United Nations Conference should tackle Israel’s human rights violations

The United States has threatened to boycott the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Intolerance, to be held in South Africa from 31 August to 7 September 2001.

At the two previous World Conferences held in 1978 and 1983 two countries with discriminatory regimes were singled out by the rest of the international community: apartheid South Africa and Israel. It was understood both times that South Africa and Israel were not the only two discriminatory regimes in the world and that their victims of discrimination were not the only victimized or oppressed people. However, in both cases, it was recognized that it was in the interest of the entire international community to expressly focus on these countries and counter the root causes of their conflicts and various human rights violations – namely, discrimination, in all its insidious and extreme forms including apartheid and colonialism.

At the first World Conference Against Racism in 1978, the United States led a boycott of the WCAR, and was followed by a number of EU States because of the document of that conference dealing with apartheid South Africa also included condemnation of Israel’s systematic violations against Palestinians. In 1983, the same states again voted against any measures being taken against South African apartheid as well.

The position of the United States is clear. To date, within the United Nations Security Council, the United States has used its veto 73 times. The vast majority of US vetoes were cast in support of Israel and apartheid-South Africa and defending its own actions in Central America. Clearly, the US regards itself as exempt from international norms and standards.

Any attempt to end the cycle of ongoing and systematic human rights violations perpetrated by a country, including Israel, cannot be effective until the key root causes of such violations are recognised and tackled. At the heart of Israel’s human rights violations is a system of institutionalized racism, including elements that fulfills the key elements of the “crime of apartheid” as codified in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1976), namely racial segregation and discrimination and inhuman acts designed to establish and maintain domination of the Jewish Israeli people over the non-Jewish inhabitants, namely the Palestinians. Additionally, it includes extreme forms of racial discrimination, leading to systematic gross human rights violations and grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention (namely war crimes). As in the case of South African apartheid, this system amounts to a crime against humanity.

Israel’s institutionalized system of racial discrimination, colonialism and apartheid is destabilizing the entire region and poses one of the greatest threats to world peace and security. This system includes ongoing dispossession and destruction of Palestinian land, agriculture and homes, denial of residency rights, and erosion of sense of seperation of families and communities, severe restrictions on movement, including closures, besiegement and curfews and, more recently, virtual imprisonment through the use of trenches and iron gates with keys held by Israeli soldiers.

The methods used by the State of Israel to ensure exclusion and expansion include practices of dispossession, displacement, separation and cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population and obliterate their national identity and deny their right to self-determination. In sum this system entails “more land, less Palestinians”.

Israeli state policies, practices and methods are designed to impoverish the Palestinians (currently more than one million Palestinians are living under the poverty line) and strangulate their economy, including the restriction of movement, the denial and hinder of access to humanitarian aid and assistance, food and water, medical supplies and aid, hospitals, work and education. Israel’s colonial practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories include attacks on the civilian population, collective punishments, a failure to protect civilians, amounting to violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and acts that can be defined as war crimes.

In 1983, the World Conference declared, “apartheid as an institutionalised form of racism is a deliberate and totally abhorrent affront to the conscience and dignity of mankind, a crime against humanity and a threat to international peace and security.” It is therefore that our common humanity demands that these abhorrent forms of racism – including Israel’s new form of apartheid – be tackled.

As in the case of apartheid in South African, the Israeli discriminatory regime must be tackled by the international community: First, because of the implications of its actions for regional and world peace and security reasons and secondly, because of the abhorrent nature of the racist system itself.

The right to enjoy human rights, including civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights, and fundamental freedoms free from discrimination is a fundamental human right in itself, and an integral concept underlying all key international human rights instruments. These instruments reaffirm another related guiding principle, namely the recognition of the inherent dignity and right to equality of all human beings. Accordingly, it is vital to allow Palestinians the right to enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, free from discrimination and to assure their right to equality.

The World Conference Against Racism should help to ensure Israeli compliance with its obligations under human rights, humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions with the view to end this institutionalized system of racism, apartheid and colonialism as a step forward towards peace and reconciliation in the region.

The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda), ElectronicIntifada.net and LAW -The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, in Jerusalem.