Press Releases

    GA/PAL/982
    10 March 2005

    UN Meeting on Palestine Discusses Role of Parliaments, Civil Society in Advocating Adherence to International Law

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 9 March (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine on implementing the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory this afternoon heard a number of panellists discuss the role of parliaments and civil society in advancing adherence to international law.

    Among other things, the panellists highlighted the role of parliaments and civil society in pressuring governments.  One speaker said civil society organizations should use every opportunity to raise the Advisory Opinion in articulating their political positions to their own national governments and in raising awareness amongst the public.

    The panellists who took the floor today were Daniel Vischer, Member of the National Council of Switzerland; Julia Wickham, Coordinator of the Labour Middle East Council in London; Jeff Handmaker, Researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights in Utrecht; Bruce Gillette, Moderator of the Committee on Peacemaking for the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, United States; Mark Lance, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Member of the Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, in Washington; Anne Massagee, Legal Researcher at Al-Haq – Law in the Service of Man in Ramallah; and Alioune Tine, Professor at the University of Dakar and Secretary-General of Rencontre Africaine pour la Défence des Droits de l’Homme in Dakar. 

    The two-day International Meeting, which is being organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, will hold a closing session from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. this afternoon.

    Statements

    DANIEL VISCHER, Member of the National Council of Switzerland in Bern, said the plan to build a wall of separation had been announced by the Prime Minister of Israel on 15 April 2002.  In June 2002, land had been confiscated and Arabs had been uprooted so that the first part of the wall could be erected west of Jenin.  After that, the Prime Minister of Israel said that the wall would be extended along the Jordan valley in order to allow Israel to have complete control over the Jewish settlements which were contrary to international law.  At the end of 2004, the wall covered 200 kilometres.  When he and his colleagues from the Swiss Parliament had visited the area in September 2004, they had observed the terrible humanitarian consequences that building the wall had entailed for the Palestinians.  Once the construction of the wall was achieved, it would be 832 kilometres long -- twice the length of the Green Line.  The building of the wall would de facto confiscate 47.6 per cent of the land in the West Bank; 88.6 per cent of Israeli territory would lie outside the wall while 89.5 per cent of the Palestinian population would live within the wall.

    Mr. Vischer said he was convinced that, in order to obtain a lasting and just peace, which would be based on the creation of a Palestinian State with

    East Jerusalem as its capital, it was necessary that the international community succeed in pressuring Israel, as well as the United States Administration, to apply international law.  As Yasser Arafat had rightly underlined on several occasions, the Palestinian people should not be suffering the consequences of a tragedy -- the Holocaust -- for which they could not be held accountable.  He believed that the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice and that of the General Assembly concerning the construction of the wall had launched a new process which would help achieve a lasting peace.

    JULIA WICKHAM, Coordinator of the Labour Middle East Council in London, said that United Kingdom's Government statements on Israel and Palestine were more often than not in accordance with international law.  Extrajudicial assassinations were denounced, and settlement expansion was criticized.  Unfortunately, the words had not translated into significant political or diplomatic actions at that level.  Despite the frustration at the failure of Government rhetoric to translate into meaningful policy change, there was currently within both Houses of Parliament a crescendo of calls upon the Government to do something about the transgressions of international law in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.  Civil society and parliaments must be doing something right.

    In an era when the spread of democracy had become a crusade in the minds of some world leaders, it was right and proper that governments should also receive robust reminders of the absolute necessity of international law in underpinning successful democracies in the long term and the relations between States.  Governments should not ignore the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.  It was an authoritative statement of the law, and the law was binding even if the statement technically was not.

    JEFF HANDMAKER, Researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights in Utrecht, said the Advisory Opinion was important in a number of fundamental respects.  As with every decision it issued, the International Court of Justice’s conclusions were more than mere rhetoric.  They represented the most authoritative statement of the content and applicability of international law, especially on a contested issue.  The Court had clarified that, notwithstanding the nature of the conflict, international human rights and humanitarian law were applicable in the occupied territories.  It made clear that construction of the wall in the occupied territories and in East Jerusalem was illegal and Israel should not only stop construction immediately, but it should also begin dismantling the wall.  Beyond the wall itself, the construction of settlements in the occupied territories was also declared illegal.  The decision further declared that destruction of housing and property to construct the wall was illegal, and that Israel was obliged to make reparations for all damage caused by its construction.

    Human rights advocates should not abandon international law even if Israel had.  Just as in the case of South Africa, the Advisory Opinion had the capacity to give new, authoritative meaning to human rights advocacy.  Civil society organizations should use every opportunity to raise the Advisory Opinion in articulating their political positions to their own national governments, in raising awareness amongst the public or in supporting the position of the United Nations to carry out the work for which it was intended and to urge it to take concrete action.

    BRUCE GILLETTE, Moderator of the Committee on Peacemaking for the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, United States, said since 1948, Presbyterian General Assemblies had repeatedly addressed the Middle East and particularly Israel and Palestine.  The Presbyterian position had consistently been to affirm the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign State within secure, internationally recognized borders, and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, including the right to establishment of a neighbouring independent, sovereign State, towards the end of establishing a just and durable peace.  The ongoing violence in the Middle East had been a grave concern for the Presbyterian Church, particularly as it had escalated to a historic degree during the past four years, since the recent Intifada was sparked.  Reiterating concern for the deaths of civilians on all sides in that and other conflicts, the Church had condemned terrorism at the 216th General Assembly in 2004.

    Central to violence against innocent civilians, to broad human rights violations, to the dwindling Christian presence, to fear, humiliation, and anger for both peoples was the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.  The Presbyterian Church had repeatedly called for an end to the occupation.  The resolution on calling for an end to the construction of a wall by the State of Israel was adopted by the Church’s 216th Assembly.  The work for peace and justice in the Middle East would require more than words and actions, it also needed prayers of all people of faith.

    MARK LANCE, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Member of the Steering Committee of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Washington D.C., said that as a result of the continued construction of the apartheid wall, the possibility of a meaningful Palestinian State, indeed of a functional Palestinian society even, was rapidly disappearing. Current negotiations promised no serious discussion of the crucial issues of occupation, focusing merely on how to achieve a "calm" within which the United States and Israel could continue the institutionalization of their respective occupations. It would, indeed, be optimistic even to expect Palestinians to achieve managerial control over their emerging network of Bantustans.  It was more likely that negotiations would break down and return to earlier levels of violence with the familiar results for both Israeli and Palestinian societies.

    Israel currently held all the cards -- economic, military and political -- and enjoyed the absolute support of the world’s dominant power.  In such a situation, hoping for a diplomatic success by the Palestinian Authority was merely whistling in the dark.  Cosmetic gestures notwithstanding, both regimes were moving towards more hard-line positions regarding fundamental issues.  He saw no prospect that the United Nations or Europe would develop the courage to confront the United States.  For nearly four decades, the States of the United Nations had declared their commitment to ending the occupation, and to the right of return, but had left the de facto management of the situation up to the United States.

    ANNE MASSAGEE, Legal Researcher at Al-Haq -- Law in the Service of Man, Ramallah, said that one of the most important contributions of Palestinian non-governmental organizations was the gathering and dissemination of information about current developments on the ground, serving as a barometer of the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.  The backbone of organizations like Al-Haq was their monitoring and documentation staff, for it was those individuals who investigated and verified the abuse of international law.  That information was analyzed from a legal perspective and relayed to the international community via press releases, interventions and reports.  The ability to make credible and up-to-date information about human rights violations readily available was one of the most fundamental tasks undertaken by Palestinian civil society.

    A number of Palestinian non-governmental organizations had contributed directly or indirectly to efforts to legally challenge Israeli practices which were in breach of international legal norms.  The use of the Advisory Opinion as a tool to realize change was also seen in Palestinian partnership domestically and with international civil society organizations.

    ALIOUNE TINE, Professor at the University of Dakar and Secretary-General of Rencontre Africaine pour la Défence des Droits de l’Homme in Dakar, said the construction of the wall of separation would violate the right to self-determination, modify the demographic composition in the occupied Palestinian territory, and violate the international law relative to human rights, particularly the International Covenants on Civil and Political and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Those issues were expressed in the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice.  The wall of shame should be dismantled and Palestinians should be compensated.  The dismantling of the wall would be a catalyst to the progress to the peace process and the implementation of the Road Map.

    Civil society, through its flexibility, softness, commitment, capacity to innovate and creativity, but also through its dynamism and expertise, constituted today an element capable of playing an active role in the promotion of international law.  The support of the civil society partnership was necessary to hope for a new era which would give a voice to the voiceless. 

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