Info Service on Health Issues (October 06/4)
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
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.
Criticisms of joint report
on Lebanon situation
By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 5
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
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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