The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories 

The following is the first in a series of articles that will be presented by Palestine & The UN regarding United Nations committees and bodies specifically related to the question of Palestine.  The articles will focus on the establishment of those committees and bodies, as well as their histories, mandates, work and compositions. The first to be reviewed in this series will be the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.-

Over 32 years ago, following the June 1967 war and the occupation of the remainder of Mandated Palestine (West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip) as well as of other Arab territories (Syrian Golan and Egyptian Sinai), the U.N. General Assembly adopted resolution 2443 (XXIII) on 19 December 1968, establishing a Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Population of the Occupied Territories. 

           The Committee was to be composed of three Member States, to be appointed by the President of the General Assembly.  The Assembly requested that the Special Committee report to the Secretary-General, and the Secretary-General was requested to provide the Special Committee with all the necessary facilities for the performance of its task. Israel, the occupying Power, was requested to cooperate with the Committee. 

In December of 1989, the name of the Special Committee was changed by General Assembly resolution 44/48 A to Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. The current composition of the Special Committee is as follows: Malaysia (which replaced Yugoslavia) - represented by the Ambassador of Malaysia to the U.N., Mr. Hasmy Agam; Senegal - represented by the Ambassador of Senegal to the U.N. Office at Geneva, Ms. Absa Claude Diallo; and Sri Lanka - represented by the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the U.N., Mr. John de Saram, serving as Chairman.

The Mandate of the Special Committee: 

As set out in resolution 2443 (XXIII) and subsequent resolutions, the primary mandate of the Special Committee has been to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the population of the occupied territories and to report its findings in this regard to the Secretary-General.  Its mandate covers all civilian population living in the territories under Israeli occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and the Syrian Arab Golan, as well as persons normally resident in the areas under occupation but who had left those areas because of hostilities. 

The investigation of Israeli practices refers to those actions which, irrespective of whether or not they are in implementation of a policy, reflect a pattern of behavior on the part of the Israeli authorities toward the civilian population in the occupied areas that violates their human rights.  The scope of the mandate of the Special Committee involves those rights which the Security Council refers to as essential and inalienable human rights in its resolution 237 (1967) of 14 June 1967, and those rights which have their basis in the protection afforded by international law in particular circumstances, such as military occupation and in cases of prisoners of war or capture.  Further, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 3005 (XXVII) of 1972, the Special Committee is required to investigate allegations concerning the exploitation and the looting of natural resources, the pillaging of the archaeological and cultural heritage and interference in the freedom of worship in the Holy Places of the occupied territories. 

In carrying out its mandate, the Special Committee has, with respect to human rights, relied on the following instruments: (1) The Charter of the United Nations; (2) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; (3) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (4) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (5) The Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War; (6) The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; (7) The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict; and (8) The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.  

The Special Committee has also relied on those resolutions relevant to the situation of civilians in occupied territories adopted by U.N. organs, including the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Human Rights, as well as the relevant resolutions of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). 

Work of the Special Committee: 

Since Israel, the occupying Power, has been intransigent in its refusal to cooperate with the Special Committee since its establishment, the members of the Special Committee have relied on various other means to perform their duties. The Committee collects evidence through meetings with relevant U.N. agencies and bodies such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the ILO, and the WHO, which compile annual reports on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. 

The Committee also holds meetings in Amman, Cairo, and Damascus where the members meet with officials from the host countries and with affected witnesses, including those from the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Special Committee also receives excerpts of reports appearing in the Israeli press and Arab press in the occupied territories, as well as a number of communications and reports from Governments, organizations, and individuals concerning the occupied territories. 

Testimony before the Special Committee, which is reflected in the Committees reports, falls under categories including, inter alia, the following: Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians; Israeli settlement policy and annexation; Israeli settler activities; Harassment and physical ill-treatment; Collective punishment; Confiscation of land; House demolitions; Imposition of curfews and closures; Expulsions; Measures affecting freedom of movement, education, religion and expression; Treatment of prisoners and detainees; Economic and social situation; Health conditions; and the Syrian Golan. 

            Normally, the Committee presents two or three comprehensive reports annually, comprising the main report, to the Secretary-General, which are circulated to Member States throughout the session.  The General Assembly agenda item regarding the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices is then addressed during each session by the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (4th Committee), which then, in light of the reports, currently makes its recommendations to the Assembly in the form of five resolutions adopted annually.  The focuses of those resolutions are: the mandate of the Special Committee; the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the occupied territories; Israeli practices in violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories; Israeli settlements; and the Syrian Golan. 

Positions of the Parties: 

The international communitys position is supportive of the work of the Special Committee.  It is also supportive in this respect of the Palestinian determination to uphold the rule of international law and relevant U.N. resolutions as the main terms of reference concerning the Israeli occupation and in protection of the rights of the Palestinian people during the transitional period. 

At the time of the Committees establishment, however, the General Assembly was starkly polarized into two groups.  As a result, although they did not oppose it, several Member States did not extend support to the Committee. Unfortunately, this pattern of voting on the mandate of the Committee continues, despite the overall improvement in voting on other resolutions. 

Each year, under the agenda item regarding the work of this Committee, the international community consistently reaffirms an established international consensus on the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to all the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, as well as to all the other Arab territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This applicability has also been reaffirmed in 25 U.N. Security Council resolutions and in a multitude of resolutions of the General Assembly and other U.N. bodies.  

As noted earlier, Israel, the occupying Power, has repeatedly rejected the demands made by the General Assembly, to receive the Special Committee or cooperate with it and facilitate its work. The Israeli side claims that the Committee does not serve any useful purpose or advance the cause of peace.  The Israeli approach towards the Committee at the U.N. has consistently promoted a hands-off strategy, which would have the international community leave the Palestinian people under the mercy (or rather punishment) of the Israeli side with regard to both the situation on the ground and the imbalance of the negotiating table.   Moreover, the Israeli position lacks any degree of objectivity and this unreasonable intransigence has been repeated even with regard to the Special Rapporteur appointed by the Commission of the Human Rights. 

           From the Palestinian perspective, the work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices is generally viewed as part of the work of the U.N. as it carries out its permanent responsibility toward the question of Palestine until it is resolved in all its aspects. This Committee was mandated to investigate Israeli policies and practices pending the complete termination of the Israeli occupation.  The undisputed fact remains that the occupation continues and that gross violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by the occupying Power continue.  Accordingly, the Committee, without question, must continue its work and its mandate remains relevant.  It is not an anachronism, as is being claimed by certain parties at the U.N.   The international community, upholding international law, international humanitarian law, including the 4th Geneva Convention, and the principles of the U.N. Charter, should continue to firmly support the work of the Special Committee.