TWN Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/7)

22 November 2006

UN: HRC denounces Israeli violations in Beit Hanoun

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution condemning Israelís killing of 19 Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including seven children and six women.

The article below highlights the third special session of the UNHRC and the statements of member states denouncing the Israeli assault on civilians. It is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6143, 17 November 2006.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

United Nations: HRC denounces Israeli violations in Beit Hanoun

By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 16 November 2006

The third special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution which expressed its shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun, and decided to urgently dispatch a high-level fact-finding mission there.

In the resolution adopted by a roll call vote of 32 in favour, eight against and six abstentions, the Human Rights Council also denounced the Israeli massive destruction of Palestinian homes, property and infrastructure in Beit Hanoun.

The special session was convened following a request by Bahrain on behalf of the Group of Arab States and Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The special session was requested to ''consider and take action on the gross human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent one in Northern Gaza and the assault on Beit Hanoun.''

Those who voted in favour of the resolution were Algeria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay, and Zambia.

Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and the United Kingdom voted against the resolution.

Those who abstained in the vote were France, Guatemala, Japan, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, and Ukraine.

The resolution took note of the sense of shock expressed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Israeli military operation carried out on 8 November in a residential area in Beit Hanoun, which resulted in the deaths of at least 18 Palestinians, including eight children and seven women.

It expressed shock at the horror of Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun while they were asleep and other civilians fleeing earlier Israeli bombardment.

The resolution emphasized that the Israeli targeting of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, constitutes a gross violation of human rights law and international humanitarian law.

It condemned the Israeli targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, as well as of medics in Beit Hanoun and other Palestinian towns and villages, and called for bringing the perpetrators thereof to justice.

It also expressed its alarm at the gross and systematic violations of human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the occupying power, Israel, and called for urgent international action to put an immediate end to these violations, including those emanating from the series of incessant and repeated Israeli military incursions therein.

The resolution called for immediate protection of the Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in compliance with human rights law and international humanitarian law; and urged all concerned parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, to refrain from violence against civilian population and to treat under all circumstances all detained combatants and civilians in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949.

It further decided to dispatch urgently a high-level fact-finding mission to be appointed by the President of the Council to travel to Beit Hanoun to, inter alia, assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors, and make recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli assaults.

It also requested the fact-finding mission to report to the Council no later than the middle of December 2006 on progress made towards the fulfilment of its mandate.

The third session heard statements from many countries.

Many speakers condemned Israel's military operations in Northern Gaza in the past few months which had left more than 350 Palestinians dead. There were accusations that Israel was using disproportionate force and resorting to collective punishment. The attack on Beit Hanoun was strongly condemned, and many called for a high-level fact-finding mission to the town.

A number of speakers, led by the United States and Canada, expressed their concern and regret for the deaths of civilians in Beit Hanoun, but said that the draft resolution being circulated provided an unbalanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They called on the Palestinian Authority to take concrete measures to address Israel's security concerns and eliminate attacks against Israel.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour reminded the Council of her forthcoming visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in which she would have the opportunity to examine developments on the ground, and would conduct field visits, as well as hold briefings and meetings with authorities, civil society and non-governmental organizations, and with United Nations partners.

Arbour said that her primary concern would be to emphasize the obligation to protect civilians during armed confrontation, and the entitlement of all, Palestinians and Israelis alike, to live free from fear, free from want, and free from harm.

A representative of Palestine said that Beit Hanoun seemed today as if it had been hit by a strong earthquake, just like the refugee camp of Jenin had looked following the Israeli massacre and destruction there. Once again, the Israeli army had unleashed its lethal power against defenceless Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun, shelling their homes while they slept and targeting and shelling again those civilians fleeing the earlier bombardments. The perpetrators of this horrendous war crime should be brought to international justice.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that the OIC looked forward to the visit of the High Commissioner to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The OIC said that too frequent human rights violations targeting one particular region made a mockery of the human rights machinery if it could not respond or take action in real time. It was eerie how gross and systematic violations of human rights of Palestinians had been unleashed with regularity and precision before, during and after Council sessions. In the face of such violations, convening the Human Rights Council, which was a standing body, was not an abuse of its mandate. Silence would be an unforgiven dereliction.

Recent violations in Beit Hanoun were egregious, without a doubt, Pakistan added. Since June this year, continuous military strikes had left more than 350 Palestinians dead. The assaults in Beit Hanoun had intensified killings of civilians and destruction of houses, properties and infrastructure or whatever was left of them after earlier incursions. The use of disproportionate force and resort to collective punishment had broken humanitarian law by targeting unarmed civilians, mostly women and children.

The Council should meet its minimum obligations, Pakistan said. It should condemn the Israeli killings, call for immediate protection to the beleaguered Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and dispatch a high-level fact finding mission to Beit Hanoun to investigate the horrors inflicted on its people.

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the Arab Group condemned the continued violation of the Israeli aggression and Israeli assaults in Beit Hanoun, among other places. The deterioration as a result of these Israeli attacks and military operations in northern Gaza which led to the killing of 18 civilians in Beit Hanoun was evidence of the violations by Israel of human rights and international conventions.

All the actions of the Israelis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories constituted violations of a number of international treaties and of human rights law. The Council should exert pressure on Israel to respect the mandate of the Council. The Arab Group called on the international community to provide protection to the Palestinian civilians and to bring an end to the Israeli violence and send a high-level fact finding mission called for in the resolution.

Cuba, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Non-Aligned Movement had historically maintained a clear and unequivocal principled position concerning the recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, the rejection of the illegal occupation of Arab territories by Israel, and the condemnation of mass, flagrant and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the occupying power.

The Israeli escalation against the Palestinian people continued to intensify. More than 280 Palestinians had been killed since 25 June, including more than 60 children. The massacre at Beit Hanoun was another example of the terrible suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of the illegal occupation of their territory by Israel, Cuba said.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed dismay at the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and condemned the Israeli military intervention in Gaza and in particular the atrocities in Beit Hanoun, with over 300 Palestinian civilians killed or injured including children, women and elderly people. The African Group expressed its deep concern at the continued deterioration of the situation in the occupied territories in Palestine and the use of excessive force by the Israeli army. The African Group urged Israel to respect all existing United Nations resolutions and human rights conventions, in particular, the right to life and property.

Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed concern over the escalating violence in the Middle East and the unacceptable military operation in Beit Hanoun. It was shocked by the high number of civilian deaths and casualties as well as the destruction of housing and property. The European Union urged Israel to exercise the utmost restraint and to cease its military operations.

It also called on the Palestinians to bring an end to acts of violence, including the firing of Kassam rockets. It also called for the release of all prisoners and for the peace process to be put back on track as soon as possible. The European Union emphasized the importance of the agreement for free movement and access, and called on Israel to ensure that the border crossing be left open. The European Union also called on Israel to immediately release Palestinian taxes and revenues.

Israel blamed the Palestinian Authority and its government because they did nothing to stop the brazen firing of Kassam rockets at Israeli civilian communities from within Beit Hanoun, setting the stage for an Israeli response which became inevitable. Israel accused the Council of one-sidedness, double standards and politicized decision-making, adding that those who pushed for the special session were conspicuously ignoring tragedies in other parts of the world.

Malaysia said that it was imperative to address gross violations to humanitarian and human rights law. The world continued to witness violations of the rights of Palestinians with impunity. The Security Council has been rendered inadequate once more through the use of the veto power.

The Israeli military occupation had resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, most of them civilians, said Malaysia. There had been arbitrary detention. The recent killing of civilians in Beit Hanoun had shocked the world. This was not the first time that Israel's occupation had resulted in civilian casualties. Excessive, disproportionate, and indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli army were responsible for those atrocities.

Morocco said that the Palestinian people were going through tragic circumstances. In less than six months, the Council had to convene three times to review the situation of human rights in the Middle East, and in this particular case, including the situation in Northern Gaza and the attacks in Beit Hanoun. Targeting civilians, Palestinian authorities and vital facilities, impeding their free movement, and affecting vulnerable groups were all acts of gross violations of human rights.

The United States said that the injuries and loss of life in Beit Hanoun, and especially the deaths of a number of young children, were tragic. The Human Rights Council should not address particular military actions taken during a period of armed conflict that were clearly governed by the law of war. It was indeed unfortunate that the Human Rights Council was using its limited resources to discuss subjects not squarely within its mandate when there were pressing concerns that fell explicitly within its purview.

With respect to the text of the resolution under consideration, the US said that rather than attempting to honestly shed light on all the facts contributing to the violence in Gaza, the resolution was a blatant effort to exploit the tragic incident in Beit Hanoun to advance an unbalanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US added that it remained committed to the Road Map and sought to realize the vision of two States - Israeli and Palestine, living side by side, in peace and security.