Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, before the Security Council, Agenda Item: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 22 February 1999, United Nations, New York:

Mr. President

We believe that protection of civilians in armed conflict is a matter of extreme importance. In this regard, we would like to express our appreciation to Canada for its initiative in bringing the matter before the Security Council. The statement adopted by the Security Council on 12 February 1999 provides a solid basis for fruitful work and we are heartened to see the Security Council call upon all the parties concerned to comply strictly with their obligations under international law, in particular their relevant obligations under the Hague Conventions, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. We look forward to receiving the report of the Secretary General which was requested in the statement by the Security Council.

Today, with the continued and increased suffering of civilians in armed conflicts, respect for the instruments of international humanitarian law and the enforcement of those instruments are critical matters. The upcoming 50th anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions provides us with an additional incentive to intensify our work in this regard. At this time, allow us to register our appreciation for the role which has been played by the Government of Switzerland, in its capacity as the Depository of the Conventions, and for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for its untiring efforts in this regard.

Mr. President,

For the Palestinian people, the provision of protection of civilians is not only an especially important matter, but a matter of life and death. More than 50 years ago, approximately 700,000 Palestinian civilians were uprooted from their homes and properties and were made refugees, thus creating the oldest and most protracted refugee problem still existing today. Approximately 20 years later, as a result of the 1967 war, scores of Palestinian civilians were again forced to leave their homes and lands, some of them for the second time, creating the so-called Palestinian "displaced persons". Until today, the Palestine refugees, who now number more than 3.5 million, remain deprived of their inalienable rights to return to their homes and properties or to be compensated, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194(III) of 1949. Even the Palestinian "displaced persons," now numbering more than 600,000, have not been allowed to return, despite Security Council resolution 237 (1967) of 1967.

Following its occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel, the occupying Power, has continuously committed grave breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention and of the Hague Conventions. The Security Council has responded by adopting 24 resolutions which reaffirmed the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem. Many of those resolutions called upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the provisions of the Convention and to accept its de jure applicability. In several cases, the Council also called for measures to ensure the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli occupation. The Council also called upon the High Contracting Parties to the Convention to ensure respect by Israel for its obligations under the Convention in accordance with common article 1. In resolution 681 (1990) of 20 December 1990, the Security Council requested the Secretary-General to develop further the idea of convening a meeting of the High Contracting Parties of the said convention to discuss possible measures that might be taken by them under the Convention and requested the Secretary-General to monitor and observe the situation regarding Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation and to present periodic reports. Israel, the occupying Power, has not complied with or even accepted any of the above-mentioned resolutions. The Security Council, in return, failed to react to this unique situation, in fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which lead to an unforgivable "culture of impunity".

Mr. President,

The Chairman’s report on the Expert Meeting on the 4th Geneva Convention, which was held in Geneva on 27 to 29 October 1998, identified violations of the 4th Geneva Convention in armed conflicts in general and in occupied territories. All of those violations apply in the case of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. Under this occupation, we have seen the continuing and large scale destruction of the economic and social structures of the occupied territories, the substitution of the occupying Power’s laws for those previously in force; we have seen deportations, displacement and arbitrary detention of civilians, confiscation of land and destruction of property, ill treatment and violence against the civilian population, as well as numerous measures of collective punishment. On top of all that, we have seen the transfer, by the occupying Power, of a part of its own population to the Occupied Palestinian Territory in grave breach of Article 49 of the Convention. This article was drafted specifically to prevent colonization and annexation and to prevent any changes in the character of any occupied territory. There now exist more than 330,000 Israeli settlers in 175 settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 180,000 of which live within the illegally extended municipal boundaries of Occupied East Jerusalem.

What does all this mean? A unique situation which has been catastrophic for the entire civilian Palestinian population, a situation which started more than 50 years ago and continues until this present day. The situation is no less catastrophic for the Palestinian civilian population living under Israeli occupation who have been subject to continuous oppression and are now subject to the only colonization campaign taking place at the end of the 20th century.

Mr. President,

The General Assembly held an Emergency Special Session to consider illegal Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and the rest of Occupied Palestinian Territory in April 1997, for the first time in 15 years, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 377 (V) of 1950 entitled "Uniting for Peace" under rule 8(b) of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly. The Tenth Emergency Special Session was held after the Security Council had failed to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security because of the exercise of veto by a permanent member - twice in less than two weeks. The session adopted 5 resolutions, all of which affirmed the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem and demanded that Israel accept the de jure applicability of the Convention and immediately cease its settlement activities and other illegal actions. The General Assembly also made appropriate recommendations for collective action by the Member States. It recommended three times that the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention convene a conference on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure its respect in accordance with common article 1. In resolution ES-10/6 of 9 February 1999, the General Assembly further recommended the convening of the said conference on 15 July 1999 at the United Nations Offices at Geneva and invited the Government of Switzerland, in its capacity as the Depository of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to undertake whatever preparations are necessary prior to the conference.

We believe that the convening of the conference will be an extremely important development for the application and enforcement of the 4th Geneva Convention and for international humanitarian law in general. Its significance comes regardless of the fact that it comes belated and possibly because of the fact that no such conference has ever been convened in the past, despite all the atrocities that have taken place worldwide and despite the need for such a conference. The international community must ensure that the Geneva Conventions are there to be implemented and to be enforced and it must provide protection for civilians in armed conflict. For any promise of future action to be credible, however, the international community cannot escape the above-described situation.

Mr. President,

This ends my intervention. But now allow me to say a few words about our participation in the meeting of the Council today. As you know, on 4 December 1975, at its 1859th meeting, the Security Council considered a request for the participation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the meeting of the Council. The request was not made pursuant to rule 37 or rule 39. The Security Council decided on that day by a vote that an invitation should be extended to the PLO to participate in the debate on the situation in the Middle East and that that invitation would confer upon it the same rights of participation as those conferred upon a Member State when it is invited to participate in the discussion under rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure of the Council.

That invitation, upon vote by the Council, was repeated on numerous occasions. As of February 1994, Palestine has been invited to participate in the discussion without a vote by the Council on the request, in accordance with the provisional rules of procedure and the established practice.

The established practice, in our opinion, is clear. On issues related to Palestine, occupied territories, and the situation in the Middle East and other issues as well, the practice has always been to follow the same pattern, and the PLO and later Palestine participated among Member States, who are not members of the Council. Today, that practice was not adhered to for reasons we cannot comprehend. We understand that the established practice was perhaps not made clear and that General Assembly resolution 52/250 has been raised as a reason. That, of course, would be ironic for many reasons, including the fact that that same resolution states: "The additional rights and privileges of participation of Palestine shall be effected through the following modalities, without prejudice to the existing rights and privileges".

Mr. President,

I would like to express our appreciation for the opportunity to speak before the Council. However, we hope that the Security Council members will take another look into this procedural issue, and we trust that today’s aberration will be without prejudice to the established practice of the Security Council with regard to the future participation of Palestine. Thank you, Mr. President.