STATEMENT OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS at the Meeting of Experts on General Problems concerning the 4th Geneva Convention

Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

Geneva, 27 – 29 October 1998

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates and experts, fellow observers, ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wish to express my thanks to the Government of Switzerland for inviting us to participate as observers to this meeting on the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. At the outset, let me state that I believe that I believe that an international meeting of experts convened at any time to examine the general problems of applications and enforcement of the Convention can be useful and helpful, if it remains true to the terms and spirit of the Convention itself toward the protection of civilians in war and under occupation.

Resolution ES-10/5 adopted by the UN General Assembly on 17 March 1998, recommended the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties on measures to enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to ensure its respect in accordance with their obligations under Article 1.

The General Assembly’ resolution also recommended that the Government of Switzerland – as the depository of the Convention – undertake the necessary preparatory steps, including the convening of a meeting of experts. Thus, Mr. Chairman, the success of this meeting will be judged by the world community according to the extent to which it facilitates and informs the convening of an international conference of the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention to address specifically the issue of application and enforcement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is my sincere hope that such conference will be convened as soon as possible.

Full application of the Convention is essential to guarantee respect for fundamental human rights of civilian populations in times of war and occupation – which is an issue of direct concern to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As also highlighted by the ICRC in the background paper prepared for this meeting, recognition of the de jure application of the Convention is the first pre-requisite for any efforts aimed at the effective protection of civilians in these situations. In this connection, it has been confirmed time and time again in these situations. In this connection, it has been confirmed time and time again by all contracting parties to the Convention, except one, that the Convention does apply de jure to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights have confirmed this in several recommendations and resolutions, calling upon the Occupying Power to respect its obligations under the Convention.

The ICRC paper describes in detail the rationale and many areas of applicability of the Convention in practical situations – as well as the problems encountered in its application – such as, for example, respect for the civilian population and preserving its autonomy; prohibition against population transfer, including the implantation of settlements and settlers – both voluntary and involuntary; deportations and evacuations; prohibited destruction and confiscation of homes and property; changes in the local legal system; treatment and transfer of internees; and conditions of military and security operations.

These, Mr. Chairman, are among the relevant areas in which the Convention provides protection for civilians under occupation. These issues are also of relevance to the human rights protections established under international instruments such as the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Within the purview of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are the integrated and complementary tasks of supporting the UN human rights system, including the treaty monitoring bodies; monitoring human rights violations; and providing technical cooperation to assist governments to implement human rights. The OHCHR discharges its mandate in disputed and occupied territories, as well as in integral States. It should be noted for the purpose of this discussion that all UN treaty monitoring bodies to date have determined the applicability of Israel’s de jure obligations to fulfil its obligations to apply the human rights covenants and conventions in the Occupied Territories.

With regard to the Fourth Geneva Convention, the task ahead requires the High Contracting Parties, consistent with a good-faith initiative of the depository government, to cooperate in determining the appropriate means and measures available “to respect and ensure respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention in all circumstances.” To meet that challenge, legal and diplomatic mechanisms under the United Nations Charter are available, in addition to those created in connection within the Convention itself.

The ICRC’s background paper refers to conventions-based mechanisms, such as the International Fact-finding Commission, under Article 90 of Additional Protocol I, to assist in the implementation task. UN Charter-based mechanisms for consideration by the High Contracting Parties include also the imposition of sanctions under Article 41 of UN Charter, as well as other collective action for the purpose of self-defense and maintaining regional peace and security. Specific measures under the Charter cover a range of actions, including, inter alia:

  1. Engaging legal mechanisms through interstate claims at the International Court of Justice and through existing treaty mechanisms;

  2. The GA requesting Advisory Opinions of the ICJ, with GA responses to follow;

  3. Applying economic and other sanctions against the State Party responsible for the violations.

The UN human rights instruments, the Fourth Geneva Convention calls upon States Parties to implement measures at the national level as well, including legislation, regulations and prosecution of those individuals responsible for violations. And, at the international level, tribunals and trials of individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity remain an option for serious consideration.

In conclusion, the mandate of the High Commissioner for Human Rights makes it incumbent to seek resolution and remedies for human rights violations whenever and wherever they occur, and to prevent further violations, if possible. This is consistent with the laudable intent behind GA resolutions ES-10/5 and the many preceding resolutions by the General Assembly, the Security Council the Commission on Human Rights, and other UN bodies. This is what this meeting should address. To do less is to disregard the GA’s resolutions, undermine the Fourth Geneva Convention, and withdraw the protection of civilians that the war-weary community of nations created the Convention to provide.

Mr. Chairman, when the subject of law is human dignity itself, time is of the essence. Where grave breaches are at issue, and lives at stake, delay is tantamount to complicity. Respect for human rights and the application of humanitarian law cannot, and must never be deferred in the name of political expediency. In sum, if humanitarian law is to have any practical meaning for those it is intended to protect, then not only must the High Contracting Parties to the Convention embrace their moral and legal responsibility to ensure respect for its provisions, but they must do so without delay.

Thank you.

 

Mary Robinson

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations

Geneva

21/10/98

 

Dear High Commissioner,

We at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) wish to express our appreciation of your efforts and dedication in the field of Human Rights, since your appointment as High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Regarding the UN General Assembly Resolutions ES10/2 – ES10/5, we are calling for the respect of these resolutions as authorised by the UN. , we are highly concerned about the Swiss Government’s preparations for a conference of the High Contracting Parties of the IVth Geneva Convention of 1949, which relates to the protection of civilian persons in times of war, to investigate the measures to implement the Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

We believe that the Swiss preparations so far are in violation of the aforementioned Resolutions and we are critical of the Swiss Government for refusing to honestly apply the letter and spirit of the Resolutions.

Here at PCHR, we have been doing some intensive work on this issue and we enclose all of our documentation. We sincerely hope that our comments will be taken into consideration.

With regards

Yours sincerely

 

 

Raji Sourani

Director

PCHR

 

Mary Robinson

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations

Geneva

22/10/98

 

Dear High Commissioner,

May we at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) take this opportunity to express our appreciation of your efforts and commitment to human rights issues since your appointment as High Commissioner.

We have just become aware that you have been invited by the Swiss Government to attend the Meeting of Experts to follow up their preparations for the Conference on measures to enforce the IVth Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Here at PCHR, we have been looking at this issue intensively (please see our attached documentation) and an “Advisory Meeting of Experts on Geneva IV” has been held. We have come to the conclusion that the implications of the Swiss Government’s activities are particularly damaging. We are calling for respect of the UN Resolutions 10/2-10/5 as authorised by the UN. However, we feel that the Swiss Government, with its preparations so far, is undermining the Resolutions.

As a Human Rights organisation, we feel that your participation in the meeting would cause complicity and contradict our views on the role of a UN High Commissioner.

Therefore, we appeal to you not to attend the meeting, as its implications would totally undermine and devalue the UN Resolutions.

Yours faithfully,

 

Raji Sourani

Director

 

 

Mrs Mary Robinson

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva

29/10/98

 

Re: The Meeting of Experts on General Problems concerning the Ivth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War Geneva, 27 – 29 October 1998

Dear High Commissioner,

It was with relief and satisfaction that we received a copy of the statement delivered by your representative at the aforementioned meeting on October 27th, 1998.

Our initial position was that it would perhaps be better if OHCHR did not attend the meeting, as it had been organised in such a way as to avoid the essence of the G.A. Resolution ES 10/5 on the specific issue of the problems of violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and finding ways of resolving these problems.

Having read your statement however, we are now satisfied that it, in no uncertain terms, clarifies the moral and legal aspects of international humanitarian law which have been the General Assembly’s resolutions and those of other such international agencies, like the UN Commission on Human Rights and the various treaty bodies. We certainly hope that delegates, experts and other observers will do the same in order to give the conference some fruitful meaning. Or, at least, call for another meeting to serve that purpose.

Finally, let me assume that your statement has been very warmly received by Palestinian NGOs and people. It came at a time when recent developments in the peace talks have made us feel even more exposed to a deterioration in the human rights situation. Let us all hope that the world community seeks to emphasize the need for legality, humanity and morality as factors overriding political expediency.

We trust that with the courage of your conviction and commitment to the cause of human rights and its effect on the world community, we, the oppressed people of Palestine, still have some hope. We look forward to your continued support and cooperation.

Warmest regards

Raji Sourani

Director

                   Back.jpg (1847 bytes)Home.jpg (1887 bytes)