Statement by Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, before the United Nations Security Council debate on “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”, 16 September 1999:
The protection of civilian persons in armed conflict is a matter of great importance to the international community. We believe that the concerted interest shown recently by the Security Council in this matter is appropriate and necessary and we hope that it will continue until sufficient and serious protection of civilians in armed conflict is ensured in all cases.
In this regard, we appreciate the report on this matter presented by the Secretary-General to the Security Council at the request of the latter. The report makes a useful analysis of the threats and violence against civilians in armed conflict and the role of the Security Council in this regard, and it details recommended measures to strengthen both legal and physical protection. We agree with many of the recommendations made in the report, especially in the field of accountability. The key remains for the Council to take actions to promote a “climate of compliance”. Ensuring compliance is a condition for achieving credibility and avoiding the emergence of a double standard and the application of different sets of values.
We were perplexed, however, by the fact that the report fails to mention the incessant Israeli occupation of Palestinian land along with the examples it gives on violations of international humanitarian law. The report even failed to mention the occupied territories and Lebanon among the places where peacekeeping personnel have been harassed or have lost their lives. The Secretary-General’s report on Qana is still fresh in our memories.
Today, Palestine refugees number more than 3˝ million people, representing the oldest and the biggest refugee problem on the agenda of the international community. Israel refuses to implement General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 1949 on the Palestine refugees and Security Council resolution 237 (1967) on the displaced persons. For the past 32 years, Israel, the occupying Power, has continued to occupy the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. It has continuously committed grave breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention, Additional Protocol 1 and of the Hague Conventions. It has effectively created a situation of colonization and annexation of parts of the occupied territories, including Jerusalem – a unique case at the end of the twentieth century.
The Security Council has responded by adopting 24 resolutions which reaffirm the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem. Many of the Council’s 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.
Over the years, the General Assembly has adopted even stronger positions. In April 1997, the General Assembly held the 10th Emergency Special Session to consider illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The session reconvened four times, during which it recommended 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.
On 15 July 1999, for the first time in the history of the four Conventions, a Conference to consider a specific situation was convened in accordance with the recommendations of the 10th Emergency Special Session. We believe that this has been an extremely important step, not only with regard with regard to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, but also with regard to international humanitarian law and the efforts to ensure respect for, and compliance with, its instruments.
We emphasize our situation while at the same time we are aware of the many examples strongly requiring serious efforts by the international community to bring an end to the suffering of civilians, especially women and children. It is unfortunate that today, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Four Geneva Conventions, we cannot also take pride in and celebrate their full respect and applicability. In Palestine and everywhere, we have to make progress and create a different and safer situation than that faced today by civilians in armed conflict. The draft resolution, which we hope the Council will adopt, will be an important move in that direction. Thank you, Mr. President.