29 November 2012

Egypt: International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People - 31 Arab Human Rights Organizations Demand United Nations Recognize Palestinian Statehood

press release

In 1977, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (GA) designated 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Thirty-five years later, the human rights and humanitarian situation of Palestinians has only deteriorated. The Palestinian people continue to be subjected to grave and systematic violations of their basic human rights by Israeli occupation forces on a daily basis, and illegal confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel has only intensified.

On the 8th of November, 2012, Israel began 'Operation Pillar of Defense' in the Gaza Strip, during which indiscriminate shelling by Israeli forces has been responsible for 162 deaths and more than 1000 injuries according to estimates by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, as well as the destruction of both public and private property. The vast majority of victims have been civilians, including journalists, who have been specifically targeted by Israeli forces. These acts may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity and underline the urgent need to ensure accountability for violations of international law carried out by Israel and other actors within the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT). This is in addition to the ongoing international crimes committed with almost absolute impunity against the Palestinian people in the context of the now six-year-long illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in a dire human rights and humanitarian situation.

In recognition of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and in light of the urgent need to take bold action to uphold the fundamental rights of Palestinians, 12 Arab and international human rights organizations have called on member states of the United Nations to support a resolution to recognize Palestine as a state at the United Nations.

Earlier this month, on the 9th of November, Palestinian diplomats in New York circulated a draft resolution to UN member states that calls for recognition of Palestine as an observer state. The draft is likely to be voted on by the 193-nation UN GA at the end of November. The resolution would "accord to Palestine Observer State status in the United Nations system."

Despite numerous calls by the UN GA over the last half century for Israel to immediately halt the illegal practice of land confiscation and the building of settlements on Palestinian land, the construction of settlements and the perpetration of violence against Palestinian civilians by both military forces and settlers in order to forcefully take this land continues to be carried out with almost complete impunity. Estimates of the Israeli settler population in the OPT vary between 500,000 and 650,000 people living in some 150 settlements and 100 "outposts" in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. These settlements make it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to have access to and control over natural resources in the OPT, especially water. In complete contradiction with their obligations under international law and its own promises to halt settlement expansion, Israeli authorities continue to actively pursue policies to ensure expansion of such settlements.

Increased land confiscation and settlement construction not only violates the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, but has also greatly damaged the possibility to achieve a sustainable peace and has put Israelis and Palestinians on a path towards catastrophe unless such policies are urgently combated. By giving Palestine the status of a state at the UN, the international community would be sending a strong message that they will act to uphold the rights of Palestinians and safeguard a future peace if the Israeli government continues to demonstrate that it is unable or unwilling to adhere to its international obligations in this regard.

In October 2011, the member states of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) set an important precedent by voting to give Palestine full state membership status in this body. The United States responded by withdrawing funding for UNESCO. The United States also threatened to veto any attempt in the UN Security Council to give full UN member state status to Palestine. As such, the Palestinian delegation in New York is now pursuing "observer" state status, which does not require Security Council approval. It is relevant to note that the United States has also been the only state in the world to vote against annual resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council which recognize the right of self-determination for Palestinians. In this context, the undersigned organizations continue to recognize the Palestinian people's legitimate right to self-determination and full membership status within the UN and call on the United States to end its opposition to Palestinian UN member state status at the Security Council.

The future of peace in the region and the dignity of the Palestinian people should not be held hostage by the decisions of one or two governments. It is important that UN member states at the GA vote in favor of recognizing Palestine as an observer state despite warnings of retributive action against the UN by Israel and the United States.

It has been reported that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently threatened 'to withhold Palestine's tax revenues, to cut off their electricity and water supplies and to flood the occupied territories with new settlements if they go ahead with the UN vote[1]." All UN member states should strongly condemn any such threats, including those against civil society and human rights defenders, and take concrete action to combat any measures designed to "punish" the Palestinian people for decisions taken by the UN.

The status of statehood at the UN would not only further the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, but would also greatly strengthen accountability for human rights violations committed by any actor within the OPT by enabling Palestine to sign international human rights treaties, as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In turn, Palestine would be allowed to ask the ICC to investigate accusations of international crimes committed in the OPT. In this context, the undersigned organizations contend that the strong opposition of the Israeli government to UN recognition of Palestinian statehood is a reflection of its attempts to ensure international impunity for potential crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Israeli forces in the OPT.

The recent unilateral Israeli decision, officially communicated in May 2012, to opt out of and cease all "relationships" with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in both Geneva and Jerusalem, is also of great concern. This decision came following a Human Rights Council resolution to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements to the OPT. The cessation of collaboration by Israel with the HRC and OHCHR sets a very dangerous precedent, as other countries perpetrating human rights violations could be tempted to follow the same path, including in the context of the HRC's long-fought battle for the Universal Periodic Review process. As such, Israel's actions threaten to greatly undermine the effectiveness of UN accountably mechanisms for human rights violations. Israel's decision to cease its "relationship" with the HRC and OHCHR also appears to contradict its obligations as a UN member state to cooperate with the UN. This refusal to collaborate with the HRC and OHCHR has led to Israel refusing access to the HRC fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements, as Israel has done to a number of HRC-mandated missions and OHCHR staff in the past.

We therefore call upon all UN member states to vote in favor of any resolution put forward at the General Assembly that would recognize Palestinian statehood. Moreover, we urge the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to strongly condemn ongoing settlement expansion and land confiscation by Israel in the OPT, to issue a decision of non-recognition of Israel's unilateral decision to cease all collaboration with the HRC and OHCHR, and to ensure Israel's adherence to its obligations as a UN member state.

Signatories

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Adala Center for Human Rights, Saudi Arabia.

Amel Association, Lebanon.

Amman Center for Human Rights Studies, Jordan.

Amman Forum for Human Rights Association, Jordan.

Anti-Racism Movement, Lebanon.

Arab Network for Human Rights Information.

Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND).

Arab Organization for Human Rights, Syria.

CISV, Lebanon.

Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria.

Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, Syria.

Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

FE-Male, Lebanon.

Gulf Center for Human Rights.

Human Rights & Democracy Media Center (Shams), Ramallah-Palestine.

Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia.

Human Rights Organization in Syria (MAF).

International training and conflict resolution center, Lebanon.

Iraqi Human Rights Organization, Denmark.

Kurdish Committee for Human Rights-Rased, Syria.

Kurdish organization for the defense of human rights and public freedoms in Syria (DAD).

Mezan Center for Human Rights, Gaza- Palestine.

Moroccan Instance for Human Rights.

Nasaweya, Lebanon.

National Organization for Human Rights, Syria.

Nazra for Feminist Studies, Egypt.

Palestinian Human Rights Organization, Lebanon.

Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State.

Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Yemen Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms.

[1] Twelve EU Countries likely to back Palestine's UN bid,http://euobserver.com/foreign/118149

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