Dueling draft resolutions on Darfur

Urged on by the SG (who thought, as the U.S. and Israel do, that Israel was getting too much attention and criticism from the new UN Human Rights Council in Geneva because of its mistreatment of Palestinians), the Council obediently convened a fourth Special Session, on the human rights situation in Darfur.

Kofi Annan sent a video-taped message to today’s meeting (there are six hours’ time difference, after all, and he can’t be expected to wake up in the middle of the night in New York to address a meeting in Geneva), in which he observed that for more than three years now, the people of Darfur had “endured a nightmare”, and that it was nearly two years since an International Commission of Inquiry had submitted its report with shocking findings.

So, apparently it seems a good idea to send another Commission of Inquiry.  Annan wrote: “I urge you to lose no time in sending a team of independent and universally respected experts to investigate the latest escalation of abuses … It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed. That is the very least you can do to show the people of Darfur that their cries for help are being heard”.

At a regular bi-weekly briefing for journalists at the UN Office in Geneva (UNOG), Jose Luis Diaz of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) drew attention to the High Commissioner’s statement to the Special Session this morning in which she had said that “victims and other vulnerable civilians are entitled to expect from you [the Human Rights Council] a credible response”.

Mr. Diaz told journalists that two [competing] draft resolutions had been submitted to the Council — the first, submitted by Finland, who had convened the Special Session, called for sending an urgent assessment mission to Darfur headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan. The mission would be requested to report to the Council at its next session early next year.  Mr. Diaz explained that the second draft resolution, submitted by the African Group, also called for the Council to dispatch a mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, but this mission would be headed by the President of the Council and would include the members of the Bureau and the regional group coordinators members of the Council. That mission would also report back to the Council at its next session.

The Special Session was to continue into Wednesday.

Meanwhile, at UNHQ/NY, the UN Spokesman told journalists that “In the context of the follow up of the implementation of the UN light support package to the African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS), the Tripartite Mechanism composed of representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan will hold its first meeting tomorrow.  The Tripartite Mechanism aims at ensuring a more transparent, systematic, and efficient provision of UN support to AMIS. During tomorrow’s meeting, UNMIS will present a list of equipment and personnel ready to be deployed in support of AMIS.  Insecurity continues to prevail in many parts in Darfur.  For instance in West Darfur, a vehicle donated by a UN agency to the local ministry of health to assist in mobile vaccination and immunization of infants and children was hijacked alongside with the driver outside of a camp housing displaced persons. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency reports that the voluntary return of Sudanese refugees to south Sudan is set to gather new momentum this week with the scheduled re-launch of return convoys from Ethiopia starting tomorrow (Wednesday), and from Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday.

That’s the way the UN talks.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Sometimes not making a decision is making a decision

Israel’s lack of cooperation with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s UN Human Rights Council-mandated mission to go Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, has been “very distressing”, the Archbishop told journalists at the UN in Geneva on Monday.

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, has waiting in Geneva since 1 December for official visas to travel to and through Israel, to Gaza.  Last week, the UN announced that Tutu would leave on the weekend — but he is still in Geneva.

Israel hasn’t refused to issue the visas — it just hasn’t responded, just as it didn’t respond on other similar occasions, notably after the IDF attack on Jenin [Palestinian] Refugee Camp in the spring of 2002.

News agencies are reporting that Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was concerned about the mission’s mandate, which “advances a biased anti-Israeli agenda”.  Regev nevertheless reportedly said that Israel was “still considering the request” for the authorisation to travel.

The UN news centre is reporting that “Israel”s lack of cooperation has prevented a fact-finding mission from the United Nations Human Rights Council from visiting Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, where an Israeli attack last month killed 19 Palestinian civilians, the head of the team, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, said today.  ‘This is a time in our history that neither allows for indifference to the plight of those suffering, nor a refusal to search for a solution to the present crisis in the region,’ Mr. Tutu told reporters in Geneva…’The events leading up to the shelling at Beit Hanoun are documented and the basic facts are not in dispute. The broader context, however, is complex, and this warranted that we also visit Israel, where in the pursuit of our mandate we had hoped for meetings with members of the Government at a high level.’

Archbishop Tutu is supposed to report to the UN’s Human Rights Council by mid-December.

Archbishop Tutu waiting for Israeli green light

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper is reporting that “A UN mission to investigate the deaths of 19 civilians in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, led by South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, has been delayed because Israel has yet to authorize the trip, a spokeswoman said Saturday. The Nobel Peace laureate had been due to leave for the Middle East at the weekend, but he would not now leave before Monday, mission spokeswoman Sonia Bakar said. ‘We are still waiting for a sign from Israel’…

Haaretz reported that “Israel has yet to grant the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town the necessary travel clearance, said three different officials close to the talks between the global body and Israel. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were continuing, said they had yet to receive any indication from Israel that the mission will take place at all.”

The Haaretz story said that “Tutu chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of white rule. Tutu, who was in Geneva, could not be reached for comment…The UN Human Rights Council passed a seventh resolution criticizing Israel on Friday, this time for its failure to act on earlier recommendations that it end military operations in the Palestinian territories and allow a fact-finding mission to the region … The rights body, which has only condemned the Israeli government in its seven-month existence, noted with regret its July resolution urging the release of all arrested Palestinian ministers has yet to be carried out … Israel’s ambassador to the global body in Geneva criticized the council for ignoring a Nov. 26 cease-fire agreement that ended five months of fierce fighting in Gaza.”, Haaretz reported. The Haaretz story on Archbishop Tutu’s mission to Beit Hanoun is here.

Archbishop Tutu expected to leave for Beit Hanoun this weekend

Archbishop Tutu will be joined by a professor of international law at the London School of Economics and at the University of Michigan, Christine Chinkin. The two are expected to leave on their fact-finding mission this weekend.  They were appointed by the President of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and must report back to the Human Rights Council by mid-December.

At least 18 Palestinian civilians were killed in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, by a pre-dawn shelling attack by Israeli Defense Forces tanks on 8 November.

Archbiship Tutu and Professor Chinkin’s mission includes assessing the situation of victims, addressing the needs of survivors, and making recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against further assaults, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head UN probe of Israeli shelling in Beit Hanoun

Archbishop Tutu, who was an anti-Apartheid activist, and who later chaired the South African Human Rights Commission, has been named to head a team to go to Beit Hanoun and look into the 8 November shelling that the Israeli Government has said was a result of a technical error (see report below). The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 15 November calling for this investigation. It is not yet clear whether Israel will agree to cooperate. The UN General Assembly in New York has also voted to conduct its own fact-finding into the events surrounding the shelling.

UN Looks into Deaths of 19 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun

A day after 19 Palestinians were killed in, or while fleeing, their homes at dawn in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, by Israel shelling, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) issued a statement about the attack in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, saying that: “All the evidence of the inquiry indicate that the Palestinian civilian casualties were caused by IDF artillery, and that the primary cause of the incident was a technical failure in the ‘Shilem’ System, which directs artillery fire. In light of the inquiry results, the Chief of Staff had instructed to halt all artillery fire aimed at the Gaza Strip until further technical, professional, and operational inquiries are completed“.

Some of the wounded Palestinians are being treated in Israeli hospitals.

The IDF statement added that: “The Chief of Staff expressed his regret for the civilian casualties as a result of the technical failure”

IDF Forces reportedly had pulled out of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza before the attack that hit a row of houses.

A statement was issued on in Geneva by the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, John Dugard, saying that: “On 25 June 2006 Israel embarked on a military operation in Gaza that has resulted in over 300 deaths, including many civilians; over a thousand injuries; large-scale devastation of public facilities and private homes; the destruction of agricultural lands; the disruption of hospitals, clinics and schools; the denial of access to adequate electricity, water and food; and the occupation and imprisonment of the people of Gaza. This brutal collective punishment of a people, not a government, has passed largely unnoticed by the international community. The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation, has done little to halt Israel’s attacks. Worse still, the Security Council has failed to adopt any resolution on the subject or attempt to restore peace to the region. The time has come for urgent action on the part of the Security Council. Failure to act at this time will seriously damage the reputation of the Security Council.”

The United States later vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution condemning the attack on Beit Hanoun.

It also voted against a related resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on 17 November, which passed by 156 votes — despite other negative votes also cast by Israel, Canada, Ivory Coast, and several Pacific island-states. This resolution asked the Secretary-General to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun and to report back within 30 days on the circumstances surrounding Israel’s shelling of the town. It also asked the Quartet (the United States, Russian Federation, European Union and United Nations) to look into taking steps to stabilize the situation.

Earlier, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva had voted to call for a UN investigation into the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun. UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour then made a five-day visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza Strip. At the conclusion of her trip on 23 November, the High Commissioner said that civilians on both sides expressed a feeling of abandonment by the international community. Ms. Arbour urged that discussion of the crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as action to address it, should take place within the context of international human rights law.