December 10 marks the annual commemoration of International Human Rights Day and the 54th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among those basic rights enshrined in international human rights law is the right of return and the right to property. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted one day prior to UN General Assembly Resolution 194(III), affirming the right of Palestinian refugees to return and repossess their homes and properties.
More than 50 years after the adoption of these instruments, however, Israel continues to refuse to comply with the right of return and right to property as set forth in international human rights law and affirmed in Resolution 194. Today some 6 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons are prevented from exercising their basic human right to return to their places of origin. Palestinian refugees and displaced persons have also been arbitrarily deprived of an estimated 21,500 sq. km of land (includes expropriation and military control of land), and more than 200,000 homes, including some 73,000 not destroyed during the 1948 war, as well as offices, workshops, and shops.
Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their places of origin due to the refugees ethnic, national and religious origins. Discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status is strictly prohibited under international human rights law. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments without distinction of any kind. Everyone includes Palestinian refugees. The UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have specifically called upon Israel to rectify domestic legislation that prevents Palestinian refugees from returning to their places of origin and respossessing their homes and properties.
The absence of respect for human rights, including the rights of Palestinian refugees, extends to the entire Madrid/Oslo process. Madrid/Oslo effectively reduced universal human rights to disputed issues to be negotiated by the parties. There are no provisions for the protection of human rights. In other cases of conflict resolution, including those involving mass refugee flows such as Guatemala, Bosnia and Kosovo, human rights protections provide legitimacy to the political process i.e., a type of insurance that past abuses will not reoccur; and if they do, a mechanism to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and ensure adequate redress for victims of those violations. International human rights law provides a common framework of justice to address fears between peoples and mediate disputes between parties.
The Oslo agreements, the plans compiled by the Tenet-Mitchell-Zinni trio, and the more recent Quartet (US, EU, Russia, and UN) Road Map, are singularly unique because of the complete lack of reference to human rights and international law. Contrary to the norm, the international community has neither insisted on the incorporation of human rights principles into the political process between Israel and the PLO through the codification of principles in agreements and the development of national human rights institutions, nor has it held the parties accountable for serious human rights violations. The failed UN Security Council investigation of serious violations of international law in Jenin refugee camp earlier this year is only one example of many failures.
It should come as no surprise to the international community (i.e., the Quartet and others), therefore, particularly in the context of ongoing violations of international law
including violations rising to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity that Madrid/Oslo, Tenet-Mitchell-Zinni, and the current Road Map inspire little confidence among Palestinians, including refugees, regardless of whether they are living in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories or elsewhere. If ones lived experience is the origin of trust, then the Palestinian people, more than two-thirds of whom are refugees, have no reason to trust the international community as regards the enforcement of human rights.
Despite overwhelming evidence of serious human rights violations, the European Union refuses to adopt basic enforcement measures set forth in the Euro-Med Association Agreement with Israel with regard to respect for human rights, an essential element of EU-Israel relations. For the United States, the language of human rights seems to be altogether foreign and unintelligible. According to US officials, dropping a one-tonne bomb from a US-manufactured F-16 fighter jet on a residential area in the Gaza Strip, in full knowledge that such an attack would result in civilian injuries and casualties, is not a war crime or even a human rights violation only heavy-handed.
If the international community is really interested in building a comprehensive, just and durable solution to the protracted conflict in the Middle East, respect for human rights and international law, including the rights of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, must be the foundation of the political process. Respect for refugee rights is a key indicator of the commitment of governments and peoples to universal human rights. Exile is neither a durable nor a truly humanitarian solution for refugees.
On the anniversary of International Human Rights Day, BADIL Resource Center,
- Calls upon the international community to stop promoting solutions for Palestinian refugees that violate international law. The international community should uphold the same rights applied in crafting durable solutions in other refugee cases. Refugees are not stupid. They understand that a right that is recognized in principle but not in practice is no right at all. Would either the US or the EU propose that famine victims have the right to food in principle but not in practice? Refugees also understand that UN Resolution 194 is fully consistent with international law and human rights. Rights are not subject to negotiation neither is the meaning of Resolution 194. An agreement stipulating that a chair is in fact a table does not change the reality that the chair is still a chair. Moreover, refugees understand the principle of free and informed choice and that a package of options that limits the option of return to a set number of refugees or seeks to influence refugee choice through targeted incentives violates the fundamental principle of choice. Also calls upon the international community to uphold respect for all human rights as a fundamental component of relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to hold accountable those responsible for the violation of human rights and international law;
- Calls upon Israel to uphold respect for human rights and international law, including the rights of Palestinian refugees. Also calls for wider dissemination of international human rights standards in Israeli civil society relevant to the rights of refugees to broaden understanding about universal standards for crafting durable solutions to refugee problems, and encourage a culture of tolerance towards Palestinian refugees and displaced persons. Palestinian refugees are not a demographic threat or some dark horde seeking to invade and destroy Israel. Further awareness-raising should focus on the value of international law in addressing fears, providing protection, and mediating disputes;
- Encourages the solidarity movement, NGOs, academic and cultural institutions, business companies, political parties and unions, as well as concerned individuals to strengthen and broaden the global Israel boycott campaign until Israel falls into compliance with international law including international human rights law.
- Encourages the PLO to continue to place human rights and international law at the core of its search for durable solutions for Palestinian refugees and displaced persons as part of a comprehensive, just and durable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The Right of Return and Right to Property in International Human Rights Law (References)
The right of return is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 13.2) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 12.4). Further provisions concerning non-discrimination and the right of return and nationality are found in the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Art. 5.d.ii) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Art. 2.2). General Comment 22 relative to Art. 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination further emphasizes that refugees and displaced persons have the right to return to their homes of origin under conditions of safety. The right of return is also codified in the American Declaration of the Rights of Man (Art. 8); the American Convention of Human Rights (Art. 22.5); the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Art. 12.2); the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Art. 3.2, Protocol 4); and, the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (Art. 16.1, 16.2 and 16.3).
The right to property is also codified in numerous international human rights conventions. These include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 17.2); the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (Art. 5.d.v); and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Art. 2.2). General Comment 22 relative of Art. 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also emphasizes that refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them property of which they were deprived in the course of the conflict and to be compensated appropriately for any such property that cannot be restored to them. The right to property is further codified in the American Convention of Human Rights (Art. 21); the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples Rights (Art. 14 and 21.2); the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Art.1, Protocol 1); and the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (Art. 14, 15.1, 16.4, and 16.5).
For more information on the right to return in international law, see, The 1948 Palestinian Refugees and the Individual Right of Return: An International Law Analysis, on the BADIL website: www.badil.org/Protection/Refugee_Protection.htm
For more information on the right to housing and property, see the website of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE): www.cohre.org
Also see policy statements on Palestinian refugees by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and UN Human Rights Treaty Committee Concluding Observations for Israel, on the BADIL website: www.badil.org/Protection/Documents/Protect_Docs.htm
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