United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay defended her organization’s Human Rights Council against charges that it unfairly targeted Israel, during a Friday press conference in Jerusalem.
“While the human rights situation in the Middle East does occupy a great deal of the attention of the council, it has not singled out Israel, contrary to media reports,” Pillay said.
Top UN human rights official to visit Iran
UN human rights chief Pillay tours Sderot and Gaza
She spoke two week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon chastised the council for singling out some countries at the expense of others.
He said of the council, “it cannot be a place that targets some countries, yet ignores others. It cannot be a place where some members overlook the human rights violations of others so as to avoid scrutiny themselves.”
According to UN Watch, the council has issued 50 resolutions condemning countries since its inception in 2006, out of which 35 were leveled against Israel.
At Friday’s press conference Pillay did not provide statistics regarding the council’s work, but said that it has spoken out against other countries outside of Israel, including Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar, the Congo, Burma, and North Korea.
The council has a “mandate to protect human rights all over the world, and they do this without distinction of any kind,” she said.
Pillay spoke with reporters at the end of her six-day visit in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
It is the first time she has visited this area since taking office in 2008.
She said she had been well received by both Israel and the PA, and had met with President Shimon Peres, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and well as other officials and human rights activists. She visited east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Sderot, Gaza and the Negev.
Pillay said she wanted to remind people that no one was exempt from international humanitarian law and this law must be respected.
Settlement activity is illegal under international law, she said, and as a result she rejected any type of partial settlement moratorium in the West Bank. Only a full halt to any such Israeli activity, including in east Jerusalem, was acceptable under international law.
“All state actions in support of the establishment and maintenance of the settlements, including incentives to create them and the establishment of infrastructure to support them, are illegal under international law,” Pillay said.
Settlement activity should be stopped all together, she added.
“The idea that a partial or temporary halt is a valuable concession in the peace process, to be traded against something else, is turning the law on its head,” Pillay said.
“Under international law, east Jerusalem remains part of the West Bank and is occupied territory,” Pillay added.
She called on Israel to stop practices that “directly or indirectly coerce Palestinians to leave east Jerusalem, including evictions, demolitions, forced displacements and cancelation of residence permits on a discriminatory basis.”
East Jerusalem, she warned, is “being steadily drained of its Palestinian inhabitants.”
Israel must punish settlers who attack Palestinians, she said and added that the culture of impunity in this regard harms the peace process.
“Extremists among the Israeli settlers who commit abuses against their Palestinian neighbors, including both physical attacks and destruction of property, such as olive trees, and infrastructure including mosques, tend to escape unpunished,” said Pillay.
Within Israel, she said, she was concerned by attempts to undermine “human rights defenders” and by the increase in the rhetoric against them.
In response to a question about refugee rights and the Palestinian right of return, Pillay said, “Every person has a right to return and enter his or her country of origin.”
Pillay also had harsh words for the Palestinian actions, and called the Palestinian launched rockets against Israel from Gaza, “a war crime.”
“Rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel, including at least eight since I began my visit last Sunday,” said Pillay.
“I urge the militants in Gaza to halt firing rockets immediately.
They are not only committing war crimes and continuing to terrorize large numbers of civilians, they are also doing a disservice to the Palestinian people by placing a major obstacle in the path of the peace process and playing into the hands of those who wish to maintain the blockade,” said Pillay.
She also called on Hamas to release Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit who they have held captive in Gaza for more than four years.
In addition she expressed her concern about reports about PA’s arbitrary use of detention and its ill treatment of those in detention.
In Gaza, she said, she was concerned by numerous human rights issues, including women’s rights and the use of the death penalty.
Separately Pillay said she planned to visit Iran.
“I will be going because it is part of my mandate to protect the human
rights of Iran,” Pillay said on Friday at a Jerusalem press conference,
that wrapped up her week visit to Israel and the Palestinian
“As high commissioner for human rights I go wherever I am needed or I
ask to go where I am need. So many countries are closed to the high
commissioner, they do not invite them,” said Pillay.
“I have been invited by the national human rights institution of Iran,”
said Pillay who added that a date for the visit had yet to be set,
though it had the support of the Iranian government.