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74th session of the General Assembly, Fourth Committee, Item 51, 13th November 2019, New York

Statement by Andrew Gilmour
Assistant Secretary-General, OHCHR NY


Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to present four reports under agenda item 51.

Allow me to begin with the report of the Secretary-General on the applicability of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the other occupied Arab territories (A/74/219). This report has been prepared in accordance with the General Assembly’s request in resolution 73/97. This report summarizes the responses received to a request for information about steps taken concerning the implementation of the resolution. Responses were received from the Permanent Missions of Ireland, Qatar and the Syrian Arab Republic.

The report of the Secretary-General on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan (A/74/357) is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 73/98. It covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May 2019. The information contained in the report is based on monitoring and other information-gathering activities carried out by OHCHR, and on information from other United Nations entities, Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations, and media sources. The report provides an update on settlement-related activities in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Developments relating to settlement expansion and the coercive environment in the West Bank are examined in-depth. The report provides an update on the settlement enterprise noting an increase in settlement plan advancements, tenders and construction of settlement housing as well as a 50 percent increase in demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank (in comparison to the previous reporting period). The report highlights that Israeli authorities demolished 511 structures in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, displacing 641 people. In East Jerusalem in particular, Israeli forces demolished 219 structures in the reporting period, almost double the previous number (131). Expansion of settlements continued at a higher rate in the reporting period with 10,900 housing units in the West Bank advanced or approved (compared with 9,800 in the previous period), and 11 new outposts established.

The report highlights an increase in incidents of settler violence, including an increase in the number of Palestinians injured by settlers compared to the previous reporting period and an increase in those injured as a result of the use of live ammunition by settlers. The report focuses extensively on the impact of settlements on Palestinian communities at risk of forcible transfer, and the impact of settler violence on the rights of Palestinian people, notably looking at the examples of the Nablus Governorate and Hebron’s H2 area. An alarming indication of the severity of settler violence is the 11 Palestinians injured as a result of settlers using live ammunition during the reporting period (in comparison with four during the previous period). Some attempts by settlers to enter or attack Palestinians have led to clashes that resulted in four Palestinians killed and 295 injured. The report emphasises that while some effort has been made by the Israeli authorities in recent years to prevent, investigate and prosecute settler violence, overall, settlers continue to enjoy a climate of impunity for their actions.

The report highlights that in Nablus, the majority of all West Bank settler attacks took place within 25 kilometres of Yitzhar settlement; these include 115 attacks in Nablus Governorate resulting in two Palestinians killed and 39 injured. In Nablus, ISF repeatedly failed to prevent settler attacks and protect Palestinians. In Hebron’s H2, the number of incidents of settler violence doubled since the departure of TIPH; in total there have been 39 incidents of settler violence, with 48 Palestinians injured. Several of these incidents took place in the presence of ISF and at times with their direct participation. For example, Israeli soldiers did not interfere when a settler sprayed pepper spray into the eyes of a 35-year-old Palestinian woman in the Tall al-Rumaydah neighbourhood.

The report emphasises the existence a highly coercive environment against Palestinians which may leave them no other choice but to leave their place of residence. In addition, the report notes the serious impact of ISF incursions on schools and the right to education in Hebron’s H2, in particular noting 29 incidents involving the use of tear gas or stun grenades against schools. Settler attacks and not allowing access to emergency services raise concerns of failure by the occupying Power to ensure medical services and allow medical personnel to carry out their duties.

Finally, the report also takes note of statements made by Israeli officials in the run-up to the two Israeli elections held in April and September 2019, on their intentions to expand settlements and annex parts or all of the West Bank.

Recommendations include that Israeli authorities immediately end all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; immediately halt demolitions and forced evictions and cease any activity that would further contribute to the creation of a coercive environment; and take all measures to ensure the protection of Palestinians and their property from settler violence.

I will now turn to the report of the Secretary-General on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (A/74/468), which is submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 73/99. The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May 2019. This report is also based on monitoring and other information-gathering activities carried out by OHCHR, and on information from other United Nations entities, Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations, and media sources. The report highlights that concerns of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces persisted, notably along the fence in the Gaza Strip, with 94 Palestinians, including 24 children, killed by Israeli Security Forces during demonstrations in this reporting period. The Secretary-General raises serious concern regarding the high number of Palestinians killed at considerable distance from the fence in the Gaza Strip, in circumstances that did not appear to involve a threat of death or serious injury that would warrant the use of firearms against persons.

The report further highlights that an unacceptable high number of Palestinian children were killed by Israeli Security Forces, 42 in Gaza and 6 in the occupied West Bank, and raises the concerns that not enough has been done to protect children from violence. It recalls that all duty bearers have a responsibility to ensure that children should never be the target of violence and must not be put at risk of violence nor encouraged to participate in violence. This would of course be aimed at Hamas. The report also points out that serious concern remained about possible impunity for excessive use of force by Israeli security forces. Concerns of possible arbitrary detention and reports of ill-treatment of Palestinians including children also persisted. The report highlights that 800 Palestinian children were detained in the reporting period and notes that children living in proximity of Israeli settlements appear to be more vulnerable to Israeli military detention. Ill-treatment and violations of children’s fair trial guarantees remained problematic within the military detention system, particularly in the first phase of arrest, including to extract confessions. In view of its negative consequences on children’s development, human rights law prescribes that the detention of children should be used as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

The report also addresses practices that may amount to collective punishment, including the impact of the Gaza closures on the life of the civilian population. It notes that Israeli authorities continued to adopt measures that aggravated the suffering of the civilian population, while Israeli officials cited on several occasions violence emanating from Gaza as a reason for those measures. It further notes that practices that may amount to collective punishment impose severe hardship on people for acts that they have not committed, resulting in the violation of a range of human rights.

Restrictions on freedom of movement; and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association have also continued. Civil society actors, human rights defenders and media personnel, including those working to document, expose and seek accountability for Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, were reportedly subjected to harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, assault, arrest and prosecution. Furthermore, the Secretary General expressed concerns that the discriminatory residency rights regime, including the amendment in March 2018 of legislation to revoke East Jerusalem residency status on the basis of broadly defined alleged “breach of loyalty”, compounds the other factors limiting freedom of expression, association and assembly in East Jerusalem.

Recommendations include ensuring that any use of force is compatible with international law, end practices that may amount to collective punishment against the civilian population and immediately lift the closure of Gaza, ensure that the right to freedom of movement is guaranteed to all Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and civil society actors are able to conduct their activities without harassment or being subjected to legal proceedings in violation of international human rights law.

The final report I am introducing today is the report of the Secretary-General on the occupied Syrian Golan (A/74/192), which is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 73/100. The report summarizes the responses received to a request for information about any steps taken or envisaged to be taken concerning the implementation of the relevant provisions of the resolution. Responses were received from the Permanent Missions of the Syrian Arab Republic, Cuba and Ireland.

Mr. Chairperson, this concludes my introduction of reports submitted under agenda item 51.

Thank you.


Remarks made in response to a question from the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine about Palestinian children.

Both the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have repeatedly expressed concern over the unacceptable impact of the conflict, and indeed the occupation, on Palestinian children.

During this reporting period, as I mentioned, 48 Palestinian children have been killed and thousands injured by Israeli security forces, which is the highest number since 2014, when 500 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli fire.

Should Palestinian children be encouraged to put themselves in harms’ way? No – of course not.

Should Palestinian rockets be fired against Israeli population centres that contain children? Absolutely not. And we condemn both actions.

But I don’t believe that any of those actions could possibly justify the frequent targeting by snipers who know exactly what they are doing and are aiming with immense accuracy – sometimes to kill, more often to injure but with life-changing injuries, including loss of sight and amputation of limbs – thousands of Palestinian children and on a far too frequent basis.

And whether it’s across the Gaza Fence shooting stone-throwing children, whose stones fall way short of any Israeli target, or the harassing, threatening, beating, shooting or imprisoning of hundreds of Palestinian children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Taking all that into account, it is impossible, in a way, to avoid thinking that if the aim of such actions was to make absolutely certain that the next generation of Palestinians would grow up profoundly radicalized, and full of hatred for the people carrying out these actions, then one would think that the best way to turn that aim into reality would be to treat Palestinian families – adults and children – exactly the way they are being treated now. And we know that because it is captured on video, almost every single day.

Mr. Chair, would you allow me to finish on a slightly personal note? I joined the UN 30 years ago this week, and I have been following the issue we’ve been talking about today closely all that time. Indeed, I first visited the West Bank and Gaza and Israel in 1983, and Israel is a country I have always liked and admired, though not the occupation, or their denial.

But when I first went there in 1983, the occupation was 16 years old. And that already seemed like a lifetime of oppression for its inhabitants.

It is now, as we all know, 52 years old – ever deepening, and it appears unending, unrelenting, unremitting, unconscionable.

Taken as a whole, it is a massive injustice and a systematic example of discrimination and humiliation. I think it represents a shame to the occupiers and indeed to us all. And it’s a driver of violent extremism around the world, as many courageous Israelis are the first to recognize, by the way.

Last year, you will recall, distinguished delegates, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the UDHR. And when you read that magnificent document in the context of the Israeli occupation, one is struck by the extent and the comprehensiveness with which almost every human right enshrined in that document – civil and political, economic, social and cultural – is constantly, systematically violated.

Thank you.