Palestine Participates in Security Council Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

The United Nations Security Council, upon the initiative of Canada, convened a debate, which began on 12 February 1999, to consider the issue of "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict", an important issue that continues to be of highest relevance in many places around the world today. With an obvious interest in the issue, Palestine requested an invitation to participate in the debate and delivered a statement before the Council on 22 February 1999. As stressed by the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, in his statement, "For the Palestinian people, the provision of protection for civilians is not only an especially important matter, but a matter of life and death".

In a statement made on behalf of the members of the Security Council on 12 February 1999 (S/PRST/1999/6), the President of the Council expressed their deep concern for the protection of civilians in armed conflict and the necessity of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, as a means of ensuring the protection of civilians. Emphasizing the important role of the Council in this regard, the Presidential Statement stated, "Bearing in mind its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Council affirms the need for the international community to assist and protect civilian populations in armed conflict."

Most importantly, the President stated the following: "The Security Council calls upon all 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, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, as well as with all decisions of the Security Council."

The focus of the debate was therefore clearly congruent with the numerous appeals made by Palestine, in the past as well as in the present, for respect and enforcement of instruments of international law, international humanitarian law and U.N. resolutions. The debate was particularly timely in light of the recent resumption of the 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly and the repeated recommendations made by the Session for 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. As noted by the Permanent Observer of Palestine in his statement before the Council, the 10th ESS has adopted five resolutions, all of which affirm the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and demand that Israel accept the de jure applicability of the Convention and immediately cease its settlement activities and other illegal actions.

Further, Palestine’s statement emphasized the fact that Israeli violations of the articles of the Convention are ongoing and that Israel must be brought into compliance with the Convention, international law and relevant resolutions of the U.N. In this regard, the Permanent Observer stated: "Following its occupation of the West Bank, including 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 in 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 concluding his statement, the Permanent Observer referred once more to the upcoming conference of the High Contracting Parties, which is scheduled to be held in Geneva on 15 July 1999, stressing its importance not only for Palestine, but for all others concerned with respect for, and the implementation of, international law around the world. In this connection, he stated, "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."