In a sixty page report submitted this week to the 57th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the special UN Commission of Inquiry, established (Resolution E/CN.4/S-5/1, 19 October 2000) to investigate human rights violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, emphasized the urgent need for international protection for Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian people.
The report covers the legal status of the conflict, Israel’s excessive use of force, extra-judicial executions/political assassinations, settlements, and the deprivation of the enjoyment of economic and social rights (effect of closures, curfews, restrictions and movement, and destruction of property in addition) and includes a separate section which emphasizes the “distinctive vulnerability” of Palestinian refugees.
The Commission of Inquiry report notes that “no other refugee community in the world is so excluded … from the protective mechanisms and responsibility of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)” and concludes, on the basis of a legal analysis of the status of Palestinian refugees in international refugee law, that urgent international efforts are required to extend UNHCR protection to Palestinian refugees under Article 1D(2) of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Commission report further notes that while the question of the right of return is mostly beyond the scope of the Commission’s mandate, a “comprehensive settlement must deal equitably with the issue of Palestinian refugees and their rightful claims” including those living outside of the occupied territories.
The Commission of Inquiry further recommends that an adequate and effective international presence should be established immediately in the occupied Palestinian territories to monitor and regularly report on compliance by all parties with human rights and humanitarian law standards. The commission members also recommend that protection should be accorded in strict compliance with the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and that the High Contracting Parties to the Convention should act with urgency to establish an effective international mechanism for taking the urgent measures needed.
Among its other recommendations the report notes that a comprehensive, just and durable peace should be guided at all stages by respect for human rights and humanitarian law and the full application of international human rights standards and is linked to the end of the Israeli occupation and realization of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The report concludes that Israeli security forces (i.e., military and police) have used “excessive and disproportionate force” from the outset of the al-Aqsa intifada and recommends that Israeli forces should not resort to the use of rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition, except as a last resort; that provision of protection for settlers cannot be used for preemptive shooting of unarmed civilians in areas near settlements or on access and bypass roads leading to settlements or for the destruction of Palestinian property; an immediate end to Israel’s extrajudicial execution/assassinations; investigation and prosecution of persons found responsible for the use of lethal force or the excessive use of force which has caused death or serious injury; an immediate end to Israeli closures, curfews and other restrictions on freedom of movement; respect for Palestinian economic and social rights; an end to measures that amount to collective punishment; freedom of movement and safety for the provision of medical relief and treatment and in providing humanitarian assistance including that of UNRWA; special protection for children; and, free access to all places of worship and holy sites.
It is now up to Israel, the United Nations and the international community to translate the urgent recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into concrete policies and programs.
The complete report of the Commission of Inquiry is available on the UNCHR website (www.unhchr.ch) and on the BADIL website in PDF format. A delegation from BADIL Resource Center met with the Commission of Inquiry in mid-February and submitted a report on the impact of the lack of international protection of Palestinian refugees during the al-Aqsa intifada. The report is also available on the BADIL website (Commission of Inquiry Report, pdf)