Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the 58TH Session of the Commission on Human Rights
Item 4: Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and
follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights, Geneva, 2 April 2002
As we have all learned, since last weekend, there has been a severe deterioration in the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. I have been in touch with my Office in OPT this morning in order to brief the Commission on the factual situation.
As you will recall, two weeks ago, I expressed my worry at the worsening situation in the occupied Palestinian territories in my opening remarks to the Commission. I noted that regrettably, efforts of the international community, including those of the Commission on Human Rights, have not brought an end to the hostilities and Palestinians continue to be subjected to a wide range of human rights violations related to the ongoing occupation. Israel also continues to suffer from the deliberate planned killings of civilians.
Early on 29 March the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), supported by tanks, occupied Ramallah. On 1 April the IDF took control of Beit Jala, Qalqilya and Tulkarem. On 2 April the IDF invaded Bethlehem. Official Israeli statements indicate that the re-occupation of West Bank towns will continue for an extended period.
My Office reports that movement in all these areas is extremely dangerous due to the operation of IDF tanks and snipers. This makes the collection of information about the situation in these towns extremely difficult.
The right to life
The last days have brought a frightening increase in the loss of life. Israeli authorities report that in the midst of the Passover holiday, twenty-two people were killed and 140 injured - 20 seriously - in a suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya. Hamas reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. Again on 31 March, fourteen people were killed and over 40 injured in a bombing in a restaurant in Haifa. As of 5pm on 1 April, according to Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) , 38 Palestinians have been killed. At least 60 persons had been injured. Figures are incomplete due to PRCS' inability to access many locations. There have been reports of possible extrajudicial executions by the IDF and there are also reports of the killing of 8 Palestinians accused of "collaborating" with Israel. These are tragic examples of a spiral of violence and arbitrary deprivation of life that must be ended.
Arrest and Detention
On 31 March, the BBC reported that over 700 Palestinians have been arrested in the area inter alia in result of house to house search conducted by military forces in many areas of Ramallah/al-Bireh. A number of foreign peace activists were reportedly also arrested and some deported.
Freedom of Movement
Movement in all the areas of military operations (Ramallah. Beit Jala, Qalqilya and Tulkarem, Bethlehem) is extremely dangerous. Residents are unable to move about in the streets. The ICRC, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and other medical personnel, human rights defenders and journalists have all been restricted from carrying out their duties. Some of these personnel have been fired upon and others have been arrested.
I have just received a call from Dr. Hannan Ashrawi who wanted me to refute any allegation that ambulances or hospitals are used to harbour gunmen. She maintains that is not a shred of evidence of this.
UNRWA is facing extreme difficulties in operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and responding to the current crisis. UNRWA staff from outside East Jerusalem cannot access the UNRWA field headquarters in Jerusalem, as they do not have permits, creating a severe staff shortage. UNRWA has been attempting to coordinate with the Israeli authorities in Tel Aviv to facilitate humanitarian access, but on the ground the IDF has often been refusing access to UNRWA staff, even when there has been prior coordination. The humanitarian situation will further be exacerbated if the military action continues for an extended period and food and other supplies run low.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported on 1 April that the Israeli Defense Forces had ceased coordination and liaison with the ICRC for the previous 24 hours with the result that PRCS was unable to provide evacuation for the injured in any conflict areas. A significant number of medical personnel, including from the Emergency Medical Teams (EMT), the Ministry of Health and the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPRMC) were arrested. Several cases of arrests of members of the crews of ambulances were reported. They were held in front of a tank convoy for over one hour. Ambulances have been reportedly stopped and prevented from providing assistance. There are reports on several interventions of the IDF in the Arab Care Hospital and the Ramallah Ministry of Health hospital. Over the first three days of intervention in Ramallah, 12 denials of access for PRCS were reported. On 1 April, according to the UPRMC head, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, IDF soldiers detained a physician in the complex, and forced him to serve as a human shield while they conducted searches of the facility of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Ramallah. This morning 9 members of the Palestinian Red Cresent Society, including the President of the Society, Younis Al Khatib, were arrested in Ramallah. According to a spokseperson they were travelling in three ambulances and were responding to urgent calls of sick and injured when they were stopped.
Water and electricity
Water and electricity water and electricity systems have been seriously damaged in Ramallah as a result of the recent military operations. Four villages near Ramallah have been completely cut off from water, according to Abdel Karim Assad, head of the Jerusalem Water Undertaking, the company that provides the water. Mr. Assad estimated on 1 April that some 25,000 residents in the city of 100,000 and its environs have been without water supplies for the last four days. Most of the neighborhoods around Yasser Arafat's headquarters in mid-Ramallah have had their water and electricity cut after tank movements ruptured lines. In addition to the tank movements, which broke electricity poles and water mains - as did several trenches across roads dug by IDF bulldozers throughout the city - electrical lines have been downed by direct fire and explosions. The director of the East Jerusalem Electric Company in Ramallah, issued a warning on 1 April to Ramallah residents that one power station, not far from Chairman Arafat's compound had been damanged by shooting, but remains electrified and is extremely dangerous. Elsewhere in Ramallah, downed electricity lines also are electrified and lie close by large puddles of water flowing from broken water mains. Under the present security conditions repairs are very difficult, not least because of the lengthy coordination procedures, the fact that permissions must be renewed daily, and often the permission given by commanders does not reach the soldiers on the ground.
Freedom of Media
According to the Foreign Press Association, since 30 March, the IDF has been preventing journalists from entering Ramallah from any direction, declaring the entire city a closed military zone. On 1 April it was reported that the IDF had broken into a number of local and foreign press and media offices and closed a number of media offices. On 29 March the IDF took over a building used by Palestinian and foreign media in the city, forcing organizations including Reuters to abandon the building. Several journalists are reported wounded. Under these security circumstances, the collection of information about the situation in towns facing military operations is extremely difficult. In particular very little information is available about the situation in Bethlehem/Beit Jala, Qalqilya and Tulkarem.
Human Rights Defenders
There are reports of the searching the office of al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization by the military. One member of staff was reportedly arrested. Other offices of NGOs, including human rights NGOs have also reportedly been raided.
This afternoon I spoke by telephone with the father of Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish girl aged 23 who has been in Ramallah since January with an international peace group. She has some medical training and initially went into the compound where Chairman Arafat is confined to help bring out dead and wounded. However, seeing how bad the situation was she decided to remain inside and has been joined by about thirty more volunteers. On the phone to her father this morning she said, "We are doing what the UN should be doing."
In my report to the Commission on my visit to region in 2000 I asked that the feasibility of establishing an international monitoring presence be explored. That proposal should now be implemented. International observers on the ground can be a deterrent to the violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and also can promote human security against suicide and other attacks on Israeli civilians. In this context I endorse the call made on behalf of the EU before the Security Council on 30 March, by the Spanish Presidency, for a third party monitoring mechanism in the OPT and for observers to be present.
Speaking to the Security Council on 30 March the Secretary General said:
"Security and peace must be addressed in parallel in the spirit of Security Council resolution 1397 and 1402. In other words we need to take into account the legitimate security concerns of Israel and the legitimate political aspirations of the Palestinians at the same time."
I also endorse this analysis.
These events are taking place at the very time when this Commission is in session. That must surely place an urgent duty on this Commission. I have had occasion in the past to call for human rights observers to be stationed in the Occupied Territories and Special Rapporteur Dugard has done likewise. Today I ask a simple question: When the Security Council has situations where it feels there is a particular need to brief itself it sends a visiting mission. Would it not be right for this Commission to dispatch immediately a visiting mission that would travel to the area and return expeditiously to the Commission with their finding and recommendations. Surely, the protection of human rights would require such a step as a very minimum?
The situation in the Occupied Territories is well known to us all. I say to you simply but with all the force I can: I call you to conscience. I invite you to let conscience move in this situation taking place before our very eyes.
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