JERUSALEM – Last month, an international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found that settlements constituted a violation of international human rights and humanitarian law and called on Israel to stop all expansions immediately and withdraw from settlements.
A controversial Israeli plan, known as E-1, to build thousands of housing units and hotel rooms near the Ma’ale Adummim settlement, has garnered much attention in the media because it would sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. (See IRIN’s briefing on E-1 here.)
But at the same time, Israel has been moving forward with equally controversial settlement plans under less scrutiny and with unusual speed.
As US President Barack Obama prepares to visit the region this week, IRIN takes a look at some of the details that have been overlooked in the discussion.
What’s the Giv’at HaMatos plan?
According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim (“City of Nations”), which works to preserve Jerusalem as a home for both Jews and Palestinians, one settlement plan of “critical importance” is Giv’at HaMatos.
In a sense, Giv’at HaMatos does in the south what E-1 does in the east. The planned large housing and hotel complex at the southern perimeter of Jerusalem would further disrupt the contiguity of land between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank required for a future Palestinian state, seriously impeding a two-state solution, research and rights groups say. It would also mark the first new settlement construction in Jerusalem since 1997.
“All construction is problematic but there are several plans that are, in our view, more dangerous if implemented,” Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli NGO Peace Now, told IRIN. “Giv’at HaMatos is the most dangerous plan that is now approved.”
Part of the plan – to build 2,612 units – was approved by the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee on 19 December.
Most of Giv’at HaMatos is currently uninhabited, but according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), which recently released a two-part report on the future of East Jerusalem, its build-up would cut off Arab neighbourhoods in southern Jerusalem, like Beit Safafa and Sharafat, rendering them “Palestinian enclaves”.
Giv’at HaMatos would connect the dots of several other planned or expanding settlements along southern Jerusalem – including Giv’at Yael in the southwest; and Har Homa and East Talpiyot in the southeast – forming “a long Jewish continuum severing Bethlehem’s urban continuum from Palestinian Jerusalem”, ICG said. Last year, the Israeli government also approved more than 2,000 new units in neighbouring Gilo.
This kind of attachment to Jewish expansions could make peace negotiations even harder.
“From an Israeli public opinion perspective, Giv’at HaMatos is in the municipal border of Jerusalem,” Ofran said. “It’s considered a legitimate part of Israel.”
Barak Cohen, the Jerusalem Municipality’s adviser for foreign affairs and media, told IRIN Giv’at HaMatos is part of Jerusalem’s “natural and much-needed growth”, allowing both Arab and Jewish landowners to develop their properties.
Indeed, part of the Giv’at HaMatos plan, approved on 18 December, allows for the building of 549 units for Palestinians – though Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, points out much of it retroactively legalizes building that has already been completed. The figures, she added, amount to just over one-fifth of the Jewish expansion.
“For many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”
Still, Cohen insisted, the development would benefit Jerusalem as a whole: “Not planning and developing Jerusalem neighbourhoods ultimately harms all residents and landowners – Arabs and Jews alike.”
Last year, Israel also issued tenders for the construction of 606 new housing units north of East Jerusalem, in the Ramot settlement, just north of the Green Line marking the border between Israel and the West Bank, and approved another 1,500 units in the neighbouring settlement of Ramot Shlomo, according to Ir Amim.
What other settlements are planned?
Beyond Jerusalem, there was movement on a number of other settlements projects in disputed areas, according to Settlement Watch.
In June 2012, the Israeli government announced it would build 851 new units in the West Bank, including more than 230 in the controversial settlements of Ariel and Efrat. Like Giv’at HaMatos, these two settlements make a contiguous Palestinian territory impossible, Settlement Watch says.
Overall, settlements expanded much faster than usual last year.
In 2012 the Israeli government approved the construction of 6,676 settler housing units in the West Bank, compared with 1,607 in 2011 and several hundred in 2010, according to Peace Now.
For plans that were already approved, it issued more than 3,000 tenders to construction contractors – more than any other year in the last decade, Peace Now said. Construction has actually begun on 1,747 homes.
Regardless of the settlements, Palestinians, especially in Area C, are under immense pressure. Recent weeks have seen a considerable upswing in demolitions of Palestinian structures. According to the Displacement Working Group, a grouping of aid agencies helping displaced families, Israeli forces destroyed 139 Palestinian structures, including 59 homes, in January – almost triple 2012’s monthly average. The demolitions occurred in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – with a majority taking place in Area C – and left 251 Palestinians, including over 150 children, displaced.
The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) told IRIN there was no connection between the removal of unauthorized buildings and the construction of Israeli settlements. “All construction in the West Bank is subject to building codes and planning laws and unauthorized constructions are dealt with accordingly,” the office said in an email.
What are the knock-on effects?
Settlements are often discussed through the lens of their illegality under international law or as obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But everything associated with the settlements – including Israeli-only infrastructure, the separation barrier, military checkpoints, restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, suppression of freedom of expression and political life, and control of Palestinian natural resources – causes a ripple effect through Palestinian society, adversely impacting the people.
The UN estimates there are now 520,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with 43 percent of the land there allocated to local and regional settlement councils. According to the UN Secretary-General, Israel has transferred roughly 8 percent of its citizens into OPT since the 1970s, altering the demographic composition of the territory and furthering the Palestinian people from their right to self-determination.
Baker, of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, said a future Palestinian state should include a Jewish minority. “The assumption behind this… is that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank, an assumption that we reject. In fact we see ourselves as the true indigenous people of this land.”
But Israeli settlements have violated Palestinian rights to equality under the law, to religious freedom and to freedom of movement, according to the UN fact-finding mission. They have also eroded Palestinian access to water and to agricultural assets, and the ability to develop economically, it said.
Photo: OCHA – View larger version of map here
For example, Bedouins from the Palestinian village of Khan Al Ahmar, northeast of E-1, cannot sell their dairy products at their traditional Souq Al Ahmar market any more. Because of movement restrictions (they hold West Bank IDs and lack the proper permits to enter East Jerusalem), they cannot get there.
The UN secretary-general has said that Palestinians “have virtually no control” over the water resources in the West Bank, with 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea under the de facto jurisdiction of the settlement regional councils.
There is a statistical correlation between Palestinians’ proximity to settlements and their rates of food insecurity, according to a UN and government survey, which found that one quarter of Palestinians who live in Area C, home to the largest number of settlements in the West Bank, are food insecure. In Areas A and B, the average rate of food insecurity is 17 percent.
In addition, “all spheres of Palestinian life are being significantly affected by a minority of settlers who are engaged in violence and intimidation with the aim of forcing Palestinians off their land,” the mission said.
Operation Dove, an international organization working in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani and the South Hebron Hills, reported that Palestinian children have a very hard time going to school due to settler attacks.
The UN and rights groups say radical settlers use violence against Palestinians with impunity and their illegal outposts are often recognized and retroactively legalized by the government.
Since the occupation began, Israel has detained hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, some of them without charge, and some of them children. Most of the minors are arrested “at friction points, such as a village near a settlement or a road used by the army or settlers”, the fact-finding mission said.
Israel uses what they term “administrative detention” when it considers the detainee a threat to the security of the state.
Ir Amim’s Herschman says Israel is also attempting to create a “greater Jerusalem” through additional means, for example: the Israeli separation barrier, planned national parks, and the construction of highways dividing villages, dispossessing Palestinians of their land and making it harder for them to access services like schools and mosques.
In recent weeks, residents of the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa have been protesting against the planned extension of the Begin Highway that would divide their village in order to connect major Israeli settlement blocks outside the city to Jerusalem.
The planned root of the separation barrier, in addition to a potential national park around the perimeter of the barrier would also close off nearby Palestinian village al-Wallajeh.
The planned route of the barrier extends all the way around and far beyond Muale Adummim and in other areas south and north of Jerusalem. “These lines are a unilateral declaration of a much greater Jerusalem, a unilateral expanding of the boundaries, an exponential increase,” she told IRIN.
Or as the ICG put it, “for many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”
The government of Pakistan claims that there are “red lines” which drones and ground soldiers dare not cross (US urged not to cross ‘red line’ in Fata). This is another lie. In reality, US drones (and possibly “private contractors”) cross those lines everyday. Just another day in the multi-faceted psychological war games, that are fought-out in FATA everyday.
This new public relations ploy, to allow the families of drone victims to prosecute American Predator war crimes builds a new line of defense for the Pak Army, while enhancing its credibility. This is part of Pakistan’s new “Plan B” for Waziristan, where the civilian administration attempts to use Western courts to stop daily drone attacks upon the Wazir tribes in both North and South Waziristan, since military persuasion has failed miserably in that respect. Military reluctance to interfere with US plans for Pakistan’s militants has derived not from a common desire to see the CIA … Pakistanis, but from a desire NOT to piss-off the paymaster, which is interpreted by the people as complicity in the attacks (SEE: US embassy cables: Pakistan backs US drone attacks on tribal areas (23 Aug. 2008, 14:12)). Even the targeted militant leaders are aware of Army complicity in drone targetting. I am referring here to the testimony of the recently assassinated Waziri leader Nazir (SEE: As-Sahab: English transcript of the interview with Mulla Nazeer Ahmad, the amir of the mujahideen in the South Waziristan).
The outrageous death of Nazir and his friends clarified for the other militants, along with the entire Wazir tribe, that the Pak Army is obviously complicit in the drone attacks, otherwise actions would have been taken to put an end to the air incursions (SEE: India/Pakistani Detente’ Went Into the Ground with Mullah Nazir). As long as the Army continued to maintain its duplicitous drone acceptance/rejection strategy, denying involvement in the drone targeting (which consistently hit the pro-Army Wazirs and not the anti-Pakistan Mehsuds in both North and South Waziristan), the Wazirs continued to participate in the Pak/US development strategy of infrastructural bribery, based on building ”Quick Impact Projects” in areas previously cleared of Mehsud terrorists.
Since the UAV murder of Mullah Nazir near Wana, working in tandem with the development strategy, the Army is allowing lawsuits (Case No: CO/2599/2012) to go forward on one of the most heinous drone attacks upon the Wazirs, the March 17th, 2011 attack upon a Waziri Jirga in Datta Khel, N. Waziristan, which killed 50 (SEE: Waziristan tribesmen to move ICJ against drone hits). This move may be a compromise between the government and the Wazir tribe, to avoid a companion lawsuit (which is coming-up for a hearing on Feb. 13) that has been filed in Peshawar High Court, which forces the government of Pakistan’s hand. The Peshawar suit makes the following demands:
- Confirm the Pakistani government’s complete opposition to US drone strikes in the tribal areas as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty under Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.
- Approach the United Nations Security Council and demand adoption of a resolution condemning drone strikes and requiring the US to end the strikes in Pakistan.
- Issue a formal complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions as the fundamental right to life is being breached by US drone strikes.
- Publicly encourage victims of drone stacks to file complaints to the UNHRC so that the UN Secretary General can list this issue on the Council agenda for discussion.
- Notify the US government of Pakistan’s intention to seek relief in the International Court of Justice for the US’s illegal operation of drones in Pakistan.
- Sign the Rome Treaty so that the International Criminal Court can have jurisdiction to prosecute the drone attacks as international law crimes.
The Wazir experiment was intended to reinforce existing agreements that have been made between the Army and the Tribal Authorities, which have previously delegated the policing function to the Tribes. Under those peace deals, Tribal Leaders had agreed to keep “terrorists” and foreigners out of their territory, referring to Taliban and the Uzbek and “al-CIA-da” forces. The Wazir Tribe has been held responsible for the terrorist attacks within their neighborhoods since this agreement was signed in 2007. Under the agreement, the Mehsuds were to have been run-out of Wana. The Wazirs resisted taking this extreme step for the Army, because they were forced to travel roads through Mehsud territory and obviously didn’t want to start a Tribal feud (SEE: Pak Army Uses US Money To Build Road for Ahmadzai Wazirs To Run Mehsuds Out of Wana On).
The Wazir were expected to run the remaining 1,000 or so Mehsud out of Wana, just as soon as the new Kaur-Gomal-Tanai-Wana road was inagurated. Mullah Nazir led a tribal jirga, which voted to run them out on December 5 (SEE: 1000 Mehsud Refugees Run-Out of Wana ). Three weeks later, Nazir was killed in a flurry of Hellfire missiles which were fired by three or four drones (SEE: They Had A Funeral In Wana for Mullah Nazir and 10,000 People Showed-Up–where were the drones then?). After years of trying and countless near-misses, the CIA finally killed the lynchpin of Pak Army plans for peace through development, by gifting him with a Quran containing a drone tracking chip. The man who was the most feared, as well as the most effective anti-Taliban tribal leader/fighter, was the centerpiece of Pakistani peace efforts, who hopefully would inspire all of the tribes to build their own effective anti-Taliban “Lashkars.”
The S. Waziristan development projects were a type of reward for supporting govt. efforts. The Army officials took their peace efforts so seriously that they rolled-up their sleeves and helped to build homes for the returnees, teach gardening skills, classes in fish farming, poultry and livestock handling. They have even organized an off-road rally in South Waziristan, hoping to draw people into an entertainment venue and thereby possibly enhance their communal feelings. The Army is whole-heartedly into the idea of “winning hearts and minds” in South Waziristan, following American counter-insurgency tactics to the letter. But they are finding-out the hard way that it might be impossible to smooth relations with people whose homes and schools you have just flattened, not to mention overcoming those hard feelings harbored over family members who were killed by the Army’s zealous pulverizing of parts of South Waziristan.
As you can see from this WSJ article clip, the rehabilitation effort, centered on Kotkai village (Hakeemullah Mehsud’s hometown), is not having the desired effect or speed of development. With the killing of the Wazir leader, how much further will the Tribal elders be willing to go in trusting the Army to deal fairly?
The lawsuit in British courts against the UK Govt., for their participation in the American drone strike of the Wazir jirga will serve as a largely symbolic test which could possibly enable judicial interference to handicap further drone strikes. The suit filed in Peshawar could prove to be a very significant test of govt. loyalty, to document whether Pakistan supports its own citizens (who are being systematically deprived of their inalienable rights to Life), or the rights of the Imperial powers to murder them at will. A wrong choice on the Army’s part could cost them all of their remaining friends in the Tribal Regions. It would force the govt. hand, requiring public opposition to drone strikes, as well as taking the people’s case to the UN and filing formal Human Rights violations. In addition to this, it would force govt. to allow charges to be filed in the ICJ (International Court of Justice). If any of these actions are taken, they would be sufficient to suspend all further American payments to Pakistan.
A UN human rights inquiry has called on Israel to remove all Jewish settlers from the West Bank and cease expansion. The report said the settlements violate international law, and are an attempt to drive out Palestinians through intimidation.
”Israel must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions,” the report read, adding that Israel must immediately begin to withdraw all settlers from the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT).
The inquiry prompted a strong reaction from Israel who slammed the report as biased.
“The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that,” said spokesman Yigal Palmor in a statement.
The 1949 Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of a civilian population into an occupied area – such an act could constitute war crimes if brought before the International Criminal Court. Following the UN’s de facto recognition of Palestine last December, Israel announced plans to build thousands of homes in the OPT.
In response, Palestine wrote to the UN warning that Israel’s planned expansion into the occupied territories would lead to more war crimes being committed.
The UN investigators interviewed over 50 people who were driven from their homes. They described how their livelihoods were destroyed and their land was confiscated, and how they were subjected to continuous violence from Jewish settlers.
“The mission believes that the motivation behind this violence and the intimidation against the Palestinians as well as their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands and allow the settlements to expand,” said the report.
The report has the potential to significantly worsen the UN’s already-strained relationship with Israel, particularly after Israeli representatives failed to appear at a UN human rights review two days ago.
The Israeli government has repeatedly ignored international condemnations of its settlements in the occupied territories, and continues to bar the entry of a Human Rights Council probe to assess the impact of the settlements. Israel has insisted that the organization is biased in favor of the Palestinians, and claimed that historic and biblical ties justify its claim to the territories.
Israel has boycotted the UN human rights forum over fears of scrutiny of its treatment of residents of the occupied territories. Israel is now the first state in history to win a deferment of the periodical review of its human rights record.
Tel Aviv has refused to send a delegation on Tuesday to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review procedure where UN member states have their human rights record evaluated every four years.
Israel’s cooperation with the council stopped last March after the UN set up a committee to inspect the effects of the Israeli settlements on Palestinians.
Israel which earlier accused the United Nations of anti-Israel bias reiterated its stance, recalling that the council has passed more resolutions against Israel than all other countries combined.
“After a series of votes and statements and incidents we have decided to suspend our working relations with that body,” Yigal Palmor, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, told the Financial Times. “I can confirm that there is no change in that policy.”
“There have been more resolutions condemning Israel than the rest of the world put together,” an Israeli government official said on Tuesday. “It’s not a fair game – it’s not even a game.”
Following the Israeli decision, the council has decided to postpone its review until no later than November.
The Council president has also called on the body to adopt a draft response to an unprecedented move by Israel.
Egypt’s representative meanwhile has warned that a “soft” approach would create a dangerous precedent and leave “a wide-open door for more cases of non-cooperation,” the AFP quoted.
Activist groups have lashed out against Israel’s disregard for international law.
“By not participating in its own review, Israel is setting a dangerous precedent,” Eilis Ni Chaithnia, an advocacy officer with al-Haq, a human rights organisation based in Ramallah has told the FT. “This is the first time any country has made a determined effort not to attend.”
Others thought that the council’s decision to delay gives Tel Aviv the opportunity to make amends. Eight Israeli human rights organizations issued a statement saying, “Israel now has a golden opportunity to reverse its decision not to participate,” adding “it is legitimate for Israel to express criticism of the work of the Council and its recommendations, but Israel should do so through engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, as it has done in previous sessions,” JTA quotes.
The investigation into Israel’s Human Rights record began in 2007, but last year the UN started to pay particular attention to Israel’s activities in the West Bank.
The probe at the time prompted an angry response from the country’s leader.
“This is a hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Senior Israeli officials announced last month that Israel does not intend to cancel plans to accelerate settlement construction.
Netanyahu himself said in an interview with Israeli Channel 2 last month that the … area “is not occupied territory” and that he “does not care” what the UN thinks about it.
Around 500,000 Israelis and 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, areas that, along with Gaza, the Palestinians want for a future state.
The United Nations regards all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Tel Aviv last attended the human rights review in 2008. Israel is not a member of the Council, which is comprised of 47 UN member states.
- Israel plans boycott of UN human rights review (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Israel planned on boycotting a routine review of its human rights situation by the United Nations Tuesday, despite threats of “unspecified action” by the UN Human Rights Council if it did not cooperate.
According to Israeli media, Israel would be the only UN member state to ever boycott the yearly UNHRC Universal Periodic Review since the process’ inception in 2006.
Israel unilaterally severed ties with UNHRC in March 2012 over a planned fact-finding mission over illegal West Bank settlements.
According to news website The Times of Israel, Israel has participated in the first round of reviews in October 2011, before asking the council to postpone Israel’s review with no justification.
Israel later accused the Human Rights Council of “anti-Israel moves.”
“We are under an ongoing policy of suspension of all our contacts with the Human Rights Council in Geneva and all its branches after their sequence of systematically anti-Israel moves, which have come to contradict the mission statement of the organizations and sheer common sense” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel Sunday.
Israel’s review is still scheduled to take place Tuesday afternoon, and it remains unclear as to whether a representative of the Jewish state will actually attend the meeting.
If Israel follows through with its boycott, it could set a negative precedent for other countries unwilling to respond to accusations of human rights violations.
The website for the UPR specifies that in case of “persistent non-cooperation,” “the Human Rights Council will decide on the measures it would need to take” against the offending state.
UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez warned that “if a delegation from the country was not to attend then action, as yet unspecified, would be taken.”
The UNHRC review of Israel is overseen by the Maldives, Sierra Leone and Venezuela.
Israel has fought back and criticized many investigations into its treatment of Palestinians, including on illegal settlements and the use of drones.
Its relationship with the Human Rights Council has been tense for years, most notably since 2007, when the council made Israel’s actions in Occupied Palestine a permanent item on the agenda.
Israeli officials say a UN fact-finding mission “will not be allowed to enter” the country and its occupied territories. On Friday, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council appointed three officers to probe Israel’s West Bank settlement activity.
The UN’s top human rights body has commissioned three jurists to find out how Israel’s West Bank settlements affect “the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.” The body called on Tel Aviv “not to obstruct the process of cooperation.”
This resonated harshly with Israel, who took no time to dub the mission “biased and flawed,” vowing not to support the officials.
“The fact-finding mission will find no cooperation in Israel, and its members will not be allowed to enter Israel and the territories,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. “Its existence embodies the inherent distortion that typifies the UN Human Rights Council’s treatment of Israel and the hijacking of the important human rights agenda by non-democratic countries.”
Israel cut all ties with the council in March after the 47-nation body passed a resolution establishing the settlement probe. Israel accuses the commission of a “disproportionate focus” on Israel.
“The establishment of this mission is another blatant expression of the singling out of Israel in the UNHRC,” a Foreign Ministry statement said on Friday.
Now that the team is to be prohibited from Israel, it will have to gain evidence from second-hand sources, like local media.
But even if the mission finds that the settlements violate human rights, any attempts to punish Israel will most probably be defused by the US, Israel’s key ally.
The UN considers Israeli settlements illegal under international law. The Human Rights Council says Israel’s plans to build more houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem undermine the peace process and pose a threat to the two-state solution.
The West Bank settlements are at the core of dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. Some 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a territory that Israel expropriated from Jordan in 1967. Palestinians claim the West Bank is part of their future state, and object to any settlements there.
Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank, saying the status of the settlements should be decided in peace negotiations.
- #PHOTOS | Settlers and soldiers attack village near Nablus, injuring 5. Torched trees. Killed sheep (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- Israeli noncooperation not to affect UN probe on settlement activities … – Xinhua (news.xinhuanet.com)
The United States and the United Kingdom on Thursday declined to sign a UN document condemning the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain.
The UN Human Rights Council document, which was signed by major European countries including Germany and France, calls on the Gulf state to do more to protect civil liberties in the country.
“We express our concern over the human rights situation in Bahrain, both the violations that took place in February and March 2011 as well as the related ongoing ones,” the document said.
“We are particularly concerned about the consequences faced by those who protested for democratic change in a peaceful manner,” it adds.
Bahraini forces, backed by Saudi troops, crushed a pro-democracy uprising in early 2011, but protests have reemerged in recent months despite repression.
The US has remained quiet on the human rights situation in the country, which is the host of its Fifth Fleet, while condemning government crackdowns in Syria and elsewhere.
Bahraini activists have accused global bodies such as the Human Rights Council of being pressured into silence on the issue.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, welcomed the ruling.
“This is the first step in showing that the Human Rights Council will not allow the implementation of double standards, although they have allowed it this long,” she said.
However she condemned the decision by the US and Britain to not sign the treaty as evidence of “double standards” on human rights.
“The thing that disappoints us most is the fact that the United Kingdom and the United States decided not to sign, which to us says a lot more about how they are insisting on implementing double standards when it comes to supporting or standing against human rights violations in different countries.”
- Bahrain arrests main human rights activist Nabeel Rajab (rt.com)
- Bahrain Arrests Human Rights Activist Nabeel Rajab (eurasiareview.com)
- Bahrain: Why Should the Media Care About One Man’s Fast? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Houla Massacre is to be brought before a rare gathering of the UN Human Rights Council. But what kind of findings will be presented? Anti-war campaigner Marinella Corregia worries the HR commissioner talks only to its sources: the opposition.
The meeting, set for Friday, has been called by 21 of the 47 council members. The request was officially submitted by Qatar, Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Denmark and the EU.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime fighters are responsible for some of the 108 in Syria’s Houla massacre, and that heavy weapons were illegally fired by Syrian government forces. But he added “I cannot say we have absolute proof.” Ladsous also told reporters he sees no reason to believe that “third elements” — outside forces — were involved in what was one of the bloodiest single events in Syria’s 15-month-old uprising, though he did not rule this out.
It also appears that entire families were shot in their homes. Local residents have blamed the executions on Shabbiya, a paramilitary group that “essentially supports the government forces,” says Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN Human Rights Council ‘own’ sources?
What worries Marinella Corregia, an activist from the “No War Network,” is the sources the UN Commissioner for Human Rights uses to draw their reports, as their opinions do not seem in accord with UN monitors’ prudence. General Robert Mood, who heads the observing mission, has not yet pointed to anyone for the killings.
Marinella Corregia called the spokesman for the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, to get some answers. This is the conversation they had as reported by the peace activist:
Marinella Corregia: Who spoke with the local people you quote? The UN observers?
Rupert Colville: The UN observers are another body.
MC: So which witness sources do you have and how did you speak with them?
RC: Our local network, whom we spoke on the phone. I cannot say more; I have to protect them.
MC: How could they recognize that the killers were Shabbiya? Weren’t their faces covered?
RC: Our local contacts in Syria say they were Shabbiya. Try to be less cynical.
MC: But no doubt from your side? It seems that many of the children were from Alawite pro-government families…
RC: We are asking for an investigation. I don’t say we are certain. We have also been asking for international investigations for the past months in Syria; but it has never been done and that is why we rely on our sources.
MC: So it is not the UN that says that pro-government groups killed the children, it is your sources saying that.
RC: Yes, many people, our sources point the finger at the Shabbiya [militia group].
More questions than answers as Houla investigation continues
But who are these contacts? Corregia says that so far the UN Council on Human Rights used reports made up by their own commission of three envoys, working independently from UN monitors. The commission has never set foot on Syrian soil; their sources, as listed by the anti-war campaigner, appear to be: “the opposition groups [the UN Human Rights Council] spoke to on the phone; the opposition they met in Turkey; and other ‘activists’ they met in Geneva.”
“So the bottom line: no actual witnesses!” points out Marinella Corregia, who is sure the body treats the Houla incident “just the same way.”
Houla reports filed so far stand no criticism, continues the activist, – instead of giving answers, they just raise more questions:
“Who talked to the residents, since the UN Human Rights Council is in Geneva? Are they true residents or the ones like the face-covered lady interviewed by Al Jazeera? The ‘survivor’ in question says she was hiding as her children were being slaughtered – how is it possible that a mother hides at a moment like this?”
“How was it possible that immediately after “Shabbiya” and the “army’s artillery” accomplished the massacre people were not afraid to collect bodies, film them and then send the video to international media?”
“How could survivors identify Shabbiya militia if they say killers were masked? By ‘green military dress’?”
“Why does a video show that some dead children have their hands tied? Did the killers take time to tie the hands of the children before killing them? Or were the hands tied later by those who filmed the massacre in order to call for more blame if possible?”
“Why does the man in the video, while showing the children and screaming ‘Allah Akbar!’, treat them with no respect, like puppets?”
“Why in one of the videos, showing the ‘government’ shelling, are people escaping carrying Syria’s flag, not the opposition’s one?”
“Is it true, as some sources say, that the majority of the people who were killed came from Alawites pro-government families or neutral Sunnis and some others from the opposition? Is it also true that the people were shouting pro-Assad slogans?”
UN Human Rights Council’s rulings mostly adds political weight to the efforts taken by other UN’s bodies, notably the UN Security Council. The Security Council – and prior to it the UN monitors in Syria – is yet to deliberate a final opinion who is responsible for the Houla massacre. But some political leaders seem to know their answer: Syrian diplomats have already been expelled from the US, the UK, France, Germany and other countries across the world.
Imagine if Iran had recently denied allowing a UN fact-finding team from entering their country to inspect and investigate their atomic energy program. What kind of reaction would most likely come out? With no doubt, the United States, as well as Israel would begin to sound the drums of condemnation, and would point to this act as further proof of how sinister Iran is. Yet this is precisely what has recently happened, although it was not the dreaded Iran that barred a UN fact-finding team, rather it was none other than Israel.
There has hardly been any negative reaction or condemnation for Israel’s act. I waited for almost a week to write this article just to see if there would be any negative reaction towards Israel for this act. None. The US said nothing of the matter in terms of condemnation, and Israel has yet again proven it’s complete double standards to the world.
The UN fact finding team that was barred from Israel was part of the UN’s human rights council. Their mission was to go into Israel, and the West Bank to be able to investigate the illegal settlements that Israel has built and continues to build in the West Bank. Once again, contrast this with Iran, what would have happened if Iran did this? Coincidently, Iran has often opened up its atomic energy program for the UN and international inspectors to come in and investigate. Furthermore Iran hasn’t even breached any international law by their atomic energy program for anything to be inspected or investigated in the first place. On the other hand Israel is breaching international law in regard to their settlement building, therefore the UN has a full right to come and investigate the matter, yet Israel has barred them from doing so. Just think about that for a second, Iran is not breaching any law by their atomic energy program, yet they allow investigators in. Israel is breaching international law, yet doesn’t allow any investigators to come in and investigate.
As mentioned, this yet again exposes Israel’s double standards, and once again lays waste to their claims that they supposedly care for international law or respecting UN resolutions. What makes this all the more ironic is not that Israel simply pretends to care about international law or UN resolutions, but rather that they use such concepts/institutions when they seek to drum up pressure against Iran. Whenever Israel seeks to condemn Iran, Israeli politicians enjoy referring to international law, UN resolutions, but when it comes to Israel itself it openly disrespects and defies the very same concepts and institutions.
And where is the US in all of this? Nowhere to be seen, America yet again demonstrates why no level headed Middle Easterner (let alone dissatisfied American citizens) can take them seriously, or can lend them their trust. How can the US on one hand condemn Iran and refer to international law, the UN etc, but when it comes to Israel’s flagrant disregard for such institutions, it stands by quietly? Not to mention that Israel is actually in breach of international law by the very settlements themselves. So one would think that the US would be more than happy for such illegal settlements to be investigated, and would be incensed by Israel’s act of barring such an investigation. If the US wants to be a serious peace broker within the region, and if it actually wants to gain the trust and respect of you’re average Arab on the street, then it is time for America to get rid of it’s open bias in regard to Israel and do what is right in order for peace to be achieved within the region.
Let us end with these words of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman who said the following in regards to the UN fact finding team: “It means that we’re not going to work with them. We’re not going to let them carry out any kind of mission for the Human Rights Council, including this probe.”
- Sami Zaatari is an American of Palestinian-Iranian descent. Zaatari is a writer, and a public speaker who has taken part in public events of inter-faith and inter-community discussions. Zaatari also holds an MSc in the field of Middle East Politics.
- Israel Boycotts UN Rights Council over Settlement Investigation Decision (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Arabs: Israel, US Our Main Concern, Not Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel excitedly rejects cooperation with UN over settlements (alethonews.wordpress.com)
NEW DELHI –– The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, called on the Government of India to continue to take measures to fight impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings.
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, concluded today his official visit to India, which took place from 19 to 30 March 2012.
Mr. Heyns praised the openness and willingness of the Government of India to engage, shown also by the fact that it was willing to host a mission dealing with the right to life, an area in which issues to be tackled are often complex in various countries.
“This, together with the generally high level of commitment by the Indian Government to human rights and the fact that there have recently been improvements in some respects in the loss of life, could provide a window of opportunity to take decisive steps to ensure the greater realization of the right to life,” stated Christof Heyns.
While recognizing the size, complexity, security concerns and diversity of India, the Special Rapporteur remains concerned that the challenges with respect to the protection of the right to life in this country are still considerable. “Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country. Where this happens, a scene of a shoot-out is created, in which people who have been targeted are projected as the aggressors who shot at the police and were then killed in self-defence. Moreover, in the North Eastern States, and Jammu and Kashmir the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force.”
The above is exacerbated by the high level of impunity that the police and armed forces enjoy, due to the requirement that any prosecutions require sanction from the central government – something that is rarely granted. “The main difficulty in my view has been these high levels of impunity”, stressed the Special Rapporteur.
Other areas of concern relate to the prevalence of communal violence, and, in some areas, the killing of so-called witches, as well as dowry and so-called “honour” killings, and the plight of dalits (‘untouchables’) and adivasis (‘tribal people’).
Christof Heyns proposed a number of provisional steps to be taken to address these concerns. In the first place, he called for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of respected lawyers and other community leaders, to further investigate all aspects of extrajudicial executions. This should entail a form of transitional justice.
“Institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission should establish to what extent the guidelines they provide on matters such as the use of lethal force by the police are in fact observed, as opposed to providing empty promises in practice,” underscored the Special Rapporteur, recommending the immediate repeal of the laws providing for the immunity from prosecution of the police and the armed forces, and in particular the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958.
“India should ratify a number of international treaties, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance,” he said. “India should also host missions by other United Nations independent experts, in particular those related to torture, enforced disappearances and counter-terrorism measures.”
The 12-day official mission by the Special Rapporteur was the first visit to India by an independent expert since that country extended an open invitation to UN Special Procedures in 2011, and the first mission to India by an expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The UN Special Rapporteur’s final conclusions and recommendations will be submitted as a comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council at a future session in 2013.
- UN rapporteur arrives on fact-finding mission in Kashmir (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- UN Special Rapporteur to visit JK tomorrow (kashmirreport.wordpress.com)
Israel decided on Monday to cut contact with the United Nations Human Rights Council after last week’s decision to establish an international investigative committee on the settlements that the occupation is building in the West Bank, Haaretz reported Monday.
According to the Zionist website, “the Israeli foreign ministry ordered the Israeli ambassador to Geneva to cut off contact immediately, instructing him to ignore phone calls from the commissioner.”
Quoting an un-named official, Haaretz pointed out that this step would enable the Zionist entity to “bar any fact-finding team dispatched by the council from entering Israel and the West Bank to investigate settlement construction.”
“We will not permit members of the human rights council to visit Israel and our ambassador has been instructed to not even answer phone calls,” the official said.
- Israel excitedly rejects cooperation with UN over settlements (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Israel seeks to punish PA over UN human rights probe (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- United Nations Orders First Probe Of Israeli Settlements (altahrir.wordpress.com)