High Commissioner for Human Rights Reports on Visit to Occupied Palestinian Territory

On 17 October 2000, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights convened its 5th Special Session to consider the severe deterioration of the human rights situation of the Palestinian people since 28 September, due to continuing human rights violations by Israel. On 19 October, the Commission adopted resolution S-5/1, in which it decided, inter alia, to request the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Ms. Mary Robinson, "to undertake an urgent visit to the occupied territories to take stock of violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupying Power."

The mandate of the UNHCHR requires her to, inter alia, promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights; enhance international cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights; and engage in dialogue with all Governments with a view to securing respect for all human rights. Accordingly, High Commissioner Robinson undertook an important and timely mission to the region from 8-16 November 2000 to urgently examine the human rights situation of the Palestinian people. During that mission, she visited the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel, Egypt and Jordan, after which she issued a report.

Throughout her visit High Commissioner Robinson met with various individuals and official representatives, including governmental, NGO and U.N. officials, to discuss the recent deterioration of the human rights situation of the Palestinian people. During her visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she also visited a hospital, refugee camps, schools and sites affected by the ongoing violence and viewed illegal Israeli settlements as well as Israeli military installations. In addition to hearing the views of several hundred people, the High Commissioner received written submissions and briefs, all of which were considered in preparation of her report.

The following are excerpts from various sections of the report of the UNHCHR:

  • "The human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is bleak. The civilian population feels besieged by a stronger power prepared to use its superior force against demonstrations and stonethrowing by adolescents… At each meeting in the occupied Palestinian territories pleas for international protection or for some form of international monitoring presence were voiced."

  • "In the occupied Palestinian territories, discussions concerning the present crisis and its impact on human rights were linked to the reality of the occupation itself. That reality was described by Palestinians as one of grinding, petty humiliations, discrimination and inequalities, which were ultimately dehumanizing."

  • "Particular areas of concern with regard to recent developments included: excessive and disproportionate use of force, including alleged attacks on medical personnel; the arbitrary destruction of property; the effects on Palestinian residents of Israeli settlement activity, including restrictions on freedom of movement; the serious economic impact on the residents of the occupied territories; the violations of the human rights of children; and restrictions on access to humanitarian assistance."

  • "An effective closure of the occupied territories has been applied since the beginning of October and the movement of the population there continues to be heavily restricted."

  • "According to the Office of the U.N. Special Coordinator, [Palestinian] unemployment has tripled since the beginning of October, which translates into a loss of household income of some 10 to 11 million dollars per day."

High Commissioner Robinson’s report ended with several conclusions and recommendations, some of the most important of which are excerpted below:

  • "Mindful of the urgent and widespread calls for international protection made to her during her visit to the occupied territories, the High Commissioner believes that every effort should be made to explore the feasibility of establishing an international monitoring presence."

  • "The High Commissioner recalls that the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights have repeatedly reaffirmed the de jure applicability of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War to the occupied Palestinian territories. Article 1 of the Convention places a duty on all the High Contracting Parties ‘to respect and to ensure respect’ of the provisions of the Convention ‘in all circumstances’. It would be appropriate for the High Contracting Parties to assume their responsibility under the Convention."

  • "The construction of new settlements should cease and those located in heavily populated Palestinian areas should be removed. As well as protecting settlers, the Israeli security forces should also protect Palestinians from violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers."

  • "Compensation should be provided to the victims of unlawful use of force, including for the loss of property."

  • "The enjoyment of economic rights within the occupied Palestinian territories, including the right to development, should be protected."

  • "All holy sites and access to them by all faiths should be respected."

  • "The Israeli authorities should ensure freedom of movement of international and national staff of U.N. agencies and facilitate access by them to those in need of assistance."

  • "Cooperation with the U.N. agencies is vital to ensure effective humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territories."

This report of the UNHCHR is considered a very important and revealing document. It is strongly hoped by the Palestinian side that the report will be taken into serious consideration by the concerned parties, particularly by the U.N. Security Council during its deliberations regarding the establishment of a monitoring force to protect Palestinian civilians at a time when their lives have been endangered daily by the violent actions of the Israeli occupying forces.