Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

Economic and Social Council
2000 Substantive Session
48th Meeting (AM) ECOSOC/5936
22 November 2000
 

ESTABLISHMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS INQUIRY COMMISSION FOR PALESTINIAN


TERRITORIES ENDORSED BY ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL
 

The Economic and Social Council this morning endorsed, by a recorded vote, the decision of the Commission on Human Rights to establish, on an urgent basis, a "human rights inquiry commission" to gather and compile information on violations of human rights and acts which constitute grave breaches of international humanitarian law by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Under further terms of the decision, adopted by a vote of 21 in favour to 19 against with 11 abstentions, the inquiry commission would provide the Commission on Human Rights with its conclusions and recommendations, with the aim of preventing a repetition of such violations. (For details of the vote, see Annex.)

In a related provision, the Council also endorsed a request that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights undertake an urgent visit to the occupied Palestinian territories to take stock of the violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupying power. Owing to the gravity of the situation on the ground, the High Commissioner visited the territories from 13 to 15 November. Her report would be made available on 27 November.

The Council further endorsed the decision of the Human Rights Commission to request special rapporteurs concerned with such issues as executions, torture, violence against women, religious intolerance and racism, to carry out immediate missions to the occupied Palestinian territories and to report their findings to the Commission at its next session and, on an interim basis, to the General Assembly at its current session.

Calling the contents of the decision the harshest, most extreme and most blatantly one-sided accusations against his country by an organ of the United Nations, the representative of Israel said that the only way to end the crisis was for the international community to call on the Palestinian leadership to stop the violence. Today's decision guaranteed that the inquiry commission would focus solely on one party in the conflict, subjecting Israeli actions to intense scrutiny while ignoring violations by the other side.

The Permanent Observer of Palestine said that the Economic and Social Council had been subjected, once again, to Israel's "twisted logic" under which it was innocent and all of the world was acting against it. Since 28 September, Israel had commenced "a bloody campaign" against the Palestinian people, involving excessive use of force, indiscriminate use of power, and brutal killing of innocents, in most cases, without any justification. The deliberate murder of civilians and the infliction of massive punishments had suffocated the Palestinian economy and turned the community "backward".

The representatives of the United States and Japan made statements before the vote.

Statements in explanation of vote were made by the representatives of New Zealand, France (on behalf of the European Union), Canada and India.

The Economic and Social Council will meet again on a date and time to be announced in the Journal.
 

Council Work Programme

In a resumed substantive session, the Economic and Social Council met this morning to act on the recommendation of the Commission on Human Rights that it decide to establish, on an urgent basis, a "human rights inquiry commission" to investigate what it called "grave and massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel" and provide the Commission with its conclusions and recommendations, with the aim of preventing a repetition of such violations.

The draft decision, endorsed by the fifth special session of the Commission on 19 October and reproduced in its report (document E/CN.4/S-5/5), was today before the Council for adoption. Under a related provision, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was asked to undertake an urgent visit to the occupied Palestinian territories to take stock of the violations of the human rights of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupying power.

In addition, the decision requested Special Rapporteurs concerned with such issues as executions, torture, violence against women, religious intolerance and racism, to carry out immediate missions to the occupied Palestinian territories and to report their findings to the Commission at its next session and, on an interim basis, to the General Assembly at its current session. The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Representative of the Secretary-General for Internally Displaced Persons were among those requested to carry out missions to the occupied territories.

The report before the Council also contains a resolution entitled "Grave and massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel". The text, which strongly condemns the "disproportionate and indiscriminate" use of force in violation of international humanitarian law by the Israeli occupying power against innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, was adopted by the Commission in Geneva on 19 October by a margin of three roll-call votes.

Also by its terms, the Commission called on Israel, the occupying power, to put an immediate end to any use of force against unarmed civilians and to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

The Commission also called on the international community to take immediate, effective measures to secure the cessation of violence by the Israeli occupying power and to put an end to the ongoing violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. The resolution also contains the provisions of the Commission's draft decision, which the Economic and Social Council is expected to act on today.

The Commission on Human Rights is one of nine deliberative bodies of the Economic and Social Council whose role is to consider and make recommendations on issues in their areas of responsibility and expertise. Established by the Council in 1946, it is the major United Nations body working to promote and protect human rights. It provides overall policy guidance, studies human rights problems, develops and codifies new international norms and monitors the observance of human rights around the world. As the principal intergovernmental policy-making body for human rights at the United Nations, the Commission is authorized to discuss human rights situations anywhere in the world and to examine information from States, non-governmental organizations and other sources.
 

Statement

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director of the New York Liaison Office of the Commission on Human Rights, spoke on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In response to a request for information about the High Commissioner's recent visit to the Middle East, he said he would advise members as follows: the High Commissioner visited the occupied Palestinian territories on 13 to 15 November, in response to the urgent request of the fifth special session of the Commission on Human Rights. While in the region, she also visited Israel on 9 November, Egypt on 14 November, and Jordan on 16 November.

Mr. Ndiaye said that the High Commissioner had decided to undertake her mission at that time because of the seriousness of the human rights situation on the ground. She was currently working on her report and would submit it to the Human Rights Commission and the General Assembly on Monday, 27 November. She would brief the expanded Bureau of the Commission on the same day, at 11 a.m., Geneva time. Also on 27 November, her report would be placed on the Web site of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Economic and Social Council Bureau had also sought information on the situation of mandate holders who had been requested by the special session to undertake visits, he noted. His office wrote to all eight mandate holders to outline the terms of the Commission's decision and to inquire about their intention and availability to undertake such missions. Since then, one special rapporteur -- on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, had formally indicated his interest in undertaking such a mission.
 

Action on Text: Statements before Vote

The representative of Israel said that the resolution contained the harshest, most extreme and most blatantly one-sided accusations directed against his country by an organ of the United Nations in recent times. The unfounded accusations that Israel willfully and systematically violated the human rights of Palestinians and intentionally sought to murder them en masse were biased, unbalanced and unreflective of the reality on the ground. The resolution placed full blame for the current crisis squarely on the shoulders of Israel, implying that Israel was completely at fault and the Palestinians were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. Such partial and fraudulent treatment of the facts hardly merited a response and, therefore, Israel categorically rejected the resolution.

He said that the only way to clear the way for an end to the death and injury that had plagued the region for nearly two months was for the international community to call on the Palestinian leadership to stop the violence, the rioting, the use of live ammunition, the use of machine guns, the sending of children to the front lines of rioting crowds, and the use of terror against civilians. The resolution contained no such call.

The resolution's provisions guaranteed that the inquiry commission would focus solely on one party in the conflict, subjecting Israeli actions to intense scrutiny while ignoring violations by the other side. Such a commission was superfluous and unnecessary. The Sharm el-Sheikh understanding, whose implementation was being delayed by Palestinian non-compliance, provided for the establishment of a fact-finding commission with a broader and more balanced mandate. That commission would be far more likely to arrive at an accurate and judicious picture of the recent events than a commission born out of a partial and unjust resolution.

The Permanent Observer of Palestine said it had initially appeared that the Economic and Social Council would vote on the draft decision submitted to the Council without hearing two substantial statements. Once again, Israel had tried to impede those serious and logical understandings. Regrettably, the Council had been subject, once again, to Israel's "twisted logic" -- the logic which said that it was innocent and that all of the world was acting against it. Its other reasoning was that the decision of the Commission on Human Rights had been adopted by a marginal vote, while hundreds of resolutions, adopted by overwhelming majority, had prompted a different reaction from Israel.

He said that Israel had violated all of the resolutions adopted by the United Nations and its organs. It had never abided by or complied with a single resolution. Rather, it had persisted in violating international and humanitarian laws. The representative of Israel was "incapable of understanding the essence of the problem", which was simple -- the Israeli occupation, now more than 33 years old, had been brutal and had inflicted injustices on the Palestinian people. There was also the colonial aspect of the occupation. Moreover, the occupying Power had gravely violated the relevant Geneva Convention by systematically transferring Israeli inhabitants to the occupied Arab territories.

The objective was clear, he went on: to colonize that territory and deny Palestinians their rights. At the outset of the twenty-first century, was there anything graver than the actions of the occupying power, particularly with respect to children and civilians? Was there anything more serious than the fact that there were thousands of settlers in 40 per cent of the occupied Gaza Strip, and that a million Palestinians were living under the poverty line?

Since 28 September, Israel had commenced "a bloody campaign" against the Palestinian people, he said. There had been an excessive use of force, indiscriminate use of power, and the brutal killing of innocents, in most cases without any justification. The deliberate murder of civilians and the infliction of massive punishments had impeded the movement of goods and persons, thereby suffocating the Palestinian economy and turning the community "backward". Its people just wanted to live normally, yet more than 200 had been killed and there were many hundred of wounded, often with permanent disabilities. Two-thirds of the victims were children under the age of 18.

Nevertheless, he said, the Israeli representative had lectured the Council on the injustice inflicted on his country. The High Commissioner, in the press conference following her visit to the territories, was crystal clear: she had expressed her shock at what she had seen in the occupied territories. Many human rights organizations, including Western ones, had had similar reactions, yet Israel persisted in its arrogance. Just yesterday, the Foreign Minister of Israel said that it was not an appropriate time for the committee agreed to at Sharm el-Sheikh to start its work.

Regrettably relying on a specific ally, the Security Council had rejected international intervention, namely to dispatch an investigative committee to the region. If Israel were really innocent, why should it reject sending observers to monitor the situation on the ground? What country could undertake such grave actions throughout those years while enjoying the "automatic" protection of that country in the Council. Where were the legal commitments of Member States? Maybe, for once, the right message could be sent to the occupying power.

The representative of the United States said her country continued to oppose "this completely unbalanced and inflammatory" resolution adopted in Geneva by the Commission on Human Rights. Those who insisted on action today did so in the knowledge that such action would have no positive impact on the search for peace, and in fact, risked damaging that process.

At this difficult juncture, she said, the international community, particularly the United Nations, should do everything possible to encourage the Palestinians and Israelis to maintain a strict focus on efforts to end the violence, restore calm, and return to negotiations - the only path to peace. The "forced vote" now, regardless of its outcome, would clearly be seen as a decision taken against one party or the other - needlessly complicating an already volatile atmosphere.

It was not the time to divert the attention of the parties, even briefly, from efforts to implement the obligations they mutually undertook at Sharm el-Sheikh, she said. The Secretary-General had a critical role to play in the fact-finding commission that was part of the Sharm el-Sheikh process, and he would soon meet with the parties to the process here in New York. Council members had appeared "strangely adamant" in their insistence that the Economic and Social Council mechanism should supersede the Secretary-General's role in the peace process when, in fact, it should obviously be the other way around.

Tragically, she said, the Council's apparent insistence on that point would necessarily damage the ability of other United Nations "instrumentalities", including the Secretary-General himself, to function effectively between the parties in the immediate future. Members should step back for a moment and consider the text. The United States urged them to vote "no", as it was now the only available alternative that did not harm the ongoing search for peace at this particularly critical and potentially dangerous time.

The representative of Japan said his country believed that all possible efforts should be made to restore peace and put the Middle East peace process back on track. It was of cardinal importance that the Sharm el-Sheikh understanding be implemented. The need for steady implementation of that agreement had not changed. Japan would, therefore, vote against the decision.

The Commission then adopted the decision by a recorded vote of 22 in favour to 19 against with 11 abstentions.
 

Statements after Vote

The representative of New Zealand, speaking after the vote, said his Government had deeply regretted the escalation of violence in the occupied territories, and the breaches of human rights which had occurred prior to the special session of the Human Rights Commission. The High Commissioner's visit to the region had been encouraging. Hopefully, her report would help the parties map out a constructive way forward out of the cycle of violence in which they had become locked.

He had been unable to support the decision before the Economic and Social Council today. The proposed visits would have the unintended effect of complicating and even undermining the role of the fact-finding committee agreed to at Sharm el-Sheikh. Today's decision predetermined the existence of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" and did nothing to reduce tensions. As called for in the recent Security Council resolution, the international community must act speedily and objectively. The Committee could no longer wait for the cessation of violence.

Meanwhile, he said he supported the Secretary-General's efforts to explore with the parties the possibility of establishing an international presence in the occupied territories. Continued violations would not lead to a solution; both parties must recommit to the attainment of a just and lasting peace in the region.

The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the Union had supported the request for the convening of a special session of the Commission on Human Rights. It had expressed the hope that such a meeting could contribute in a useful manner to efforts to restore peace and stability in the region. But the resolution adopted by the Commission, instead of supporting the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement of 17 October between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, could destroy the agreement by establishing concurrent mechanisms to those agreed by the directly interested parties. The European Union considered that the adoption of the decision before the Council would endorse the content of that resolution. It had not been possible for the European Union to support that resolution in Geneva and, for the same reason, it had no choice in New York but to oppose the draft decision.

The representative of Canada, also speaking in explanation of the vote, said the decision was "unbalanced" and the recommendations flowing therefrom did not assist in creating an atmosphere conducive to a return to the negotiating table. Any international efforts on that question should focus on assisting the parties in ending the violence and resuming negotiations. The Council's action today did not qualify in that regard. Thus his delegation had voted against the text.

The representative of India said he had always believed that a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement of the problems in the Middle East must be based on dialogue, accommodation, and understanding. He had supported the Middle East peace process and welcomed the talks in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, which had advanced the political dialogue. He was, therefore, extremely concerned at the return of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and other areas, as well as in Israel. The immediate need was to end the "spiral of violence" and to give peace another chance. That required statesmanship and wisdom, which the leaders on both sides possessed.

He had supported the draft in the Commission on Human Rights and had endorsed it today because he trusted that the promotion, protection and respect for human rights would help restore the confidence and trust between the two sides that had so badly eroded over the past few weeks. That restoration must be the highest priority of the international community. He had invested hope and confidence in the peace process, and, therefore, welcomed any steps to promote it.

The President of the Council said he had been informed that the final recorded vote was 21 in favour to 19 against, with 11 abstentions. Three members had not been present: Guinea Bissau, Mauritius and Sierra Leone.
 

ANNEX
 

Vote on Violations of Human Rights of Palestinian People

The draft decision on grave and massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people (document E/2000/112) was adopted by a recorded vote of 21 in favour to 19 against, with 11 abstentions, as follows:

In favour: Algeria, Bahrain, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Comoros, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Venezuela, Viet Nam.

Against: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States.

Abstain: Angola, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, Lesotho, Mexico, Russian Federation, Rwanda.

Absent: Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Sierra Leone.