The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, John Dugard, has said today that the UN Secretary General should pull out of the Quartet that the U.S. has put together to support President Bush’s moves for Middle East peace — unless the Quartet begins to pay due regard to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Palestinian territory.
His remarks come as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah to check on progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ahead of Middle East peace talks that the U.S. will host in Annapolis later this year.
After a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today, Rice told journalists at a joint press conference that both parties’ “obligations are spelled out in a really rather concrete way in the first phase of the roadmap” and that “the United States will be working with both parties to make certain that those roadmap obligations are implemented. I think that is an important role that we can play as a member of the Quartet and as a party with friendly relations with both Israel and the Palestinians”.
Dugard, a South African professor of international law who formerly opposed the now-eradicated Apartheid regime in his country, was interviewed today by the BBC World Service, and by Al-Jazeera TV’s English service. “Every time I visit [the occupied Palestinian territory], the situation seems to have worsened” he told the BBC. He last visited the Palestinian territory in late September, just a few weeks ago.
On Al-Jazeera today, in English, he criticized the Quartet for not ever having mentioned the International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion on The Wall.
Rice will have had to pass through a formidable Israeli checkpoint that allows only a few Palestinians to pass through The Wall on her trips to and from Ramallah, in the West Bank, but she is not known to have ever taken a closer look or a more in-depth tour of The Wall.
Dugard has become increasingly testy in recent years, while staying totally on message. Israel has criticized Dugard as biased and pro-Palestinian, yet Dugard is one of the few UN Human Rights experts who has actually come to Israel, in order to investigate the situation in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. However, his mandate does not include looking into the human rights situation in Israel itself. Nor has he ever been given an official Israeli visa in his United Nations Laissez Passer to conduct his missions, and he enters the country on his national passport (i.e., as a tourist). Israeli officials do not receive Dugard, officially, either.
Other UN Human Rights officials and envoys have generally refused to come unless they were given official Israeli visas for their missions.
Dugard’s increasingly bold statements suggest that he must have some assurances, now, that he has the backing of his own government —
Dugard must also be provoked by a controversy that is surrounding remarks about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians made by South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu — a Nobel Peace Prize winner — who has been recently been disinvited and then reinvited to speak to a midwestern American university conference on human rights. [See next post here .]
Archbishop Tutu, a compatriot of Dugards, and a fellow anti-Apartheid activist, was named to head a UN Human Rights Council investigation into the deaths of a large number of Palestinian civilians — many members of the same family — who were killed in their sleep by an Israeli artillery attack on Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza late last year. The investigation mission did not get Israeli agreement to proceed. [See our previous post, Sometimes not making a decision is making a decision, here.]
Dugard’s interviews today appear to be copy-cat follow-ups of an earlier interview he did with Al-Jazeerza’s Arabic TV Channel on 29 September. In that interview, Dugard said, according to a summary reported by the Ramattan independent Palestinian news agency, that “the United Nations and the Quartet neglect his reports and recommendations”. In the Al-Jazeera interview, according to Ramattan, Dugard suggested that the Quartet seemed all too eager to back
However, these reports have had an impact. Last week, according to a report published on 9 October also by Ramattan news agency, a senior Hamas official in
The facts, as they say, are not contested: Israel’s President Shimon Peres said confidently, in a press conference at his residence in Jerusalem less than a month ago with members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, that Israel is “today being supported by the Quartet”.
Zahar served as Foreign Minister in the Palestinian Authority after the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections in early 2006 — but he did not continue in the National Unity Government created after a short-lived Fatah-Hamas reconciliation forged in
In his interviews today, Dugard told the BBC that “the UN ‘does itself little good by remaining a member of the Quartet’.” Dugard told the BBC that “on his most recent visit, he ‘was very struck by the sense of hopelessness among the Palestinian people’, which he attributed to ‘the crushing effect of human rights violations’, and in particular the Israeli restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement … He said the purpose of some of the checkpoints in the middle of the West Bank was to break it up ‘into a number of cantons and make the life of Palestinians as miserable as possible’.” Dugard added that the Quartet “was weak ‘because it was ‘heavily influenced’ by the
To Al Jazeera’s
Dugard’s recent remarks — which he said will be reflected in a report he is due to present shortly to the UN General Assembly — reflect in important ways the End-of-Mission Report written by the second UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, who resigned his post in frustration last May.
That report, which was designated as “confidential”, was published in its entirety in June on the website of The Guardian newspaper.
In that report,
A group of retired U.S. Ambassadors and officials has recently urged U.S. Secretary of State Rice to bring Hamas into a second stage of the projected Middle East peace conference that are still tentatively set to be held later this year in Annapolis.
In an interview with a Palestinian journalist [in Ramallah?]
In an apparently parallel interview with an Israeli journalist in
The planned peace conference, Rice said, “is a meeting about the Israeli-Palestinian issue” only — this, she indicated, is “a more mature track” at the present time, while any more comprehensive peace talks, involving occupied Syrian territory, for example, would have to wait.