Item 32: Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories
Statement by Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona, the Chairman of the Special Committee
Fourth Committee: 64th Session of the General Assembly
9th November 2009
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
I have the honour, to present 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, (see document A/64/339). The Report contains a detailed account on the work and findings of the Special Committee during their field mission to the region from 3-13 August. This is the forty-first report presented to this Committee and was compiled by the distinguished Ambassadors of Malaysia, Senegal and the Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka. I wish to record a special note of thanks to Ambassador Hamidon Ali of Malaysia, for kindly agreeing to act as the Chair and leading the field Mission, as my predecessor Ambassador H.M.G.S Palihakkara was not able to join the field visit due to reasons beyond his control. I commend the secretariat for facilitating the work of the Committee.
Once again, the Committee examined the situation of human rights in the occupied territories by holding meetings with witnesses, in Cairo, Amman and Damascus. It was not possible to hold meetings in the Occupied Territories covered by its mandate, as access was denied by the Israeli authorities. The Committee therefore wishes to express its gratitude to the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Syria for facilitating the work and assisting with the movement of witnesses.
While in these three countries, the Special Committee heard the testimonies of a number of witnesses from Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, human rights defenders, from representatives of governments, national institutions and UN staff. The Committee also visited the Cairo-based Palestine Hospital and gained first hand experience on the difficulties faced by the Palestinian patients in Gaza and their carers. While in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Committee visited Quinnetra and Majdhal Shams villages, bordering the occupied Syrian Golan, and met with the Governor of Quinnetra, and also heard several testimonies from Syrian Arab witnesses. The Committee also collected and reviewed a considerable amount of documents, maps and other written and electronic information materials submitted to it during its mission. This 41st report therefore benefited from a variety of information sources covering the human rights situation during the period August 2008 to August 2009. My statement serves to introduce these findings briefly.
The deteriorating socio-economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza as well as in other Palestinian and Arab territories under occupation seriously affects the prospects for a viable peace in the Palestine territories and in the Middle East. Repression only constrains the right of the Palestinian people as they strive for self-determination and the realization of the Two-State solution, where Palestine and Israel could coexist side-by-side in peace and harmony.
This year’s report reiterates many concerns already expressed in its previous reports. However, the Committee wishes to emphasise the drastic humanitarian impact on the populations living in the Gaza Strip, following the Gaza war from late December 2008 till early January 2009. The “Operation Cast Lead” launched by Israel has reportedly killed over 1200 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians. The number of wounded was several times higher. The rocket attacks by Hamas have killed 14 Israelis, ten of whom are reported to be Israeli military personnel. It is reported that Israel deployed excessive force in defiance of international law and used white phosphorus munitions, inflicting serious injuries on the victims. Israeli aerial attacks have destroyed and damaged over 20,000 vital civilian infrastructures in the Gaza region, including private homes, hospitals, schools, kindergartens and mosques. The UNRAWA compound in Gaza too did not escape these attacks. During the Gaza war, all its borders were closed, thus effectively trapping over one million civilians without the possibility to flee to safety. Despite the subsequent unilateral ceasefires declared by the parties to the conflict, the Special Committee observed that the situation in Gaza still remains volatile.
Even before the Gaza War, the majority of the civilian population were largely dependant on humanitarian assistance for their daily survival. During the war, access to humanitarian assistance was either impossible or limited. The restrictions on movement of people and goods in and out through borders of Gaza created severe shortages of essential food, medicine, and other relief material. The illegal trade through the underground tunnels or the “Tunnel economy” therefore continues, as illegal trade and smuggling of essential items has become the only means of income and the only way to obtain essential goods for the people in Gaza.
Lack of construction materials, raw materials for commerce and industry in Gaza, shortages of fuel and long power cuts have contributed to increased unemployment and poverty in the Gaza Strip. It was reported that during the Gaza war, over 20% of the agriculture land in Gaza was destroyed and further areas were contaminated. Coupled with the lingering consequences of years of isolation and the economic blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel, the war led to the almost total collapse of the formal economy and the means of livelihood in Gaza, leaving tens of thousands of civilians in a difficult humanitarian situation.
The Special Committee was particularly alerted to the situation in the health sector in Gaza. Basic medicine and medical treatments are unavailable due to the destruction of medical facilities, and the ban on the imports of necessary equipment such as x-ray and dialysis machines and their spare parts. Closed borders and the Israeli siege prevented even seriously ill patients, including in cases of medical emergencies, to seek timely medical assistance outside Gaza. The Special Committee urges Israel to immediately cease restrictions at border crossings, including undue interrogations of patients. The arbitrary nature of the permit system puts the lives of the sick and the weak in danger, especially children, when their parents or guardians are denied permission to cross the borders with them. The continued deprivation of medical professionals of their right to have training and advancement of knowledge, in turn, has affected the quality of treatment and medical care available in Gaza.
The continued settlement activities and the construction of the separation wall by Israel are a severe constraint on the freedom of movement of Palestinian citizens in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Road barriers and other types of controls have led to high rates of school drop outs. The Committee was told of the increasing incidents of harassment, and humiliation faced by the Palestinians, specially women and girl children, at road checkpoints and even in their own homes during security searches. Some witnesses from the West Bank acknowledged the limited relief they have had due to the removal of certain checkpoints and barriers, however, the erection of new road blocks and the stringent permission system have effectively barred people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem having freedom of movement.
The illegal construction of the separation wall in the West Bank continues despite the ICJ advisory opinion and according to reports, 200 kilometres have already been completed. In the view of many witness, Israeli and Palestinians alike, the route of the wall was not based on security considerations. It perpetuates and expands settlements, restricts the area of the Palestinian State and ensures lasting Israeli control over areas of the West Bank.The settlement activities and arbitrary demolition of Palestinian homes has created serious tensions and animosities between the Israeli settlers and Palestinian neighbours.
The Special Committee heard testimonies on the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention, especially of the demeaning treatment, torture, humiliation and unlawful interrogation tactics used against the prisoners, including female and juvenile detainees. The administrative detention orders have enabled the Israeli law enforcement authorities to prolong detention terms without due process or producing charges against the detainees. The Committee urges Israel to comply with its obligations under applicable international laws and international humanitarian law, as the occupying power.
The human rights situation in the occupied Syrian Golan too remains serious. The continued illegal imposition of Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Golan region warrants the immediate attention of the international community. The Special Committee remains concerned about the testimonies it received on the violations of land rights and illegal settlements. The discriminatory treatment in workplaces, the lack or absence of decent employment opportunities, and restrictions on trade and commercial activities which hinder achieving any meaningful economic development in the occupied Golan. The mine fields pose an imminent threat to the safety and security of the civilians and the casualties reported are numerous, including among children. The Syrian Arab prisoners are held in contravention of the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, resulting in their contracting serious illnesses- and some life threatening ailments. The long term effects of fragmented communities, and the severance of family ties has damaged the social fabric of the Syrian Arabs living under occupation in the Golan.
The Special Committee wishes to invite the attention of the distinguished delegates to the recommendations made in its report addressed to the General Assembly, the Government of Israel, and to the Palestinian Authority. The recommendations are self-explanatory, yet, I wish to briefly outline some of the key elements therein.
The Committee recommends that the General Assembly take all measures at its disposal to enable the Special Committee to fulfil its mandated responsibilities, including gaining access for the Committee to the occupied territories, until the question of Palestinian rights are resolved consistent with General Assembly Resolutions and in conformity with international law. The Security Council is urged to ensure the implementation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and General Assembly resolution ES-10/15, concerning the illegal construction of the separation wall and to take necessary remedial measures for the damages caused. It also urges the Security Council to implement its Resolution 497 (1981) and similar resolutions on the status of the occupied territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan.
All Member States are reminded of the responsibility to implement fully, the recommendations of the Special Committee and the need for heightened international efforts to ensure the unimpeded flow of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people
The recommendations addressed to the Government of Israel draws its attention to the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories and distinguishing between military and civilian objects. The Committee also urges respect for International law and the principles relating to the proportionate use of destructive methods of warfare and the cessation of excessive use of force and the extrajudicial executions and the destruction of private and public property. The confiscation of Palestinian lands for the construction of settlements which is contrary to international law, and bringing justice to the Palestinians affected by Israeli settler violence require immediate action by Israel.
Also, the Committee has, inter allia, recommended; restoring the freedom of movement for Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories, ending policies leading to the collective punishment of the civilians in Gaza, ceasing the construction of the separation wall impairing the contiguity of Palestinian territory and complying fully with the advisory opinion of the ICJ and all provisions of the General assembly Resolution ES-10/15, ensuring fair trial and detention conditions in line with relevant UN conventions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, complying fully with its responsibilities set forth in the Road Map and implementing an accountability mechanism including the recommendations of the UN treaty bodies and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
For the Palestinian Authority, the Special Committee recommends abiding by the relevant provisions of human rights law and international humanitarian law to address the human rights and humanitarian crisis currently facing the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and to fully restore the rule of law in areas under its control.
The Special Committee believes that all parties concerned would take action on its recommendations and that they would be looked at as a collective responsibility to alleviate the long years of sufferings of the people living under occupation and that sustainable peace will not be an illusion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.