Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 14 August 2006

Human Rights Council condemns Israeli actions

Last Friday the United Nations’ Human Rights Council strongly condemned Israel for its attacks on Lebanon, in a resolution that was stronger in criticism than the one passed by the Security Council on the same day.  By a majority vote the Council asked Israel to immediately stop its attacks.


The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has adopted a resolution strongly condemning Israel's bombardment of Lebanon and to immediately stop military operations there against civilians.

The Council resolution is the first by a UN body to clearly condemn the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, which it calls grave violations of human rights and breaches of international law.

The Council resolution was adopted last Friday night in Geneva after a sometimes heated debate and by a vote of 27 for, 11 against, 8 abstentions and one absentee.

The special meeting of the Council was called by a request from many countries that were acting as a follow up to a decision taken in Putrajaya, Malaysia on 3 August by the executive committee of the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

The resolution at the Human Rights Council was stronger in criticizing Israel and in asking for an immediate stop to its attacks on Lebanon than a resolution adopted on the same day at the UN Security Council in New York.

The difference could be due to the larger number of countries in the Human Rights Council and their relative freedom to adopt resolutions, as contrasted to the Security Council in which the five permanent members can veto a resolution.

The Human Rights Council thus provided a venue in which many developing countries that feel outraged by the crisis in Lebanon could express their views and demands.

During the meeting, 22 countries including Malaysia put forward a draft resolution on "the grave situation of human rights in Lebanon caused by Israeli military operations".

It was co-sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.

The resolution strongly condemned the grave Israeli violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law.

It also condemned the massive bombardment of Lebanese civilian populations, especially the massacres in Qana, Marwaheen, Al Duweir, Al Bayadah, Al Qaa, Chiyah, Ghazieh, causing thousands of deaths and injuries, mostly among children and women, and the displacement of 1 million civilians.

It further condemned the Israeli bombardment of vital infrastructure resulting in destruction and damage to public and private properties.

It called on Israel to immediately stop military operations against civilian population and civilian objects and to abide by its obligations under human rights law and international humanitarian law.

It urged all parties to refrain from violence against civilians and treat detainees in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

The Council also decided to immediately dispatch an inquiry commission of human rights experts to Lebanon to investigate the targeting and killings of civilians, examine the types of weapons used and assess the impact of Israeli attacks on life, property, infrastructure and the environment.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said this crisis demands a firm response from this Council, asking for an immediate cessation of the hostilities, justice for the victims and accountability for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

'I reminded all belligerents that war crimes and crimes against humanity may be committed even by those who believe, accurately or not, that their combat is a just one and their cause a worthy pursuit,'' she said.

Yet, almost on a daily basis, information from the field indicates an alarming pattern in the scale and choice of targets by all sides in the conflict. The deaths of hundreds of civilians involving attacks on civilian vehicles or buildings, strongly suggest the indiscriminate use of force.

''After the destruction of the last bridge over the Litani River, I am particularly concerned by the humanitarian situation in south Lebanon. They are in dire need of food, water, and medical assistance, which humanitarian workers are no longer able to deliver,'' Arbour said.

Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the OIC said death and displacement stalk Lebanon.

''Death did not spare those who were burying their dead. One million fled their homes, which were turning into their graves. The weakest and most vulnerable - children, women, and the elderly - died the most. Some died with white flags in their hands. Town after town is being targeted. When we finish speaking today, more would have died,'' he said.

"The killings cannot be embellished by the doctrines of just wars or disproportionate force or collective punishment. War must end; Israeli military operations must end; and human rights violations must end."

Malaysia's Ambassador, Hsu King Bee, said the people of Lebanon has been subjected to brutal military aggression by Israel. The loss of lives, suffering as well as massive destruction of infrastructure and properties have been horrendous.

International condemnation and numerous calls for an immediate end to military force unleashed unto Lebanon have been ignored.

"The Israeli war machine once again has arrogantly displayed its capacity and readiness to exact excessive and disproportionate force on defenceless civilian population. Even the United Nations observers have not been spared," she said.

Gross and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Israel in Lebanon have continued unabated, with no sign to their end, she said, adding ''Plainly this is yet another testimony to the brutality of a State which remains blind to even the most basic principles of human rights.

''What is happening in Lebanon today constitutes gross and systematic violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. The international community has the duty and moral responsibility to ensure Israel is held accountable and not allowed to continue to get away with impunity for the atrocities committed,'' said Ambassador Hsu, in supporting the resolution.

Many Western countries opposed the resolution, including United Kingdom, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Canada. They felt the resolution was not balanced, since it did not condemn the actions of Hezbollah.

The United States, which is not a member of the Council, spoke at the meeting, saying the resolution unfairly condemns Israel with allegations that are not supported by facts, while leaving Hizbollah's actions unmentioned.

The Israeli ambassador blamed Hizbollah, Syria and Iran for causing the conflict by rocket attacks on Israeli cities, and said that Israel was defending itself while avoiding disproportionate damage to civilians.

However, the predominant mood in the meeting was one of outrage and condemnation for the Israeli actions in Lebanon.