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Informal note on the press briefing by Mr Hannu Halinen, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967

19 March 1998

19 March 1998

Introducing his report on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967, Mr. Halinen said the situation of human rights could not be held hostage to political discussions on the ground.

Asked to summarize some of the major violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories, Mr. Halinen said the situation on the whole was very disturbing. Violations, which he put in two main categories in his last report (those resulting from the economic consequences of the closures and the settlements), were continuing. His new report put greater emphasis on issues concerning persons victims of violations. For example, prisoners, administrative detainees, children and women. A large part of the report was in fact devoted to children as over half of the population in the Palestinian areas was under 15. Although the children did not say anything now, they would act later. The Special Rapporteur said the children were suffering from a stress syndrome which could have serious consequences on their growth and future behavior. Something had to be done to keep children in education and prevent them from having to look for work at 8 or 9 years of age to get some money.

Asked if he had been able to verify allegations of human rights violations referred to in his report, Mr. Halinen said the fact the Israeli government was uncooperative was a large handicap. He would be much happier if he was provided the information directly. The Special Rapporteur said he was meeting more persons on the Palestinian side as they were offering full cooperation. On the Israeli side, he was meeting with the NGOs, journalists and others, but what was missing was direct information from the Israeli government itself.

Questioned about the reasons why the Israelis were not cooperating with him, Mr. Halinen said the position stemmed from the earlier administration. The Israelis had a difficulty with the Special Rapporteur's mandate. He hoped for a better response to his appeal for members of the Commission to discuss human rights issues in substance and not only in the framework of the peace process.

Given the violent reaction of the Israeli Prime Minister to the visit this week by the British Foreign Secretary to one of the settlements and the vehement reaffirmation by Mr. Netanyahu of the intention to continue the construction of these settlements, one journalist asked if the Special Rapporteur did not feel that the outlook was indeed very bleak. Mr. Halinen answered that he was very concerned by the high tension resulting from the new settlements and closures in Gaza. Asked whether he would recommend the cessation of constructions, the Special Rapporteur said he supported the settlement of the question in the context of the peace process.

Asked how he would like his mandate to be changed, Mr. Halinen said he was asking for equal treatment with other Special Rapporteurs. It was up to Commission members to act and start discussions on this matter. The Special Rapporteur explained the mandate was prejudging the outcome of the findings; it was taken for granted that there were violations and that they were committed by Israel. To move ahead and create trust, it was necessary to regard the question in its entirety and look at how to help prevent violations, he added. Asked whether his point was to call for investigations into Palestinian violations of human rights, Mr. Halinen replied that, like all other Rapporteurs, he wished to have a mandate to investigate in the whole area.

The Special Rapporteur said he would not comment on the allegations that Israelis were inoculating, once again, a virus to Palestinians. Concerning treatment of prisoners, Mr. Halinen said that he was not able to visit prisons in Israel. He was informed by former prisoners, however, that torture of Palestinians in Israeli prisons was systematic in the interrogation phase. Asked about the differences between treatment of prisoners in Israeli prisons and in Palestinian prisons, he said he had not been to Palestinian prisons as these were not under his mandate. President Arafat had indicated that he would allow him to visit these prisons.

Concerning the peace process, Mr. Halinen noted that it was undergoing grave difficulties. Discussions on human rights could help to put the peace process back on track, he added.