PCHR’s letter to members of the European Union
Date: 16th November, 2000
The letter below was sent to members of the European Union participating in the Geneva-based Fifth Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights. The 19-16 vote (with 17 abstaining) in favor of the resolution on October 19, 2000, was a disappointment because of the failure of the members of the European Union to stand in favor of protecting Palestinian rights. France, holding the rotating European Union presidency, was particularly disappointing with its contention that the draft resolution “went beyond the role of the Commission, and threatened the realisation of agreements signed lately between the two sides.” PCHR continues to contend that any agreements signed between the two sides that do not protect fundamental Palestinian human rights will not result in a just peace. The job of the Commission is to uphold human rights rather than dither about recent agreements in the face of what is clearly an Israeli-abrogated Oslo Accord and rampant human rights abuses committed by the occupying Israeli forces.
November 7, 2000
Dear European Union Member,
Israel’s grave breaches of international humanitarian law over the past few weeks make it more clear than ever to human rights organizations on the ground that it is imperative for European Union countries to act firmly to uphold basic human rights standards. At the outset of this second intifada we were pleased to see the prompt call for a special session on the situation in the Occupied Territories by the Human Rights Commission. While we were not surprised by the American and Canadian objection, we were relieved to see Europe supporting the request.
Yet when the Commission came to a vote we were extremely disappointed to see the absence of supporting European votes. We wonder what happened to European support for human rights and if these countries are now taking a position of selectively supporting human rights standards. What more is required of us for you to respond? Already more than 150 Palestinians lie dead from willful killing, excessive force, and a totally disproportionate response from the Israeli occupying forces. More than 4,700 Palestinians have been injured in the past few weeks – hundreds of them permanently. Children with stones are pitted against tanks yet Europe looks the other way.
After seeing tanks and attack helicopters used against civilian demonstrators we must ask whether or not this is a state of war. Are you waiting for massacres on the scale of Sabra, Shatilla, and Kosovo? Your negative vote has put us in an unbearable situation and gives Israel carte blanche to become still more cruel and commit still more crimes, while counting on the continued complacency of European nations. Your failure to speak up can only encourage Israel.
We are merely asking that the relevant conventions of international humanitarian law be put into practice by your government. Ethically and politically this is your minimum obligation. Anything less would be met by great disappointment by a human rights community that has been under siege here for 33 years.
Despite your failure to act, there is a resolution that, inter alia, calls on the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, and other relevant special rapporteurs, to visit the occupied Palestinian territories. We want to see them all supporting our just human rights claims. Their visit should be expedited so as to conclude by the middle of December.
We also want to take this opportunity to remind you very strongly of the Fourth Geneva Convention and reiterate our great disappointment with the meeting of High Contracting Parties held on July 15, 1999, which, unfortunately, disregarded the views of the human rights community here as to what was needed. Instead, the High Contracting Parties resolved:
Taking into consideration the improved atmosphere in the Middle East
as a whole, the Conference was adjourned on the understanding that
it will convene again in the light of consultations on the development of
the humanitarian situation in the field.
We did not believe then and we do not believe now that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has peaceful intentions. His rhetoric may mislead Europe but his actions on the ground expanding settlements and using excessive force against Palestinian civilians and children do not mislead us for one moment. Accordingly, we call once again on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to convene as they agreed to do in July of 1999. With renewed urgency we express our belief to these parties that international physical protection is needed – indeed, more than ever in the current situation. Palestinian civilians have absolutely no certainty of safety now that cities have been shelled by helicopters and tanks.
The difference in how Israel is treated and other nations are treated is stunning. When Joerg Haider’s party in Austria was democratically elected and there was a chance it would become part of the government, Israel’s immediate reaction was to suspend its relations with Austria. Europe followed suit with the suspension of economic cooperation. These moves were based on Haider’s ideology and intentions.
Now, with Israel, we are not talking merely about intention but actual criminal practices of which we have been informing you for years. Presently, it is more obvious than ever before. There is a serious imbalance in the two responses. One led to the cessation of economic cooperation with Austria while the other failed to even warrant your condemnation in the special session of the Human Rights Commission.
The Euro-Israel Association Agreement is clear. Article II plainly states that Israel’s upholding of human rights is a precondition to trade. Israel is unambiguously failing to uphold such standards by engaging in massive human rights abuses yet we see no movement on the part of European nations toward ceasing economic ties.
As human beings, with rights, we deserve better than to see our European neighbors go merrily about their trading relations with the very country that day in and day out is killing our children, expropriating our land, and uprooting our agricultural produce. Quite frankly we expected far better of you than of the American “honest brokers.” Your failure to vote positively on the recent resolution is profoundly discouraging and has major implications for us in our effort to effectively uphold the rights of an occupied and mainly refugee population.
As an independent and professional human rights organization, we at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights believe we have a right to make ethical and human judgments regarding your failure to respond. Our work over the past few years leaves us with the distinct impression that the blame for your inaction rests not with any failure on our part to provide you with timely human rights information but rather with your willingness to court catastrophe and allow a massacre to occur before reluctantly taking meaningful action. If this is indeed the case, we must ask: What was the point of all our human rights communications to you over the years?
We insist that despite your vote to the contrary, you support the recently passed resolution of the Human Rights Commission and make every effort to see to the resolution’s full implementation.