5 July 2006 - Dozens of speakers today denounced Israel's military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory, calling them violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, at the first-ever special session of the new United Nations Human Rights Council, while the country's representative countered that the meeting was politically motivated.
Addressing the Council at the invitation of the Arab Group, John Dugard, Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Palestine, said recent actions in the Middle East, where an Israeli army post was attacked and one of its soldiers kidnapped, did not "warrant the disproportionate retaliation they have prompted" and called attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Palestinian areas.
In Gaza, people were without water, food was scarce and medicines were running out, he said, adding that Operation "Summer Rains," as Israel had "cynically labelled" its siege of Gaza, offended the prohibition on collective punishment. It likewise violated the prohibition on "measures of intimidation and terrorism" contained in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while the arrest of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators seemed to constitute the "taking of hostages" prohibited in Article 34.
The majority of the other 45 speakers, including the representative of Palestine, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and many others, also denounced the arrest of members of the Hamas-led Government and other Palestinians and the raids on public infrastructure and utilities.
Many speakers, including those representing the United States and Finland, which spoke on behalf of the European Union, called for the unconditional release of the Israeli soldier and consideration of the part his capture and other violence from the Palestinian side played in the seriously deteriorating situation.
The overwhelming majority of speakers appeared to favour the call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a special mission to investigate the situation on the ground and report back to the Council.
Mr. Dugard also accused the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, consisting of the UN, the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union, of failing to address what he called Israeli's violations of international human rights law.
Israel's representative, Izhak Levanon, said the special session had been convened as part of an Arab plan to politicize the Council and to put Israel in the dock. "The Palestinians themselves had provoked the current situation by abducting an Israeli soldier," he said, adding: "The release of the soldier would end the conflict."
The decision was taken to hold the special session after a request by 21 Member States of the Council at the end of is first session, which concluded on Friday. The session will reconvene tomorrow to begin considering a draft resolution on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, with a view to a vote.
The Human Rights Council came into being this year as part of a host of UN reforms proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and backed by the 2005 World Summit, replacing the Human Rights Commission, which was widely viewed as ineffectual and politicized.
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