removing the obstacles impeding the opening of a constructive dialogue, in order to put an end to human rights violations in that region.
Mr. ADAMA DIENG
(International Commission of Jurists) …
65. Regarding the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, the ICJ was deeply concerned at the policy pursued by Israel towards the Palestinians: illegal creation of settlements, legalization and systematic practice of torture, constant resort to administrative detention, summary executions and illegal destruction of property. The international community must continue to call upon Israel to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Conventions, and to grant entry to the Commission's Special Rapporteur.
66. Where the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority were concerned, the ICJ viewed with concern the reports of deaths in detention, torture and arbitrary arrests. It was also concerned at the restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The Palestinian Authority must take concrete measures to ensure respect for basic freedoms and human rights. As for the governments that were putting pressure on the Palestinian authority to combat terrorism more energetically, they should realize that even in fighting the crime of terrorism the rule of law must be respected.
67. Mr. HAFIAMA (Observer for the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) said that Israel was endeavouring very actively, with the help of one country only, the United States, to persuade the Commission to reduce the importance accorded to agenda item 4 or even to delete it, on the grounds that the situation in Palestine was currently comparable to the situation that had existed in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. To see that that was untrue, one needed only to read the reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (A/51/131), which enumerated all the violations committed by Israel: confiscation of land, demolition of houses, looting of natural resources, assaults upon the Palestinian cultural and religious heritage, etc.
68. Some people were trying to make public opinion believe that it was the Arabs who, by their intransigence, were holding up the peace process and that the Israelis were honouring their commitments. In reality it was Israel, the occupying power, which denied the identity of the Palestinian people and which, regarding itself as God's chosen people, was putting itself above all the international laws established by human beings.
Statements in exercise of the right of reply
Mr. NABIL RAMLAWI
(Observer for Palestine) said that the representative of Israel had spoken at length under item 4 of the agenda without saying a single word about the human rights violations committed in the occupied Arab territories by the Israeli forces, in particular the arbitrary arrests, acts of torture, murders and collective punishments.
74. The representative of Israel had tried to depict himself as a defender of the Palestinian people, but nobody had been taken in by that crude trick. The same remark applied to the statement by the United States delegation: everyone knew that Israel and the United States were the two sides of one and the same coin.
The meeting rose at 6.15 p.m