Saturday, February 12, 2011

Middle East: Human rights must not be cast aside amid Middle East politics

UN - International human rights and humanitarian law is constantly being cast aside amid Middle East politics, the United Nations human rights chief said today, speaking out on issues such as illegal settlement activity and the lack of accountability for rights violations committed by both Israelis and the Palestinians.

“International human rights law and international humanitarian law are not negotiable. No individual or State can be considered exempt, if they violate the law,” Navi Pillay said at a press conference in Jerusalem following her week-long visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Noting that the settlement of Israeli citizens in the occupied Palestinian territory is “clearly prohibited” under international law, the High Commissioner said all State actions in support of the establishment and maintenance of settlements should be stopped.

In particular, she said all settlement-related activities in East Jerusalem, as well as actions to coerce Palestinians to leave the area, including evictions, demolitions, forced displacements and the cancellation of residency permits on a discriminatory basis, should be halted.

“East Jerusalem is being steadily drained of its Palestinian inhabitants, in clear-cut defiance of Security Council resolutions,” she stated.

The lack of accountability is another major concern, Ms. Pillay said, noting that individual officials and members of the security and military forces in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, including the de facto authorities in Gaza, have been violating international human rights law for years, with few prosecutions.

“This culture of impunity leads to more abuses against and between civilians, stimulates anger and resentment on all sides, and impedes the peace process.”

Turning to Gaza, Ms. Pillay called for the lifting of the blockade imposed by Israel since June 2007 when Hamas took power in the area, calling the policy “illegal” and “not warranted by Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”

At the same time, she urged the militants in Gaza to halt firing rockets immediately.

“They are not only committing war crimes and continuing to terrorize large numbers of civilians, they are also doing a disservice to the Palestinian people by placing a major obstacle in the path of the peace process and playing into the hands of those who wish to maintain the blockade,” she stated.

While in Gaza, the High Commissioner repeated her call for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has now been held by Hamas for more than four and a half years. She added that she remained troubled by numerous human rights issues, including women’s rights and the use of the death penalty, related to actions by the de-facto authorities in Gaza, all of which she conveyed to them.

In Israel, she also discussed a range of discrimination-related issues including the treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, the ongoing demolition of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, and “the rhetoric and other actions apparently aimed at curbing the freedom and effectiveness of Israel’s human rights defenders.”

Ms. Pillay stressed that all of the issues she raised during her visit are solvable.

“Palestinians and Israelis are equally entitled to security and human rights, neither of which can be pursued at the expense of the other,” she stated. “I am encouraged by the fact that all my interlocutors during this visit took human rights seriously and showed preparedness to engage on the issues raised.”

During her visit, Ms. Pillay met with numerous officials on both sides, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as victims of human rights violations and human rights defenders.