On Friday 18th May 2018, the Human Rights Council held a special session on ‘the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’.
The special session was requested, via an official letter dated 15th May 2018, signed by H.E. Mr Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Group of Arab States and H.E. Ibrahim Khraishi, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine. The request was supported by 17 Council Member States and eight Observer States.
In conformity with operative paragraph 10 of General Assembly resolution 60/251, the Council is ‘able to hold special sessions, when needed, at the request of a member of the Council with the support of one third of the membership of the Council’ (i.e. 16 Member States or more). Special sessions of the Council aim to provide a platform for the Council to consider and act on urgent human rights issues of either a country-specific or a thematic nature.
The Council’s action on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem to date
Seven of the Council’s twenty-eight Special Sessions to-date have addressed the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, namely: the 1st Special Session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (5th April 2006); the 3rd Special Session on Israeli military incursions in Occupied Palestinian Territory (15 November 2006); the 6th Special Session on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military attacks and incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including recent ones in occupied Gaza and the West Bank town of Nablus (23-24 January 2008); the 9th Special Session on the grave violations of human rights in Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the occupied Gaza Strip (9 January 2009); the 12th Special Session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (15-16 October 2009); the 21st Special Session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (23 July 2014); and the 28th Special Session on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (18 May 2018). As such 25% of Special Session have been convened to discuss the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
28th Special Session
The meeting, held on Friday 18th May 2018, began with keynote statement by Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (via a video statement), who was speaking on behalf of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the 28th Special Session of the Human Rights Council by recalling the recent developments that had taken place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These included the death of 87 Palestinians, including 12 children, since March 30th in the context of large scale demonstrations. In addition, 12,000 Palestinians had been injured since that date. But the ‘violence peak’ was reached on May 14, when 43 demonstrators were killed by Israeli security forces.
H.E. Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein emphasised that most of the demonstrators ‘were completely unarmed’ and that the actions of a very small minority of protestors, who used sling-shots and threw molotov cocktails, did not ‘appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force’. Thereby questioning whether the Israeli security forces tried to minimise casualties as claimed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Furthermore, the High Commissioner underlined that all Palestinians have the same human rights as Israelis do, and reminded the Council that Israel ‘as an occupying power under international law, is obligated to protect the population of Gaza and ensure their welfare.’
He concluded by endorsing ‘calls by many States and observers for an investigation that is international, independent and impartial – in the hope the truth regarding these matters will lead to justice.’ He also urged Israel to act in compliance with its international obligations, and to respect the ‘Palestinians’ right to life, their right to security of the person and rights to freedom of assembly and expression.’
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, speaking on behalf of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, started his video message by noting that ‘events in Gaza this past week, and these past eleven years, haunt the conscience of the international community.’ Indeed, the intent of the Palestinians who demonstrated on May 14 was to ‘remind the world that Gaza still exists, still yearns for its long-denied freedoms.’ He emphasised that they did so in an almost entirely unarmed and non-violent way.
Mr. Michael Lynk noted that ‘over the pas seven weeks, over 100 Palestinian demonstrators have died at the hands of the Israeli military’ and that many of the wounded would be suffering from serious, irreversible, physical disabilities. The responsibility for this human suffering rests with various actors, according the Special Rapporteur, but it starts with Israel, which has imposed an economic blockade that ‘has strangled the Gazan economy and society’ and which ‘has fired lethal ammunition again and again into the crowds of demonstrators’. Additionally, he assigned blame for the grim conditions in Gaza to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. Mr Lynk, however, emphasized the fact that the international community would ‘bear the ultimate obligation for ensuring that Israel respects all of its many unmet obligations under international law.’
The Special Rapporteur underscored that the latter include the obligation to respect the right to peaceful assembly (article 21 of the ICCPR), and to refrain from willful killing of civilians (Geneva Conventions, Rome Statute). Finally, Mr Lynk concluded by calling on the international community to mandate an independent and impartial investigation into the events in Gaza since March 30th, as ‘any condemnation of these recent events would be empty unless it is accompanied by the pursuit of justice and accountability’.
During the following debate, 31 Member States, 50 Observers (including Israel, as the country concerned) and 32 civil society representatives took the floor to deliver statements.
At the start of the debate, H.E. Ms Aviva Raz Shechter, Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN in Geneva – speaking on behalf of a country concerned – exclaimed that it ‘took this Council four years to relapse to its worse form of anti-Israel obsession’. She continued by stating that ‘Israel regrets any civilian loss of live … but that the unfortunate outcome of Monday’s riots can only be attributed to Hamas’. Ambassador Shechter regretted that ‘so many Member States allowed themselves to be misled by the false narrative of so-called “peaceful protests” and continued that ‘there is nothing peaceful in Molotov cocktails, explosive devices and meat-cleavers’, and that ‘Israel defends itself … it is not a choice, but an obligation towards our citizens’. She informed the Council that ‘Israel is conducting independent and transparent investigations on any credible accusation or reasonable suspicion of alleged wrongdoing’, as such it makes the objective of the resolution, the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, obsolete.
Subsequently, H.E. Mr Ibrahim Khraishi, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN in Geneva – speaking on behalf of a country concerned – addressed the Council expressing its ‘gratitude to the friendly nations that have convened the Special Session’. He noted that despite many calls to the contrary they had avoided requesting a Special Session on 6th December 2017, when the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem was announced, ‘which constitutes a violation of International Law, the Charter, and the two International Covenants’. Ambassador Khraishi stated that the civilians participating in the ‘Great Return March’ were protesting to express their refusal of the occupations policies, their misery and oppression and were asking for freedom. He continued that the State of Palestine had tried to seek action by the UNSC to address the events in Gaza, but that these had been thwarted by the US. That is why they were obliged to come this forum to get to the truth and to seek justice.
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the OIC, expressed its ‘strong condemnation to the arbitrary killing of more than 100 Palestinians including women and children by the Israeli Occupation Forces.’ It further noted that the ‘OIC believes that the shifting of the US Embassy to the Occupied City of Jerusalem, is a dangerous move that not only contravenes the international law including the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also goes against all of UN Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council Resolutions.’ Finally, it urged Israel to put an immediate end to the disproportionate use of force against Palestinian demonstrators and condemned the unjustified move of US Authorities.
Bulgaria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, voiced its ‘grave concern over the escalation of violence and the use of excessive force, including live fire’. It noted that ‘lethal use of force should be exercised with maximum restraint’ and that ‘Hamas and those leading the protests in Gaza have a responsibility to avoid provocations … and remain strictly non-violent’. It highlighted the merits of undertaking an independent and transparent investigation into alleged human rights violations and abuses. The statement concluded by reiterating the European Union’s ‘clear, consolidated position on Jerusalem’.
Brazil exclaimed that it was ‘appalled by disproportionate and unrestrained use of force against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories over the recent weeks’. It echoed appeals from the international community for a full, transparent and independent investigation, as ‘accountability is necessary’. Finally, Brazil reaffirmed its support for a two-State solution, within internationally recognised borders.
Egypt noted that ‘the suffering by the Palestinian people requires a firm stance by the international community to stop these violations and ensure accountability for the perpetrators of these violations.’ This justifies the holding of a Special Session and the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry.
South Africa underscored its support for the Special Session by stating that ‘it would have been inexplicable for the Human Rights Council, the moral conscience of the world, not to convene today’ and ‘it is appropriate for the Human Rights Council to stand up to bullies, for in essence they are cowards’. It noted that it was ‘correct to hold Israel accountable today’, as State ‘cannot blackmail the global community’ in order to escape criticism.
United States of America expressed its concern over ‘the recent outbreak of violence along the Gaza fence’. It noted, however, that the Special Session was ‘blatantly taking sides and ignoring the real culprit for the recent outbreak of violence, the terrorist organisation Hamas’. The USA continued its statement by noting that ‘the US rejects the assertions that human rights violations took place’ and it would be ‘hypocritical for this body to spend time and money on this Commission if there are no Commissions looking into human rights and atrocities in the DPRK, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and the Russian occupation of Crimea’. It concluded by stating that ‘the one-sided action proposed by this Council today only further shows that the Human Rights Council is a broken body’.
Mexico conveyed its condolences to the families of the victims. It reaffirmed its support for the holding of the Special Session and stated that ‘the Council must react in a just and balanced, prompt manner to emergencies affecting human rights’. It concluded by calling on all parties to the conflict to restrain its actions in order ‘to avoid another spiral of violence and more loss of life’.
Australia echoed other delegations in expressing its deep regret and sadness at the loss of life that occurred during protests in Gaza. However, it also underscored its firm view that ‘Israel has legitimate security concerns, and has the right to protect its populations’ and noted Hamas’ role in inciting the situation in Gaza. Australia noted that ‘any investigation must be demonstrably impartial, thorough, and transparent.’ and that ‘all relevant parties should cooperate’.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies noted that the events discussed during the Special Session show that ‘Israeli forces enjoy a culture of impunity for policy-driven military assaults that are in blatant violation of international law’ and that ‘the Israeli justice system has proven its inability and unwillingness to hold accountable decision-makers and perpetrators of serious crimes.’ It reiterated its support for the creation of an international and independent investigations and its request that ‘the ICC immediately begin an active investigation into these and other crimes’.
The World Jewish Congress stated that it ‘holds Hamas fully responsible for the violence and bloodshed on the Israeli-Gaza border’. They lamented the many partial statements made and were at loss as to how so many statements ommitted ‘the incitement by Hamas, who deliberately pushed civilians to charge toward the border fence into the path of fire, and the hatred fueled by this terrorist organization against Israeli citizens’. They concluded their statement by calling on the Council to reject the draft resolution.
During the second meeting of the Special Session, Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation except Albania presented, draft resolution S-28/L.1 on ‘Violations of international law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’. It explained that the objective of the resolution was to ‘dispatch an independent, international Commission of Inquiry to investigate all violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human rights Law’.
Draft resolution S28/L.1 as orally revised, was adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, two against, and 14 abstentions.
|Afghanistan, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Burundi, Chile, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)||Australia, United States of America||Croatia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, Panama, Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Slovakia, Switzerland, Togo, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
With the adoption of resolution S28/L.1 as orally revised, the Council ‘condemns the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including in the context of peaceful protests, particularly in the Gaza Strip … and expresses its grief at the extensive loss of life, including of children, women, health workers and journalists’ (OP1) and ‘calls for an immediate cessation of all attacks, incitement and violence against civilians’ (OP2).
Furthermore, the Council demands that ‘Israel, the occupying power, immediately and fully ends its illegal closure of the occupied Gaza Strip, which amounts to collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population’ (OP3)
Finally, the resolution decides to ‘dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry … to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, … in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018 … to establish the facts and circumstances … of the alleged violations and abuses, including those that may amount to war crimes, to identify those responsible’ (OP5). The Council has mandated the commission of inquiry to present an oral update on their finding during the 39th Session of the Council and a written report during its 40th Session.
The full text of resolution S28/1 can be found here.
 Angola, Burundi, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
 Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia Kuwait, the Maldives, Oman, Tajikistan, and Turkey
 Only two out of the twenty-eight Special sessions of the Human Rights Council have been of a thematic nature, however, namely, on: ‘the negative impact on the realization of the right to food of the worsening of the world food crisis, caused inter alia by the soaring food prices’ (7th Special Session); and ‘The Impact of the Global Economic and Financial Crises on the Universal Realization and Effective Enjoyment of Human Rights’ (10th Special Session).
 These figures do not include item 7 resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan
Featured Photo: Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Human Rights Council special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. United Nations Office in Geneva – 18 May 2018. UN Photo / Elma Okic, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Ibrahim Khraishi, Permanent Observer Representative of the State of Palestine to the UN and other international organizations in Switzerland speaks at the Human Rights Council special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. United Nations Office in Geneva – 18 May 2018. UN Photo / Elma Okic, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Ambassador Aviva Raz Sheather, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations speaks at the Human Rights Council special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. United Nations Office in Geneva – 18 May 2018. UN Photo / Elma Okic, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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