16 December 2005
Latin American and Caribbean Meeting Concludes with Caracas Declaration
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CARACAS, 14 December -- The Caracas Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the two-day United Nations Latin and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Caracas this afternoon, strongly condemned the continuing construction of the wall and the expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
The Declaration, which summarized the work of the Meeting, also condemned the recent resumption by Israel, the occupying Power, of military incursions and extrajudicial killings that threatened to unravel the fragile truce agreed to by Palestinian groups, provoked feelings of hatred and despair and undid what progress had already been achieved. The Meeting called on Israel to stop interfering with the election process, assist the Palestinian side and grant freedom of movement to candidates and voters during the campaign and voting period, including in East Jerusalem, and to allow political prisoners in Israel to participate.
Participants viewed the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank as a positive first step that could reignite negotiations within the framework of the Road Map. They welcomed the Brasilia Declaration of 11 May 2005 by which the South American and Arab countries reaffirmed the need to reach a just, durable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
During the afternoon's plenary, experts considered the plight of the refugees in camps both inside and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the efforts of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to assist them. Several speakers pointed to the work of civil society and the need to strengthen public opinion with regard to support for the Palestinian cause. The effect of the news media was examined and suggestions made about how to influence their coverage.
All the expert panellists in the final plenary were women. Presentations were made by Professor of Latin American Political Science, University of the Andes, Venezuela, Omaira Zabib; Board Member of the Arab Cultural Centre and Professor, University of Sao Paolo Arlene Clemesha; Head, Political Department, Organization of Solidarity among the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America in Havana, Lourdes Cervantes Vasquez; Board Member of the Arab Movement for Human Rights, Buenos Aires, Tilda Rabi; and Professor, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana of Mexico, Doris Musalem.
In the closing session, statements were made by the Director of Multilateral Affairs at the Ministry of External Relations of Venezuela, Ilenia Medina, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, and the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Paul Badji.
The Rapporteur of the Committee, Victor Camilleri, introduced the Final Document.
Tomorrow, the Committee will host the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian peace. A round table of experts from the Latin American and Caribbean meeting will examine public perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the role of the media; the impact and educational responsibility of think tanks and academic institutions; and the role of civil society in raising public awareness about the question of Palestine.
Plenary III: Support by Latin American and Caribbean countries for the realization by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights
Promoting support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people through the United Nations system; Action by Latin American and Caribbean States within the Non-aligned Movement, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community and other intergovernmental mechanisms; and civil society initiatives in the region.
OMAIRA ZABIB, Professor of Latin-American political science, University of the Andes, Merida, Venezuela, said that out of 9 million Palestinians, 5 million lived outside the Palestinian Territory. There were four permanent camps in the Gaza Strip. Displaced refugees had a special status with the United Nations and were recognized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The houses built were temporary because the hope was that the people would return to their homes. At first the Agency had contributed food aid. It was later expanded to include health care and education. In most Lebanese refugee camps, higher education was provided in the Russian Federation and Cuba. Refugees in Lebanon had no civil rights and could not leave the area of the 12 camps there. There were drastic reductions in UNRWA services to the camps. Cutbacks in those resources resulted from the signing of the Oslo Agreement when it was announced that refugees could return home.
The camps were organized into people's committees that communicated with each other, she said. Camps in the centre of Lebanon had begun to build concrete houses. There was a large difference in the quality of houses in the various camps. Refugees in Lebanon also faced the problem of what to do with their dead as they could not bury them outside the camps. Conditions in the schools were bad and many of the children had left school. Most of the street children in Lebanon were Palestinians.
Regarding humanitarian conditions, she said that after 1994, all economic assistance had been lost. Meanwhile, refugees returning from foreign universities were not allowed to work in their profession. They were only allowed to work in construction and agriculture during the harvest.
She said the Aswat community consisted of Palestinians expelled from Jordan and were not recognized by anyone. They had to falsify their children's names so that they could attend the local schools. The refugees faced obstacles to employment, inadequate housing and insufficient schools. Palestinians were putting pressure on UNRWA to change the educational situation, to promote the building of new schools and to ask external donors for resources to build preschools. The Agency was also being asked to increase its presence among the refugees. Also, Palestinians were asking the international community to provide economic and social assistance to the refugees.
ARLENE CLEMESHA, Board Member, Arab Cultural Centre, Professor, University of Sao Paulo, said there were many Brazilian students who wanted to know what was happening in the Palestinian Territory. Others also supported events to disseminate information on the subject. Support groups dedicated to challenging the media presentation were emerging. The two-day Summit of South American and Arab Countries in May, while intending to strengthen economic bonds and increase trade, had been from the beginning linked to the accomplishment of a political and cultural agenda. The Brasilia Declaration called for the Israeli withdrawal from all the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the establishment of a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders. The resolution had caused some scandal in the mainstream press but had had the effect of breaking the general silence on the issue and civil society had gained an important basis to develop its work.
Subsequently, she said, civil society groups together with governmental organs had held the National Conference on Racial Equality. The Government of Brazil recognized that racism was inherent in that country. It had held a weak position on the question of Palestine despite the fact that an estimated 19 per cent of the population was of Arab descent. At the conference, Palestinians had worked with the black movement, Indians and other groups, and a single resolution had been adopted on the Palestinian question. While the resolution was very basic, it was a platform from which to begin work. The conference had also approved the creation of a Commission to monitor information relative to the violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
She said there should be a greater effort to bring more pressure and not to accept the occupation. In July, the Brazilian National University teachers' union, Association of Brazilian Professors had approved a motion in support of Palestinian civil society. There had been a quantum leap in Brazilian public opinion, which was now better informed and realized that there needed to be action from the Governments in the region. Those activities must be coordinated so they could support each other throughout Latin America. The campaign for support was not just something that was being discussed. It was beginning to happen.
LOURDES CERVANTES VASQUEZ, Head of the Political Department, Organization of Solidarity among the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America, Havana, said that putting an end to the tragedy of the Palestinian people required complete implementation of international law. The State of Israel, established on Palestinian territory, refused to comply with the resolutions of the organization that had created it, trampling underfoot 64 resolutions. Other resolutions had been vetoed by the United States. One had to realize the realities of the day such as the replacement of multilateralism with unilateralism by the United States. There was a new kind of legality involving political vendettas threatened by the powerful countries, headed by the United States. Disregard by Israel of the illegal nature of the wall was further evidence of disdain for the international community. In the case of the question of Palestine, unilateralism was synonymous with genocide.
She stressed the importance of increasing knowledge about the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and said that the Committee had been the recipient of questions and unjust statements. The Israeli attempt to subjugate Palestinians daily flouted the principles of respect for the human being. Its actions included extermination of the people, murder, and arrest of leaders. She called attention to the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people and the political will of those leaders who had been exiled.
She said that all the initiatives and capacities to support the Palestinians must be increased. There was much to be done to prevent further progress by Israel in its attempt to exterminate the Palestinian people. Her organization supported the civil society Plan of Action adopted at the Committee's conference in Paris, and she reaffirmed that they would spare no effort until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were achieved.
TILDA RABI, Board Member, Arab Movement for Human Rights, Buenos Aires, said that in 1995, when the Committee sponsored its meeting in Brazil, she had felt that the Palestinian State was on its way to reality. Today, she had to recognize that it was a kind of Pax Romana. She had spent some time communicating with Jewish groups, visiting synagogues and addressing Jewish bodies but the bombing in Buenos Aires had changed the climate. She was again working with Jewish organizations. In one meeting she had expressed the view that Jews, as members of a community that had demanded the creation of their own State, were obligated to support another group. The same organizations claimed to represent Israeli human rights organizations. Their response to her suggestion was negative, and she was told that she was offending the audience with her attitude. The excessive brandishing of the Holocaust was acceptable for them but not for others. What about the Palestinian diaspora? she asked.
She went on to say that the Jewish community was afraid to look at the situation. They did not want to accept the reality of what was happening. The Argentinean society had shown solidarity but there was a stigma placed on the Arab. The general perception was unclear. The apartheid wall had been ignored. The Zionist effort was directed at influencing intellectuals and politicians in Latin countries. It was a mistake to say that "all we had to do was reach the media". That was based on an assumption that the Latin American majority was interested in the Palestinian situation.
She said that people who depended on getting information from the media were subjected to descriptions of the region that were perceived as mythical, exotic and alien. Some elements could be of help to reverse the situation. There were many non-governmental organizations with a concentrated intellectual audience. Politics, law and culture criss-crossed on the issue. Some countries had moved from sympathy to expressing support, but that was not enough.
DORIS MUSALEM, Professor, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana of Mexico, Mexico City, stressed the importance of public opinion and recalled that the force of public opinion had brought the Viet Nam war to an end. Public opinion in the United States was most important with regard to the question of Palestine. In the communications media, the idea was disseminated that there was hope for the situation. They made it appear that there was a process of peace, but such so-called peace processes resulted in further Israeli expansion. Noam Chomsky had said Palestinians must go to American public opinion and explain that they were fighting to establish an independent State.
The communications media were the most decisive element in the perception of civil society about any given event, she said. Most people accepted the information without any processing of their own. There was a greater opening to new ideas in the media because of greater competition. That resulted in a change in public perception of the problem of Palestine and greater support by civil society for Palestinian rights. Individual initiatives also took place involving artists, film-makers and other interested individuals. CORSOPAL, a Committee that coordinated activities in Mexico in defence of the Palestinian people, served as a platform for work done in Mexico. There was also a small group of academics who participated in the support of the Palestinian cause.
She said civil society also expressed itself in many other endeavours that supported the Palestinians. Different organizations of civil society, as well as individuals must work collectively with other organizations in defence of human rights. She called for more conferences and debates to promote a national and international network.
ILENIA MEDINA, Director of Multilateral Affairs, Ministry of External Relations of Venezuela, said there was not much that could be added to what had been said. Her Government was happy to see the Final Document contribute to the international discussion of the question of Palestine. There were many marvellous presentations by women. The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry was more committed than ever to the topic and hoped the item would remain on the General Assembly agenda. Putting a human face on the tragedy was important. She reiterated the President's intent to try to bring other countries into the Committee. The social items covered by today's speakers covered the domain of the media. In the context of the Public Forum, it could be examined in greater depth. In the context of globalization, the role of the media was crucial.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said the Final Document would serve as a guiding document to those who were in the midst of the struggle for a Palestinian State. It would help to encourage other Governments in Latin America to join the Committee. The Palestinian struggle had gone on too long, but it did not seem that it would end soon. Palestinians needed and appreciated the support which ensured that they were not alone in the struggle. It would give them the additional strength they needed to be successful at the end of the day.
PAUL BADJI, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, reviewed the work of the panels of distinguished experts and said that the Meeting had been the beneficiary of two days of constructive deliberations.
He recalled that the Meeting had highlighted the immense humanitarian and socio-economic challenges that continue to plague the Palestinian people. Their battered economy needed to be rebuilt so they could experience some tangible improvements in their daily lives. The Palestinian Authority, which was embarking on institutional reform, needed urgent economic and political support, particularly as it strove to strengthen Palestinian democratic institutions.
Other speakers focused on the importance of maintaining international legitimacy in finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They emphasized the important role of the United Nations, including the General Assembly, in ensuring the implementation of resolutions and respect for legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. There was concern that international law was being undermined by Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Latin American and Caribbean region's moral, legal, material and political support had been indispensable in the Committee's implementation of its mandate over the years.
Roundup of Meeting
Representatives of 27 Governments, 3 United Nations agencies, 10 non-governmental organizations and 25 representatives of the media attended the two-day meeting. Held at the Hotel Hilton, Caracas, the meeting was divided into three plenaries and involved the participation of 16 experts.
The Latin American and Caribbean Meeting was followed by the United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Both events were convened in accordance with General Assembly resolution 59/28 and 59/29 of 1 December 2004, by which the Assembly requested the Committee to continue to promote the realization of Palestinian rights, to support the Middle East peace process and to mobilize international support for and assistance to the Palestinian people. It also asked the Committee to continue to support Palestinian and other civil society organizations in order to mobilize international solidarity and support for the achievement of Palestinian rights and a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine. The Assembly further asked the Committee to involve additional civil society organizations in its work.
ALCIDES RONDÓN, Vice-Minister of External Relations of Venezuela for Asia, Middle East and Oceania, opened the two-day meeting, which began on 13 December. Plenary I heard presentations by experts on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Among the topics discussed were Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, the humanitarian and socio-economic challenges facing the Palestinian people and the urgency of strengthening Palestinian Authority institutions.
Plenary II examined international efforts at achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the question of Palestine. Panel experts discussed supporting the efforts of the Quartet and other actors; maintaining international legitimacy in efforts at achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace; and the permanent responsibility of the United Nations.
Plenary III was devoted to "Support by Latin American and Caribbean countries for the realization by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights". Under that theme, experts explored means of promoting support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people through the United Nations system. It also considered action by Latin American and Caribbean States within the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community and other intergovernmental mechanisms as well as civil society initiatives in the region.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which observed its thirtieth anniversary this year, was established by General Assembly resolution 3376 (XXX) of November 1975. By that resolution, the Assembly mandated the Committee to recommend a programme to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights as recognized by General Assembly resolution 3236 (XXIX) of 22 November 1974. In its first and subsequent reports to the Assembly, the Committee stressed that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, must be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and the following principles: the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and from other occupied Arab territories; respect for the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized boundaries; and the recognition and exercise of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination. Each year the Assembly has renewed the Committee's mandate and requested it to intensify its efforts.
The Committee is composed of the following Member States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Cyprus, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine
Observers to the Committee are Algeria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Niger, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Yemen. Palestine, African Union, League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference are also observers.
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