The 10th Emergency Special Session Calls for a Conference on Enforcing the IVth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Including Jerusalem

Conference is set for the 15th of July at the U.N. Office in Geneva

In an important development, the 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted resolution ES-10/6, which recommends the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure its respect in accordance with common article 1. The resolution specifically recommends the convening of the conference on 15 July 1999 at the U.N. Office at Geneva and further invites the Government of Switzerland, in its capacity as the depository of the Geneva Convention, to undertake whatever preparations are necessary prior to the conference.

The session was resumed on 5 February 1999, for the fourth time since its initial convening in April 1997, to consider Illegal Israeli Actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The resumption came at the request of Jordan, in its capacity as Chairman of the Arab Group, and with the support of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), as represented by South Africa, in its capacity as Chairman of the Movement. The Palestinian decision to reconvene the 10th ESS was based on the fact that Israel did not comply with any of the demands made in the previous resolutions of the session and on the fact that the conference, which was recommended three times by the session, had not yet been convened. The resumption also came in response to the deterioration of the peace process and the freeze in the implementation of the existing agreements by the Israeli government.

On 9 February, the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/6 by a vote of 115 in favor and 2 against, with 5 abstentions. The relatively low number of positive votes was largely a result of the non-participation of 42 Member States who are in arrears and thus unable to vote. The resolution, which was promoted by the Arab Group, condemns Israel’s lack of compliance, recounts the previously made demands, reaffirms the established position of the international community on Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and reiterates the call for the conference. The resolution also maintains the possibility of the future reconvening of the session.

During the exhaustive negotiations on the resolution, the Palestinian side sought to convene the conference as early as possible, preferably in April, and to specify a date for it. The main goal was to ensure that the conference would actually be convened, while bestowing the responsibility of such an action on all the High Contracting Parties, instead of leaving it on the shoulders of Switzerland. The Europeans, or to be more accurate, some of the Europeans, wanted to delay the conference for political reasons, including the Israeli elections, and because of Swiss insistence on the need for five months to prepare for the conference. They also wanted a more flexible formula with regard to the date. In a compromise, the Palestinian and Arab side accepted July and the Europeans accepted a specified date. Meanwhile, the Israelis tried hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to undermine both the reconvening of the session and the resolution. The U.S. also maintained a negative position towards both.

In addition to specifying a date, the resolution, responding to the issue of the cost of organizing the conference that was raised by the Swiss, also requests the Secretary-General to make the necessary facilities available to enable the High Contracting Parties to convene the conference. On the issue of Palestinian participation, the resolution expresses confidence that Palestine, as the party directly concerned, will participate in the conference, thus putting an end to the awkward formula used in the past by the Swiss with regard to Palestinian participation in the previous Swiss-sponsored meetings. Overall, the resolution endeavors to encompass the crux of the previous resolutions of the session in order to provide for a serious and determined follow up.

The convening of the conference, which represents the first time in the history of the treaty that the High Contracting Parties meet to consider a specific situation, will undoubtedly become a major development in the history of international humanitarian law and, just as important, in the history of the Palestinian people, the protection of whom is being sought by the convening of the conference. The Palestinian view is that the political positions adopted by the international community must now be adopted in the framework of the treaty and that the legal responsibilities undertaken by the States Parties to ensure respect for the Convention under all circumstances should be stressed and fulfilled. In the words of a fellow diplomat, resolution ES-10/6, and especially the call for the conference, may just be the beginning of the end of the culture of impunity.