ICHR Organizes a Roundtable Meeting on The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Conflict and Transitional Phases

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Ramallah, Sunday, 11th November 2012,The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) organized a roundtable meeting on the "Role of the National Human Rights Institutions in Situations of Conflict and/or Transition". The roundtable was attended by the Geneva Representative of the UN International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions (ICC), and nine other representatives of four national institutions from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Thailand and Ecuador, Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, and representatives of official Palestinian institutions, diplomatic missions, civil society organizations and the media.

The key-note speaker at the opening session was Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who welcomed the visiting delegation to Palestine, and emphasized in his speech the government's commitment to human rights and the rule of law in Palestine, and the PNA's support of the ICHR as the state institution for the promotion and protection of human rights. Prime Minister Fayyad welcomed the visiting delegation to Palestine, and stressed the importance of the two-day field trips organized by ICHR for the representatives of the ICC and NHRIs participating in the meeting. The aim of these field trips, in his opinion, has provided participants with a first-hand experience of the daily sufferings of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation, and introduced them to the grave human rights violations committed by the Israeli occupation against the Palestinian civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories in breach of the provisions of the international human rights and humanitarian law; including those committed by the Israeli settlers against the Palestinian citizens and their property and their holy sites.

The field trips preceding the roundtable meeting also aimed to show the colonial policies of Israel; especially in East Jerusalem and its spheres, and how this policy targets the existence of the Palestinian people through home demolitions and evacuation orders handed over to citizens of Jerusalem and citizens of the so-called area (C) especially the Jordan Valley area (al-Ghour). Prime Minister Salam Fayyad highlighted for example the latest Israeli notifications few days ago to (57) families in al-Ghour area to evacuate their homes, in addition to the notifications sent to citizens living in the villages of southern Hebron, and families in the village of "Tana" near Nablus to evacuate their homes in order to demolish them for the fifth successive time, beside the children's school in that same village.

Prime Minister Fayyad pointed outthat such measures constitute a series of grave violations of the international law and stressed that the international community should undertake its legal and ethical obligations under international law to end Israeli military occupation, and bring an end the flagrant and systematic Israeli violations against the rights of the Palestinian civilian population in order to enforce Palestinians right to self determination,freedom, and dignity in their independent state within the border of 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital.

In his speech Dr. Fayyad also commended the role of ICHR and all other human rights and civil society organizations working in Palestine in promoting and protecting human rights and consolidating the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in addition to conveying its message of freedom.

Prime Minister Fayyad also emphasized that human rightsare a foundational component of the state of Palestine, reaffirming the commitment of the PNA to the principles of human rights and maintaining public freedoms to all. He also affirmed during his speech before the conferees that the Israeli occupation constitutes the major violation of human rights in Palestine, and that the Israeli practices constitute ongoing violations of the Palestinians' right to life, noting that the last violation was the last Israeli aggressive escalation against the Gaza Strip. He said "we attach high importance to maintaining the principles of human rights in Palestine as we never accept the occupation and its violations; we are committed to upgrading human rights status because this is the principle of our forthcoming state".

Prime Minister Fayyad also highlighted in his speech the impact of the internal political divide on the status of human rights in Palestine, stressing the importance of conducting Presidential and PLC elections as important steps to achieve unity and reconciliation at the national level. He also emphasized that the convening of the PLC will facilitate better accountability on the part of the Executive Authority, and will facilitate the work of the government and not vise-versa. Fayyad also centralized the importance of restoring the role of the Palestinian Legislative Council in protecting and maintaining human rights including the right to freedom of expressionunder any pretext.

Dr. Ahmad Harb, the Commissioner General of the Independent Commission for Human Rights pointed out in his welcoming speech that the ICHR works towards the protection and promotion of human rights under difficult situationsresulting from the continued Israeli military occupation that substantially contradicts with individual and collective rights of the people of Palestine and their aspirations towards freedom, independence, and national sovereignty. He added that the Israeli occupation is determined to continue with its systematic practices against the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories by expanding settlements in Jerusalem and exercising collective punishments against the Palestinian civilian population in the oPt, including restrictions on movement, the siege on the Gaza Strip, closure of Jerusalem and the imposition of a system of military checkpoints that further enhance Israel'scontrol over the oPt, beside the construction of the annexation wall. He also highlighted the negative impact of the Israeli occupation policies on the performance of the Palestinian Authority and its ability to conduct its responsibilities towards Palestinian citizens in areas under its control. He explained "that it is true that the Palestinians have a national authority but it's without national sovereignty due to the Israeli occupation forces' control over the borders, crossings and land". He added that the occupation authorities continue to expel Palestinian citizens from their homes, demolish their houses and restrict their access to their livelihood. The occupation authorities hold many Palestinians under administrative detention and thousands under difficult and inhumane detention conditions where some of them face the danger of death because of diseases and hunger strikes, he continued to say.

He addressed the participants saying "you can imagine now the complicated conditions under which ICHR works; as anational human rights institution we have no sovereign state and face obstacles imposed by the occupying authority and its systematic human rights violations, which adversely impact our efforts and those of PNA towards the protection and promotion of human rights for our Palestinian citizens'. He stressed that the human rights in the oPt are fully breached by Israel.

The Commissioner General emphasized that despite all the challenges, ICHR monitors, documents, and analyzes the Israeli violation of human rights through the human rights framework in the context of its impact on the capability of the PNA to fulfill its duties towards its citizens. ICHR also, he added, contributes to the reports which the PNA submits to the UN and regional bodies on Israeli violations of human rights, including the presentation of oral and written statements before the Human Rights Council under the permanent agenda item (7) related to the human rights situation in 1967 occupied Arab territories. It also cooperates with Palestinian human rights organizations in monitoring and reporting to UN treaty-bodies on the human rights situation in the oPt and Israeli legal obligations towards the oPt. ICHR also engages with the UN Special Procedures and regularly reports on the human rights situation in the oPt. Dr. Harb also highlighted in his speech that ICHR is a reference point to official Palestinian institutions in the field of human rights, and is a reliable source of information in law and human rights for official Palestinian institutions, diplomatic missions, Palestinian civil society organizations and international human rights organizations working in Palestine.

Dr. Harb pointed out the adverse impact of the internal political divide on rights and freedoms in Palestine, with special emphasis on the weakness of the democratic legitimacy and the absence of parliamentary oversight on the executive authority due to the disruption of the PLC, resulting inthe arbitrary employment of provisions of the law by conflicting parties in accordance to their political interests, thereby resulting in a serious deterioration in the human rights situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,making rights and freedoms a "hostage" to the political divide and its dangerous repercussions.

Under these difficult political conditions, ICHR continue to play its major role in monitoring, reporting and intervening to protect and promote human rights in the oPt in the context of its jurisdictions under the presidential decree (No. 59) and article (31) of the Palestinian Basic law, and in accordance with the 1993 Paris Principles regulating the work of national human rights institutions, as a full-fledged member with an "A" status of the ICC. The Commission undertake and monitors the rights situation in the oPt underlining the importance of the legal unity of the areas under the jurisdiction of the PNA, and opposing any practices, policies and legislation that contradicts with the Palestinian Basic Law, and/or jeopardize the independence and integrity of the Palestinian Judicial system and adversely impact the future of human rights and legal status of the Palestinian society.

The Commissioner General also stressed in his speech, the importance of all efforts towards ending the internal political divide which undermines the national capability to challenge the Israeli occupation and realization of the Palestinians right to self-determination, restoration of basic freedoms, respect of human rights, and restoration of democratic life by conducting presidential and legislative elections. Dr. Harb also noted that ICHR can play an intrinsic role in the achievement of a national reconciliation from human rights point of view in light of the credibility and objectivity it enjoys with respect to diagnosing the situation of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the readiness of all parties to cooperate with ICHR.

Dr. Harb extended his thanks to President Mahmoud Abbas for the confidence he granted to the ICHR,specifically through extending its jurisdiction in the latest Law by Order issued lately regarding amendments on the Palestinian Constitutional Court, by promoting its status through issuing a presidential decree amending the law of the High Constitutional Court giving ICHR's General Commissioner the right to directly file an appeal with the court, equally to the President of the PNA, Prime Minister, PLC's Spokesperson, Chairman of the High Judicial Council, and representatives of the political parties authorized to work in the Palestinian controlled territory.

Dr. Harb stressed that the ICHR supports the PNA's decision to go to the United Nations' General Assembly in order to upgrade the status of Palestine to become a non-member state in the UN, whereby it would be possible for the PNA to hold Israel accountable before the international law to all the crimes and violations it commits against the Palestinians, and

enable the PNA to become a part of the international and regional conventions that protect human rights, he said.

ICHR's General Commissioner concluded his speech by thanking Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his cabinet for his interest in protecting human rights and deep faith in the importance of the role of the ICHR with respect to monitoring and promoting human rights in Palestine, by taking its recommendations seriously and integrating them into the national policies, and hallmarking a special item of the state's budget to support the ICHR in expression of the government's readiness to assume its responsibilities towards the ICHR and its polices of promoting and protecting human rights in Palestine.

On his part, Deputy Head of Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Saul Takahashi, confirmed the cooperation of High Commissioner Office with the PNA and ICHR. He said "although the PA tries to improve human rights situation in Palestine, the Israeli occupation beleaguers such effort which proves that the desired improvement won't be realized without resolution of the conflict."

He commended the role of the ICHR and human rights organizations working in Palestine for providing information and advice for the High Commissioner Office, and expressed his hope that the independent Palestinian state will come to light and be able to implement international human rights conventions.

Representative of ICC, Catrina Rose, related the guest delegation's views of the occupation measures which they themselves experienced during their field tours in the old city of Hebron, al-Aqaba village near Tubas, and the communities of al-Maleh in the Jordan valley area. She praised the Palestinians' resilience and highlighted the conditions under which the ICHR operates, pointing out that the duty of the international national human rights institutions is to submit the Palestinian human rights demands to the international relevant bodies to realize and strengthen these rights.

Representatives of national human rights institutions of Ecuador, North Ireland, Thailand and Scotland presented during the second session which was chaired by ICHR's Executive Director, Randa Saniora, the history of their institutions and experiences of working during conflicts and transitional phases comparing that to the Palestinian situation.

They emphasized the importance of keeping the spirit of resistance in the Palestinian people to realize their legitimate rights.

Director General of al-Haq Organization, Shawan Jabarin, presented a paper on justice in transition in which he highlighted the objectives of justice in transition exemplified in addressing violations in a comprehensive way that includes criminal justice, redress, social justice and, economic justice, explaining that the basis of this kind of justice is searching for the truth, bringing perpetrators of violations to justice to guarantee they won't escape punishment and remedy that is exemplified in redress, rehabilitation and integration of the victims.

On her part, Saniora presented a paper on the experience of the ICHR under occupation and the particularity of the Palestinian context. She highlighted the very complicated conditions under which the ICHR works due to the presence of more than one authority committing violations. These authorities include the Israeli occupation, government in the West Bank, and the government in the Gaza Strip.

She also said that the ICHR works in a state without full sovereignty, clarifying that this situation forced it to open regional offices to facilitate communication with the Palestinian citizens and allow them access to its services. She also deaw on the ICHR's strategic plan, it'sbasis of the analysis of the Palestinian situation, taking into account weaknesses, strengths, threats and opportunities to handle the changing political conditions.

Saniora pointed out that the ICHR monitors the situation of human rights on the level of the citizens' participation in peaceful assemblies, right to establish associations and NGOs, freedom of expression, right to vote, and the right to form and join political parties.

She finally shed light on the consultative role of the ICHR and the consultations it provides for the Palestinian official organizations.

The ICHR hosted a delegation of the world's national human rights institutions for four days. During that period, it organized for them field visits to the northern and southern parts of the West Bank to show them the situation of the people of Palestine and their suffering under the Israeli occupation.

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