TWN Info Service on Health Issues (October 06/4)

12 October 2006

United Nations: Criticisms of joint report on Lebanon situation

A joint report by four UN experts on human rights violations during the recent conflict in Lebanon has been accused of being one-sided and deferential towards Israel. In contrast a separate report on human rights in Lebanon presented by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food was praised by many developing countries.

The following article looks at the two separate reports and the reponses of the member states. It is reproduced with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6114, 6 October 2006. 

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Criticisms of joint report on Lebanon situation

By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 5 October 2006

A joint report by four United Nations human rights experts on human rights violations during the Israel-Lebanon conflict has been heavily criticized at the Human Rights Council by many developing countries for being imbalanced.

In a debate on the report on Wednesday, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and many of its members said the report was a one-sided narrative, deferential to Israel, condescending to Lebanon and equated the aggressor with the victim in assigning responsibility for rights violations.

The joint report, authored by four UN human rights Special Rapporteurs and experts said that serious violations of both human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the recent conflict in Lebanon.

In many instances, the experts said, Israel failed to distinguish between military and civilian objectives; to fully apply the principle of proportionality; and to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian injury and damage.

Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law caused many deaths and injuries, displaced enormous numbers of persons, resulted in the large-scale destruction of homes and infrastructure including medical facilities, and severely interrupted health-related services.

The civilian population of southern Lebanon, both those who have now returned and those still unable to return, continue to suffer as a result of the large-scale destruction and the acute danger still posed by unexploded ordinance, said their report.

The experts also charged that in many instances, Hezbollah violated the applicable principles of humanitarian law, in some cases by targeting the civilian population in northern Israel and in others by disregarding the principle of distinction.

The joint report also contains many recommendations.

During the debate on the four experts' report, a large number of developing countries criticized the joint report, saying that the experts had stretched their mandate, and that the report was politicized, not objective and was not proportionate to the huge destruction caused by the Israeli military acts.

In contrast, a separate report also presented on Wednesday to the Council by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food Jean Ziegler on his mission to Lebanon was praised by many developing countries.

The report by the four experts (A/HRC/2/7) was the result of a fact-finding mission that they carried out in Lebanon and Israel from 7-14 September. The four experts were Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions; Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Walter Kalin, the Secretary General's representative on internally displaced persons; and Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.

A separate report on human rights in Lebanon was presented by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler (A/HRC/2/8). Reporting on his mission to Lebanon, Ziegler said that the war has had far-reaching effects on the Lebanese population.

He added that during the war, a combination of destruction of road and transport infrastructure and repeated denial of safe transit by the Israeli armed forces made it very difficult for humanitarian agencies to transport food and other relief. The forced displacement of a vast number of people from their homes and agricultural lands disrupted normal access to food and left tens of thousands dependent on food aid.

Much farmland has been affected by bombing and will continue to be affected by unexploded bombs that continue to make access to many fields impossible. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of unexploded ordinance, mostly cluster bombs, will need to be cleared before agriculture can be re-established. The long-term impacts of the war on livelihoods are the key concern today.

Ziegler's report said that the right to food under international human rights and humanitarian law should be further investigated, including to determine whether they constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and Additional Protocol I thereto and possible war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

According to international jurisprudence, the Ziegler report said, the Government of Israel should be held responsible under international law for any violation of the right to food of the Lebanese civilian population. Under international law, the Government of Israel has the obligation to ensure that all victims receive adequate reparation and compensation for the losses suffered during the war as well as for ongoing losses due to the disruption of livelihoods.

The Government of Lebanon should institute a moratorium on debt for small-scale farmers and fisher-folk to reverse the downward cycle of debt and impoverishment that will be caused by the loss of this year's harvest, the report added.

In presenting the four experts' joint report to the Council, Philip Alston said that the Lebanon-Israel conflict was seen by many as a test case of the ability of the Human Rights Council to respond promptly, systematically and constructively. The joint report reflected the carefully considered views of four experts and examined the situation in both Lebanon and Israel, and its principal focus was on the protection of the civilian population.

Alston said that the experts' recommendations could not be read in isolation from the detailed analysis in the report. Israel was called upon urgently to provide full details of its use of cluster munitions to facilitate the destruction of the unexploded ordinance and to minimise civilian casualties. Israel should also, among other things, investigate allegations of unequal treatment of Arab citizens of Israel; formalise a policy of not intentionally targeting water and power installations during armed conflicts; and ensure the participation of those affected in reconstruction efforts.

Lebanon should develop a comprehensive strategy to assist internally displaced persons and returnees. Hezbollah should publicly affirm the applicability of international humanitarian law to its activities to renounce the targeting of civilians in all circumstances.

Alston said that the Human Rights Council should, by way of complementing its resolution on Israel's conduct, ensure a thorough investigation of Hezbollah's attacks. The Council should also call for urgent international action to ban cluster munitions under international law.

The International Commission of Inquiry (established on the basis of Council resolution S-2/1) should examine whether Israeli attacks were always directed against legitimate military objectives and respected the principle of proportionality; and whether reported attacks against fleeing civilians, ambulances and health facilities, large-scale displacement and the destruction of housing and property amounted to war crimes.

The international community should ensure adequate support for Lebanese reconstruction activities, and give priority attention to efforts to address the mental and psycho-social health impacts of the conflict in both countries, Alston concluded.

According to the four experts' joint report, in Lebanon, Israel's air force attacked more than 7,000 targets, its Navy conducted 2,500 bombardments and its Army fired tens of thousands of shells and rockets. As a result, 1,191 people were killed and 4,405 wounded. One third of the dead and wounded, and close to half of the IDPs (internally displaced persons), were children.

Tens of thousands of homes and much public infrastructure were damaged or destroyed. An estimated 1 million persons were displaced. In the suburbs (Dahiye) of Beirut alone, bombs destroyed 150 apartment buildings and damaged another 150, leaving between 30,000 and 60,000 persons homeless. In the south, entire villages were virtually destroyed. Even today, 200,000 people have been unable to return to their homes.

In Israel, the report said, Hezbollah fired up to 4,500 rockets affecting large areas of the northern third of Israel. 900 of those rockets hit built-up areas. As a result, 43 civilians, one third of whom were Arab Israelis, were killed. Seventy-five civilians were seriously injured, and hundreds of others wounded. It is estimated that 300,000 individuals fled or were evacuated from the dangers of Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel, a region with a population of more than 2 million.

According to the report, the principal concern of many of the mission's interlocutors in Lebanon was the massive use by Israeli Defence Forces of cluster munitions and the ongoing impact of unexploded sub-munitions (bomblets) on the civilian population.

The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) in Tyre had, as of 23 September 2006, recorded and confirmed 590 individual cluster bomb strike locations, mainly in built-up and agricultural areas. The total number of bomblets - exploded and unexploded - could conceivably be as low as 158,000 or as high as 1,170,000, according to the joint report.

During the debate following the presentations, Ghassan Mounkheiber, Member of the Lebanese Parliament, said that he was asked by the Parliament to emphasize how much the Parliamentarians felt disappointed at the report by the four Special Rapporteurs, particularly, if compared to the report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. He considered the latter report to be well researched and drafted, and incorporating sound recommendations.

The first report while rightly finding Israel guilty of gross violations of the principles of distinction, proportionality and the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, however, failed to address many other gross violations of international law that amounted - each one on its own count and merit - at least as a war crime, he said.

He said Lebanon asked where was the proper analysis and discussion of the deliberate attacks of Israel against the Lebanese civilian population and civilian objects including those benefiting from special protection such as buildings dedicated to religion, education, hospitals, etc.

Lebanon's ambassador, Gebran Soufan, speaking with regards to the report of Jean Ziegler, said there had been many Israeli atrocities. The report was clear and meticulous, listing the violations that amounted to war crimes. Lebanon was grateful that the report contained recommendations to the Government of the country, as it contained details of the extent of the violations committed by Israel.

Itzhak Levanon, representing Israel, decried the missiles launched by Hezbollah over northern Israel. He said that it was troubling that the joint report failed to refer to any Lebanese responsibility and made recommendations solely to matters of reconstruction. The report also made a troubling equivalence between the State of Israel and Hezbollah, which Levanon termed "a non-state terrorist actor", and directed recommendations to Hezbollah, giving unwarranted legitimacy to the organization.

Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), said the OIC did not give full credence to the disclaimer in the experts' joint report that their mission was independent of the Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council on 11 August. The Special Rapporteurs seemed to have stretched their mandates to cover the remit of the Inquiry Commission in order to pre-empt and prejudge its conclusions. They acted post haste to give the impression that their findings were more "balanced".

The report was a one-sided narrative, Pakistan said. The report's conclusions and recommendations fell short of expectations. First, there was an artificial spatial balancing. Second, the report was deferential to Israel, condescending to Lebanon and accusatory towards Hezbollah. The OIC as a whole and OIC Council members had decided to distance themselves from the conclusions of the report, which did not have any operative value, direct or indirect. On the other hand, Pakistan said, the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food was firmly anchored in law and his mandate. Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Arab Group also associated itself with the statement of Pakistan on behalf of the OIC. The Arab Group welcomed the report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food on his mission to Lebanon. It was a very objective report and reaffirmed that Israel had to abide by international law and compensate all victims who had suffered damage to their properties during the conflict.

However, Bahrain said that it was astonished by the content of the joint report by the four experts. It was extremely politicized - neither objective nor independent. It tried to pre-empt the results of the Fact-Finding Commission. In consequence, Bahrain said it could not accept this report.

Iran said that the report by the four experts had major structural deficiencies: in the mandate, in its objectivity, and in the recommendations. The report was biased in the reflection of the realities on the ground in its historical, political, national and regional setting - there was no reference to the two-decades old Israeli occupation of Lebanon. However, Iran said, the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food was appreciated.

Ambassador Hsu King Bee of Malaysia said her delegation associated itself with the OIC statement. In the joint mission, the Special Rapporteurs seemed to have stretched their mandates. The review of the reports brought the conclusion that two different standards had been used to judge the actions of Israel and Hezbollah.

The conclusions and recommendations made by the Special Rapporteurs in their joint report were also of concern, Malaysia added, as they were made in an effort to strike a balance in a situation where a balance could not be struck, and they were therefore misleading. Malaysia also distanced itself from the report's conclusions.

Egypt said the non-objectivity of the joint report was regretted. The report ignored the truth and was not proportionate to the huge destruction caused by Israel. In contrast, it thanked Ziegler's report for mentioning that it was Israel's duty to compensate those who suffered from the Israeli attacks.

Saudi Arabia said Israel should be oliged to compensate victims of the aggression and repair the damages it had caused. The joint report had attributed the responsibility of the aggression to both sides, which was unacceptable.

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy of Algeria said the joint report and the Ziegler report had reached completely contradictory conclusions. The joint report was ambiguous and over-generalising with regards to Israel but made very serious and more specific accusations against Hezbollah. It was impossible to equate the responsibility of the invader and the victim, of a militarized state and a simple resistance force.

Syria said it was unacceptable, when looking at Israel's violations of human rights in Lebanon, to equate the occupier and the victim and the resistance which was trying to ward off foreign invasion. It said the report alleged that Hezbollah used missiles of Syrian origin, and this was not true.

The United States said that the human suffering on both sides was a tragedy, and the US Government remained committed to stand with the people of Israel and contribute to its reconstruction. It did not support the holding of the Council's special session on Lebanon, as it did not condemn Hezbollah. It was beyond the Council's scope to tackle complex questions of international humanitarian law.

China took note of the joint report by the Special Rapporteurs. The conflict which took place in mid-July caused huge humanitarian damage, with wounded and displaced persons and shortages of food and fuel. It had also caused huge economic and environmental damage. A large amount of unexploded cluster bombs were still endangering the lives of civilians, China said.

Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the EU was concerned at the shocking number of civilian casualties and human suffering caused by the conflict as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the huge number of displaced persons. It was important to pave the way for early recovery and reconstruction. The EU said that it had already committed to save and preserve the lives of the populations affected by the crisis in Lebanon. It also counted on Israel's cooperation in order to locate mines in Lebanon.