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March 30, 2001
HRW Oral Statement to the Commission on Human Rights

A letter from Human Rights Watch


Clarisa Bencomo
Human Rights Watch
Oral Statement to the Fifty-Seventh Session of the Commission on Human Rights
Geneva, 19 March - 27 April 2001

Human Rights Watch researchers in the West Bank and Gaza have documented dozens of serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations over the last six months.

Israeli security forces have committed by far the most serious and systematic violations. We documented excessive and indiscriminate use of lethal force, arbitrary killings, and collective punishment, including willful destruction of property and severe restrictions on movement that far exceed any possible military necessity.

The Israeli government refuses to investigate alleged violations committed during "war-like situations," in contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Consider the killing of fourteen-year old `Ala Mahfouz. Last October, `Ala was watching clashes from the roof of his family home when he threw a stone that hit an Israeli soldier in the face. The soldier was evacuated, but a second soldier waited outside `Ala's home for more than an hour. When `Ala walked onto his balcony drinking a cup of tea, the soldier shot him in the forehead from a distance of fifteen meters. Soldiers then fired rubber bullets at `Ala's father and two neighbors as they tried to evacuate the boy, hitting all of them. `Ala died in a hospital. The soldier who shot him remained on duty, and witnesses told us that he openly boasted about the killing, and threatened to kill others in the household.

Soldiers enforcing Israel's closure policy regularly stop Palestinian cars, beat and humiliate the drivers and passengers, and slash tires or confiscate keys. Even ambulances are not safe from these attacks. An emergency medical technician told us soldiers at a checkpoint prevented his ambulance from reaching an injured youth until he promised to hand the victim over to the soldiers. When he returned without the victim, soldiers threatened to beat or kill the medical team until a commander intervened and let them go.

Israeli soldiers in Hebron told us that it wasn't their job to protect unarmed Palestinians from settlers who have stoned cars and homes, damaged shops, crops, or poisoned water supplies, and set up ad hoc road roadblocks. In December, the army allowed settlers to take over the home of `Atta Jaber to hold prayer services there. The settlers maliciously destroyed the home's interior walls and burned its contents before the soldiers finally executed a court order to remove them. The army then took over the home themselves, causing additional damage and allowing the settlers to hold a Hanukkah service there. It took the family a month to obtain a second court order evicting the army.

The Palestinian Authority is also implicated in serious violations. It has failed to prevent Palestinian gunmen from firing on settlements from civilian areas, and does not appear to have investigated or prosecuted cases where Israeli civilians have been killed or seriously injured. One gunman told us that he received daily orders from Fatah regarding what areas to fire from and what settlements to target.

Palestinian security forces have detained large numbers of Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, sometimes on the basis of actions taken years earlier. Two of these alleged collaborators have been executed and at least three others sentenced to death after summary trials. At least one alleged collaborator, Salim al-Akra, has died in custody.

Mr. Chairperson,
It is clear that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law standards. Israel has also refused to cooperate with the Commission's human rights mechanisms.

Human Rights Watch therefore calls on the Commission to:

1. Urge the Security Council to immediately establish a permanent international presence in the West Bank and Gaza to monitor and report regularly on the compliance by all parties with international human rights and humanitarian law standards. We regret Tuesday's veto by the United States in the Security Council to such a proposal and urge it to reconsider its position.

2. Request the Secretary General to ensure that appropriate UN mechanisms report to and inform the Security Council and the General Assembly on a regular basis regarding compliance by all parties with human rights and international humanitarian law standards in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In addition, Human Rights Watch calls on member states that are High Contracting Parties of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to:
1. Take immediate action, individually and jointly, to ensure respect for the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
2. Re-convene the Conference of High Contracting Parties, and establish an effective international mechanism to facilitate the Conventions' enforcement in this and other conflict situations.