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Human Rights Council Opens Special Session on “the Grave Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, Speakers Urge it to Establish an International Commission of Inquiry

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27 May 2021

27 May 2021

The Human Right Council this morning opened its special session on “the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.  It heard calls from speakers for the Council to establish an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021.

In her opening remarks, Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, outlining the proposed extraordinary modalities for the session, said these modalities had been defined due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, which prohibited public meetings of more than 15 participants, and should not serve as a precedent. 

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said both sides had the right to defend their citizens, and Palestinians had the right to live safely and freely in their homes, something that they were unable to experience due to the Israeli blockade.  The risk of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem remained high, while the situation in the West Bank was alarming, with Israeli Security Forces killing 10 Palestinians on 14 May - the highest number in one day since the collection of these figures by the United Nations began in 2008.  The situation inside Israel was concerning: mob attacks took place on individuals in mixed cities of Bat-Yam, Jaffa and Acra, as well as attacks on places of worship instigated by both sides, with Israeli police failing to protect Palestinian citizens.  Despite the welcome news of the ceasefire, Ms. Bachelet emphasised that the root causes of violence must be addressed. 

Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, speaking on behalf of his mandate and on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said the events over the past month in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and also across Israel, were a calamitous repetition of what all had previously witnessed in 2018, 2014, 2012, 2008-09, 2000, 1987 and further and deeper into the tragic history of the Palestinians.  The United Nations had demanded repeatedly over the years that Israel comply with its international legal obligations and remove its settlements, stop its evictions, end the unlawful annexation, and halt the demolitions and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.  Defiance by the occupying power had been the answer.  The international community must insist upon a brand-new diplomatic playbook to end the Israeli occupation, one that was centred on rights, rather than Realpolitik.

Issam Younis, Director of Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza and Head of the Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine, said that all over Gaza, for 11 days, entire families were huddled and living on kitchen floors as this seemed the safest place.  But nowhere was safe in Gaza.  Israel’s unlawful closure of Gaza, 14 years of collective punishment, had been tightened.  The bringing down of the Associated Press building had made it more difficult to get information out.  Recent events were a mere symptom: for 73 years, there had been systematic, institutionalised efforts to impose a settler-colonial regime of racial domination and oppression on both sides of the Green Line. 

Mohammad Barakeh, former Member of the Knesset and Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee in Israel, speaking on behalf of the committee that represented all Palestinians inside Israel, noted that they had been spared displacement in 1948.  Over the past decades, they had faced different forms of discrimination - confiscation of land, imposition of emergency laws, restriction of job opportunities and more.  In July 2018, the Knesset had approved the Jewish nation-state law stipulating that the land of Palestine was the historical home of the Jews, who had the exclusive right to self-determination.  With this, democratic principles were dismissed by Netanyahu and the Israeli State. 

Muna El Kurd, journalist and resident of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, said the Israeli occupation forces refused to properly examine the property rights of Palestinians while the Israeli Government and colonial businesses were separating Palestinians from the land.  There was an apartheid regime: settlers could move around freely unlike Palestinians.  Sheikh Jarrah was illegally sealed off; residents could go out with their papers but nobody - nor their friends nor their loved ones- could come into this area.  The colonial violence suffered by residents and people who took part in peaceful protest was barbaric.  Palestinians were fired upon using rubber bullets, including in their homes.

In the discussion that followed, speakers, while welcoming the decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes within its material scope that might have been committed on the territory of Palestine, urged the Court to include the crime against humanity of apartheid in its investigations.  History showed the ceasefire would not end the everyday sufferings of the people in the occupied Palestinian territory that had been going on for more than seven decades.  The Council should take decisive actions towards ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including through dispatching a commission of inquiry, speakers said.  Some speakers said the establishment of a commission of inquiry would not serve the purpose of peace.  Regrettably, the self-professed global champions of human rights continued to shield the occupier from global accountability, and literally provided arm and ammunitions for its widely reported war crimes and crimes of apartheid against the Palestinian people.  Member States should support the draft resolution; the credibility of the Council was at stake.

Speaking in the urgent debate were Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of Namibia; Abdul Momen, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh; Shah Mahmood Qureshi,  Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan; and Najla Elmangoush, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Government of National Unity of Libya.

Also taking the floor were Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Portugal on behalf of the European Union, Sweden on behalf of Nordic countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, South Africa on behalf of the Group of African States, Mauritania, Indonesia, Japan, Brazil, Russian Federation, Bolivia, Bahrain, India, Argentina, Cuba, Mexico, China, Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, Venezuela, Sudan, Somalia, Denmark, United Kingdom, Tunisia, Kuwait and Turkey.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to continue the discussion and take action on the draft resolution before closing the special session.

Opening Remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the first meeting of the thirtieth special session of the Human Rights Council by outlining the proposed extraordinary modalities for the session.  These modalities had been defined due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, which prohibited public meetings of more than 15 participants, and should not serve as a precedent.  She urged all participants to take part in the discussions with the dignity that the situation required.

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that appalling events in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territory, the most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014, had forced the Council into special session.  Two hundred and forty-two Palestinians had been killed by the Israeli Security Forces in air strikes on Gaza, including 63 children, with over 74,000 Palestinians displaced.  In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 28 Palestinians, including five children, were killed as of 24 May.  At the same time, rockets launched by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups killed 10 Israeli citizens and residents, including two children, and forced thousands into shelters.  Two main issues had led to the rise in tensions: the imminent evictions of Palestinian families and their forced displacement in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for settlers, and the Israeli Security Forces’ deployment at the Al Aqsa compound, restricting access to thousands of worshippers during the last days of Ramadan, using force against peaceful protesters and worshippers inside Al Aqsa Mosque.

As a result, Hamas and other armed groups had launched a heavy rocket barrage towards Israel, indiscriminately failing to distinguish between military and civilian objects.  In response, Israel had conducted an intense airstrike campaign on Gaza, reportedly targeting members of armed groups but resulting in extensive civilian deaths and injuries.  Government buildings, residential homes and apartments, humanitarian organizations, medical and media facilities were totally or partially destroyed, despite Israel’s precautions - these attacks may constitute war crimes.  Locating military assets in densely populated civilian areas, and launching attacks from them, was also a violation of international humanitarian law - but the actions of one party did not absolve the other from its obligations.  Palestinian civilians had virtually no protection against airstrikes, living in one of the most densely populated areas of the world.  Both sides had rights to defend their citizens, and Palestinians had the right to live safely and freely in their homes, something that they were unable to experience due to the Israeli blockade. 

The risk of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem remained high, while the situation in the West Bank was alarming, with Israeli Security Forces killing 10 Palestinians on 14 May - the highest number in one day since the collection of these figures by the United Nations began in 2008.  The situation inside Israel was concerning: mob attacks took place on individuals in mixed cities of Bat-Yam, Jaffa and Acra, as well as attacks on places of worship instigated by both sides, with Israeli police failing to protect Palestinian citizens.  Despite the welcome news of the ceasefire, Ms. Bachelet emphasised that the root causes of violence must be addressed.  Only when human rights were fully respected and protected could trust start being built between the various communities and a durable, lasting and just peace be achieved.  Calling for an urgent rebuilding in Gaza, Ms. Bachelet expressed hope that this was the last time such a special session was needed. 

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967

MICHAEL LYNK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, speaking on behalf of his mandate and on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said the events over the past month in Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and also across Israel, were a calamitous repetition of what all had previously witnessed in 2018, 2014, 2012, 2008-09, 2000, 1987 and further and deeper into the tragic history of the Palestinians.  The United Nations had demanded repeatedly over the years that Israel comply with its international legal obligations and remove its settlements, stop its evictions, end the unlawful annexation, and halt the demolitions and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.  Defiance by the occupying power had been the answer.  Now that the last missiles and rockets had been fired, and the tears from the last funerals were slowly drying, accountability must rise to the top of the international agenda and of this Council.  The international community must insist upon a brand-new diplomatic playbook to end the Israeli occupation, one that was centred on rights, rather than Realpolitik.

The various peace initiatives over the past three decades – from the 1993 Declaration of Principles to the 2020 Trump Peace for Prosperity Plan – had all been conducted largely or entirely outside of the framework of international law and human rights.  This had allowed Israel to make the core issues of self-determination, annexation and settlements negotiable issues, rather than issues of profound illegality from which Israel must completely desist.  The simple reality was that the occupation had become as entrenched and as sustainable as it had because the international community had never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power.  Accordingly, Mr. Lynk urged that the Council’s future work on the Israeli occupation must be guided by three principles.  First, the diplomatic framework for fully ending the occupation was to be found within the framework of international law and human rights, not in Realpolitik.  Second, Israel had been a bad-faith occupier, and it was magical thinking to believe that its occupation would not end unless and until meaningful accountability measures had been imposed.  And, third, because of the vastly asymmetrical differences in power between Israel and the Palestinians, active international intervention was indispensable.

Keynote Speakers

ISSAM YOUNIS, Director for Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza and the Head of the Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine, noting that he lived in Gaza City with his family, said the governments of those present had granted systematic impunity to Israel, which had used its power to deliberately attack civilians, killing 253 Palestinians, including children while they slept.  All over Gaza, for 11 days, entire families were huddled and living on kitchen floors as this seemed the safest place.  But nowhere was safe in Gaza.  Israel’s unlawful closure of Gaza, 14 years of collective punishment, had been tightened.  The bringing down of the Associated Press building had made it more difficult to get information out.  Recent events were a mere symptom: for 73 years, there had been systematic, institutionalised efforts to impose a settler-colonial regime of racial domination and oppression on both sides of the Green Line.  The apartheid regime also affected Palestinian refugees and Palestinians living abroad.

MOHAMMAD BARAKEH, Former Member of the Knesset and Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee in Israel, speaking on behalf of the committee that represented all Palestinians inside Israel, noted that they had been spared displacement in 1948.  Over the past decades, they had faced different forms of discrimination - confiscation of land, imposition of emergency laws, restriction of job opportunities and more.  In July 2018 the Knesset had approved the Jewish nation-state law stipulating that the land of Palestine was the historical home of the Jews, who had the exclusive right to self-determination.  With this, democratic principles were dismissed by Netanyahu and the Israeli State.  During the past few weeks, the world had seen soldiers storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque and attacking peaceful worshippers, and Palestinians had taken to the streets to protest the escalation of Israeli aggression, also engaging in a general strike on 18 May.  A unified Palestinian stance had emerged, but Israel had attacked their democratic right to peaceful demonstration, and 1,700 people had been arrested.  Many were still in detention.  After the ceasefire, the Israeli State continued its policy of harassment and repression of Palestinians - this was a clear form of collective punishment. 

MUNA EL KURD, Journalist and resident of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, said the Israeli occupation forces refused to properly examine the property rights of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem while the Israeli Government and colonial businesses were separating Palestinians from the land.  There was an apartheid regime: settlers could move around freely unlike Palestinians.  Sheikh Jarrah was illegally sealed off; residents could only go out with their papers but nobody - nor their friends nor their loved ones- could come into this area.  The colonial violence suffered by residents and people who took part in peaceful protest was extreme and barbaric.  Palestinians were fired upon using rubber bullets, including in their homes.  This had been the case of an 11-year-old child.  What was happening in Palestine amounted to war crimes; forced displacement was a war crime.  According to international law, Israel had no sovereignty in East Jerusalem.  The settler organizations trying to take over Sheikh Jarrah had no property rights.  She shared her own story of being forced by a court to share her house with settlers – a situation that flew in the face of international law.

Statements by the Concerned Countries

MEIRAV EILON SHAHAR, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that Hamas was a genocidal terrorist organization that used women and children as human shields.  Calling for all Muslims to fight Jews and kill them, Hamas fired rockets at Israeli civilians - this constituted a war crime.  How would Member States respond if their cities were under attack?  Israel was a democracy that sought peace, respected international law and had a moral duty to protect innocent lives.  Hamas, on the other hand, had a complete disregard for Palestinian lives, building terrorist infrastructure under schools and hospitals, resulting in the death of innocents.  Hamas had initiated this conflict while Israel had done everything it could to reduce the tension, taking extraordinary steps.  Thirty per cent of all Human Rights Council special sessions targeted Israel - this ignored facts on the ground and a failure to condemn Hamas in this session would be unacceptable.  Member States could not be pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas at the same time.  Israel would continue to defend its people while adhering to international law.

RIYAD AL-MALIKI, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, stated that a new barbarism against the people of Palestine was being incited by Israel in full view of the world.  More than 66 children and 39 women were killed, and thousands of buildings were destroyed, all in order to expand Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land, and establish an apartheid regime based on the oppression of the Palestinian people from the river to the sea.  Expressing deep gratitude to the Member States that made this special session possible and the role of the Human Rights Council, Mr. Al-Maliki noted that the session was being held as Israel continued to displace Palestinians from their neighbourhoods and replacing them with settlers, in a clear attempt to change the demographic character and status of the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.  In the absence of any accountability for Israel, Palestinians had responded to defend their land and their right to life, but like any colonial regime, Israel had responded with the killing, destruction and execution of entire families.  The colonial occupation policies of Israel were the source of the problem: there would be no peace without the end of the occupation.

Debate

While welcoming the decision of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes within its material scope that might have been committed on the territory of Palestine, speakers urged the Court to include the crime against humanity of apartheid in its investigations.  History showed that the ceasefire would not end the everyday sufferings of the people in the occupied Palestinian territory that had been going on for more than seven decades.  The Council should take decisive actions towards ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including through dispatching a commission of inquiry.  Urging the establishment of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, speakers condemned Israel’s continued attacks against the Gaza Strip, and urged the international community to put an end to the massacres committed by Israel.  Global inaction had sustained a disturbing pattern of impunity for wilful violations of international law by the occupying power.  Regrettably, the self-professed global champions of human rights continued to shield the occupier from global accountability, and literally provided arm and ammunitions for its widely reported war crimes and crimes of apartheid against the Palestinian people.

Reiterating condemnation of the indiscriminate launching of rockets by Hamas and other terrorist groups, speakers recognised Israel’s right to self-defence, and emphasised that such a right must be exercised in a proportionate manner and in full respect of international humanitarian law.  The status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem must be respected and the right to worship upheld.  All acts of aggression and incitement by the occupying power, as well as its attempts at changing the demography, character and legal status of the occupied Palestinian territory must stop.  The establishment of an international independent commission of inquiry was necessary and would contribute to putting an end to impunity.  Expressing deep concern about the acceleration of the Israeli settlement policy and the imminent threat of eviction of hundreds of Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, speakers demanded the immediate end of all such illegal policies and practices that were in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law.  Some speakers said the establishment of a commission of inquiry would not serve the purpose of peace.  Speakers noted the role played by Egypt and Jordan, and, warning against attempts to foist unilateral solutions, stressed the importance of maintaining the truce and delivering humanitarian assistance to affected populations.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/05/human-rights-council-opens-special-session-grave-human-rights


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