UN expert decries 'Israel's conduct'

Israel: Human Rights Council session "a planned and premeditated" attack.

yitzhak levanon un 29888 (photo credit: AP [file])
yitzhak levanon un 29888
(photo credit: AP [file])
A UN human rights expert on Wednesday criticized the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations for ignoring countless Israeli violations of human rights, international law and other standards. John Dugard, a South African lawyer responsible for investigating alleged human rights abuses by Israel in Palestinian areas, said the United States and other international powers who make up the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators have done nothing to rein in Israel. "Israel's conduct is morally indefensible," Dugard told an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council. "I am concerned with the law, and here it is clear that Israel is in violation of the most fundamental norms of humanitarian law and human rights law." Dugard was the keynote speaker at the first emergency session of the new U.N. Human Rights Council, called at the request Friday of Arab countries, who are seeking a resolution that would censure Israel for its behavior. Israel's ambassador to the UN's European headquarters in Geneva called the session "a planned and premeditated" attack on his country, and said it continued the anti-Israel bias set by the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, which was phased out this year. Dugard, an anti-apartheid civil rights lawyer in the 1980s, was appointed by the dissolved commission in 2001 to investigate only violations by the Israeli side, prompting Israel and others to dismiss his reports as one-sided. "We find ourselves in an absurd situation in which the Human Rights Council, convened into urgent session, ignores the rights of one side and holds a special meeting to defend the rights of the other side," Ambassador Itzhak Levanon told the 47-member body. Levanon also defended Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip, which followed the capture of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid on June 25. "It was triggered by the attack on our sovereign territory by Palestinian terrorist groups with the aim of sewing death," he said. "These terrorists dug a tunnel under the benevolent eye of the Palestinian authorities to achieve their goal." Dugard said Israel's response, which has included the detention of Palestinian Cabinet ministers and other Hamas officials, broke the prohibition on collective punishment and on "measures of intimidation and terrorism" in the Fourth Geneva Convention, limiting the conduct of an occupying power. The arrest of Hamas Cabinet ministers and legislators "seems to constitute the taking of hostages," also prohibited by the convention, he added. "In the past week the situation has worsened," Dugard said. "In Gaza people are without water, food is scarce, medicines are running out, 200,000 households are without electricity due to the destruction of power plants," Dugard said. "Over 1,500 rounds of artillery have been showered on Gaza," he said. "Sonic booms terrorize the people. Transport has been seriously disrupted by the destruction of roads and bridges. Sanitation is threatened." On Sunday, Israel reopened a major crossing point into Gaza to allow basic food products and humanitarian supplies to reach the coastal strip. But it closed the crossing a day later, citing a security threat. The United States and the EU urged Israel to exercise restraint, but they said the Palestinians also had to act for peace and release the captive IDF soldier. "We call on the Palestinian leadership to bring an end to violence and terrorist activities, including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory," said Finnish Ambassador Vesa Himanen, speaking for the EU. US Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor added: "Hamas cannot claim to govern responsibly while simultaneously calling for the destruction of Israel, sending in militants to carry out terrorist attacks and firing Kassam rockets into Israel from Gaza."