Introductory remarks by Michelle Bachelet,United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights Council 49th Session
Distinguished President of the Human Rights Council,
Colleagues and friends,
My presentation today covers three reports under the Council’s agenda item 7 concerning the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.
I will begin with the
fourteenth periodic reporton the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (A/HRC/49/83) pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1.
Covering the period from 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021, this report addresses recurring violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups, as well as further violations of international human rights law by Israel, the State of Palestine and the de facto authorities in Gaza.
The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory deteriorated further during the reporting period, and violations of international humanitarian law continued and increased.
In May 2021, hostilities in Gaza dramatically escalated. Over 11 days, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 41 women, 67 children, and three people with disabilities, most in Israeli strikes. At least 130 were civilians. Over 2,200 Palestinians were injured. Ten Israeli citizens and residents were killed by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups, and 710 others were injured.
There were serious concerns regarding Israel’s compliance with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions under international humanitarian law. These concerns arose from a high number of civilian casualties, extensive damage to civilian objects and infrastructure, the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas as well as the apparent absence of specific military objectives.
Indiscriminate attacks carried out by Palestinian armed groups were a violation of international humanitarian law, causing civilian casualties and significant damage to civilian objects in Israel.
Israel’s continued use of collective punishment practices, expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law, violated a number of human rights. The blockade of Gaza, which entered its fifteenth year, continued to have an extremely harmful impact on the rights of the entire civilian population.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities continued to conduct punitive demolitions of homes of Palestinians who had carried out, or who were alleged to have carried out, attacks against Israelis. This collective punishment disproportionately affected women and children. Israeli authorities also withheld the bodies of 23 additional Palestinians, including children, killed by Israeli Security Forces during this period.
The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli Security Forces in law enforcement incidents more than tripled, compared with the previous reporting period. Israeli Security Forces killed 74 Palestinians, including 17 boys and three women, compared to 23 during the last reporting period. My Office also documented several cases in which Israeli Security Forces used lethal force when less lethal means could have been sufficient, or where an assailant no longer posed a threat. Unlawful use of force and lack of accountability for it is of utmost concern.
The report also highlights new repressive measures of the Israeli authorities against civil society. On 19 October, Israeli authorities designated six prominent Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organisations as ‘terrorist organisations,’ based on vague and unsubstantiated allegations. Israel also carried out arbitrary arrests and criminal prosecution of human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders. It restricted movement of people, carried out searches and closures of civil society organisations, dispersed peaceful demonstrations, undertook attacks against journalists and restricted online civic space.
The number of Palestinian children detained by Israel, and of administrative detainees, also significantly increased, compared to the previous reporting period.
Disturbingly, gender-based violence, including online, remained prevalent in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and in Gaza. My Office documented violence against women at demonstrations, online and in other public spaces, including targeting of women by Palestinian Security Forces during demonstrations in the West Bank.
The report also details human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza. I note some steps towards accountability for the killing of Palestinian Authority opponent and Palestinian Legislative Council candidate Nizar Banat, with trial of 14 suspects. However, seventy-five Palestinians protesting his death were subsequently arrested, forty of whom face related charges. Ongoing concerns remain concerning restrictions on civic space and on freedom of opinion and expression. Also, in both the West Bank and Gaza, individuals arrested by security forces alleged ill-treatment or torture, restricted access to legal aid and violations of fair trial guarantees.
I turn now to the second report, on
Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/HRC/49/85), submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 46/26.
Between 1 November 2020 and 31 October 2021, the expansion of settlements persisted. The number of new tenders and constructions increased, although the advancement or approval of new plans decreased. Additionally, settlers established 13 new outposts, illegal also under Israeli domestic law.
Of particular concern was the continued advancement of settlements in and around East Jerusalem, further consolidating a ring of settlement blocs around the city. This seriously undermines the viability of a two-State solution and has severe impacts on the human rights of Palestinians. The establishment and expansion of settlements is a flagrant violation of international law.
Israel also began registration of land ownership in occupied East Jerusalem. As the occupying power, Israel is prohibited from applying its domestic laws in occupied East Jerusalem, and may not extend its sovereignty to, nor acquire permanent ownership over land it occupies there.
Israel demolished 967 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the highest number since the United Nations started recording this data, displacing 1,190 Palestinians, including 656 children. In the Bedouin community of Humsa al Bqai’a, Israeli authorities demolished 196 structures, displacing 365 Palestinians, including 209 children. These actions placed the community under extreme pressure to move and appear to have led to at least 98 people leaving their homes.
Palestinians across Area C, in East Jerusalem and in the H2 area of Hebron, remain at risk of forcible transfer. In occupied East Jerusalem, at least 970 people, including 424 children, were at imminent risk of forced eviction. I note that that forcible transfer is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, amounting to a war crime.
Alarmingly, settler violence continued to increase: 502 incidents of settler violence were recorded in the West Bank including East Jerusalem compared with 339 incidents in the previous period. The severity of attacks also intensified: of particular concern were incidents of armed settlers carrying out attacks inside Palestinian communities, with the acquiescence, or, on occasion, practical support of Israeli Security Forces. Almost total impunity persisted for these attacks.
I remind the Israeli authorities of their duty to protect Palestinians and to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence.
Israeli suppression of Palestinian protests against settlement activities is of grave concern. Amidst mainly peaceful protests during the reporting period, Israeli Security Forces killed ten and injured almost 11,000 Palestinians. Particular tensions occurred in East Jerusalem, and in Nablus Governorate.
The third report is on
human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan(A/HRC/49/84), as requested by Human Rights Council resolution 46/24. As per usual practice, this report is based on information received from Member States. For the present report, the Permanent Missions of the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Kenya and Kuwait responded to the request to provide information.
These reports describe the persistence of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan, with a concerning lack of accountability.
I reiterate that the main driver of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is the occupation. My Office calls for an immediate end to all human rights violations and abuses, and to all violations of international humanitarian law.
A lack of accountability lies at the heart of the ongoing violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, sustaining a cycle of violence and deprivation which appears to have no end.
My Office calls for these and other critical human rights concerns as outlined in the reports to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
I thank you for your attention.