UN: 16 June 2008 – The United Nations human rights chief said today that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories “remains grave,” with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas all breaching international law.
Presenting the first of two reports on the issue to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour concluded that the recommendations in her last report on human rights violations, the establishment of accountability mechanisms and the closure of Gaza, had not been implemented.
She added that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas had “continued to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.”
Ms. Arbour’s second report focused on the question of access for Palestinians to religious sites. She concluded that “measures adopted by the Government of Israel to restrict freedom of movement of both people and goods in the occupied Palestinian territory severely impeded the population’s access to religious sites, notably in Jerusalem, cultural exchanges and events.”
She added that, while the security of the population was undoubtedly important, “a considerable part of the restrictions were introduced to ensure and ease freedom of movement for the inhabitants of Israeli settlements, which have been established in breach of international law, creating intolerable hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.”
Also today, the HRC heard from Richard Falk, the new UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Mr. Falk said in a statement that his mandate as now formulated applied only to Israeli violations of human rights, which he said had allowed critics of the HRC to complain about bias. He added that he believed such complaints had considerable merit.
The Rapporteur asked the HRC to consider expanding his mandate to include Palestinian violations of international humanitarian law.
The HRC also heard the final report by Mr. Falk’s predecessor John Dugard, which said that Israel was in serious breach of its legal obligations.
“The collective punishment of Gaza by Israel is expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law and has resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Dugard reported, noting that 11,000 Palestinian prisoners remained in Israeli jails.
“The right of self-determination of the Palestinian people is seriously threatened by the separation of Gaza and the West Bank resulting from the seizure of power by Hamas in Gaza in June 2007,” he said, adding that “every effort must be made by the international community to restore Palestinian unity.”
Mr. Dugard also called for all parties to respect the 2004 Advisory Opinion by the UN International Court of Justice that Israel’s construction of a wall in the OPT was contrary to international law.
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