UN General Assembly President on the Question of Palestine
General Assembly President’s final address to Member States touches on the question of Palestine. And in a separate letter to Susan Rice, President of the Security Council on 9 September, Mr d’Escoto dealt at length with the question of Gaza
14 September 2009 – The President of the General Assembly today called for a complete overhaul of the United Nations so that it can effectively carry out its mission, as he wrapped up his year-long term as head of the 192-member body.“The time has already passed for reforming or mending our Organization. What we need to do is to reinvent it, and we need to do it urgently,” Miguel D’Escoto told Member States in a wide-ranging speech that touched on several issues of that concerned the Assembly’s sixty-third session, including the global financial crisis, international aid and Security Council reform.
“Much remains to be done if the United Nations is to become worthy of the prestige, trust and credibility it needs to carry out its mission effectively, a mission that is so important in today’s world,” he stated.
Mr. D’Escoto cited, among others, a “low level of commitment” on the part of the “most powerful and influential Member States” to the rule of law and to complying with the legal norms enshrined in the UN Charter.
“Certain Member States think that they can act according to the law of the jungle, and defend the right of the strongest to do whatever they feel like with total and absolute impunity, and remain accountable to no one.”
As a first step to reinventing the UN, Mr. D’Escoto called for adopting a “Universal Declaration of the Common Good of the Earth and Humanity,” which could then be the basis for the draft of a new charter for the world body.
He said his greatest frustration over the course of his presidency has been the situation of Palestine. “The evident lack of commitment for resolving it is a scandal that has caused me much sorrow.”
In addition, he said he found “disgraceful the passivity and apparent indifference of some highly influential members of the Security Council to the fact that the blockade of Gaza has continued uninterrupted for two years, in flagrant violation of international law and of the resolution of the Security Council itself.”
The global economic and financial crisis was a major issue on the global agenda over the past year. The President convened a Commission of Experts on Reforms of International Finance and Economic Structures, chaired by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, which recommended that international finance structures must be drastically overhauled in the face of the crisis.
The Commission also stated that a coordinated approach – bringing together not just the G-8 or even G-20 nations, but the “G-192” representing all members of the Assembly – is needed to pull the world out of the recession.
“The G-8 and the G-20 will continue to be significant minorities. However, this is more due to the fact that they are rich and powerful than to their demonstrated ability to do things well,” said Mr. D’Escoto.
“We cannot and should not forget that, after all, it is because of the extremely grave errors committed by them, and the Bretton Woods institutions run by them, that the world is currently undergoing what could well turn out to be the worst crisis in history.”
Her Excellency Madame Susan Rice
President of the Security Council
Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations New York
9th September 2009
Dear Madame President,
As the sixty-third session draws to close, I am writing to your Excellency in your capacity as President of the Security Council to raise urgent issues related to events that transpired during my term as President of the General Assembly, and whose consequences will continue.
I refer to the events of December 2008 and January 2009 in Gaza, when we as an international community failed in our obligations to prevent, and subsequently to put an end to, Israel’s massive aerial bombardment and military offensive. As President, I have a solemn duty to lead the Assembly in its responsibility to ensure compliance by Member States and the Organization as a whole with the decisions and resolutions of this Assembly, and to remind Member States of their obligations under the Charter and international law. In our respective roles, we share a particular responsibility regarding Gaza in two related areas: humanitarian access and accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Regarding our humanitarian responsibilities, in response to the intensified military operations in Gaza, on 8 January 2009 the Security Council adopted Resolution 1860 which called, inter alia, for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel and medical treatment,” as well as “the sustained reopening of the crossing points.” Four days later at its Ninth Special Session on l2 January 2009, the Human Rights Council, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, adopted resolution S-9 /1 demanding “that the occupying Power, Israel, lift its siege, open all borders to allow access and free movement of humanitarian aid to the occupied Gaza Strip.” Finally, on 16 January the General Assembly during its Tenth Emergency Special Session adopted resolution A/RES/ESI-I0/18 explicitly supporting Security Council resolution 1860 and reiterating the call for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout the Gaza Strip of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel and medical treatrnent”, as well as “the sustained opening of border crossings for the free movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip.” (emphasis added). To date, the State of Israel has yet to lift the blockade of. Gaza. and remains in breach of these UN resolutions.
Both UNRWA and OCHA, the leading United Nations humanitarian agencies working on the ground in Gaza, and numerous reports by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs, and humanitarian and human rights organizations attest to the dire living conditions and gross violations to which the people of Gaza were subjected prior to, during and after Israel’s military offensive “Operation Cast Lead”.
Indeed, as early as 27 January 27, in a briefing to the Security Council, the United Nations most senior humanitarian official, John Holmes, characterized Israel’s blockade ^s “^ form of collective punishment on the entire Gazan population”, a view supported by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Commissioner- General of UNRWA, and numerous humanitarian and human rights organizations.
In August 2009, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory released a Special Focus report entitled “Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of the Blockade on the Gaza Strip”, documenting its all-pervasive impact. Virtually no material for rehabilitation and reconstruction has been permitted to enter since January 2009. Seriously ill patients needing urgent medical interventions outside the Gaza Strip continue to suffer and die due to lack of travel permits to leave Gaza. Seventy five percent of Gazans civilians are food insecure.
Also in August, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited the occupied Palestinian territory with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other representatives of the Elders. Writing in the Washington Post, he described Gaza as a “walled-in ghetto inhabited by 1.6 million Palestinians, 1.1 million of whom are refugees from Israel and the \West Bank and receive basic humanitarian assistance from the United Nations Relief and \il7orks Agency. Israel prevents any cement, lumber, seeds, fertilizer and hundreds of other needed materials from entering through Gaza’s gates. Some additronal goods from Egypt reach Gaza through underground tunnels. Gazans cannot produce their own food nor repair schools, hospitals, business establishments and the 50,000 homes that were destroyed or heavily damaged by Israel’s assault last January.”
Today, as winter approaches, UN and humanitarian organizations working on the ground in Gaza are predicting an impending humanitarian disaster in Gaza as many of the victims whose homes were destroyed in the conflict will be without shelter and exposed to the elements. For some, especially women and children, the consequences will be lethal
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, some I,383 persons were killed in the recent war in Gaza. More continue to die as a direct consequence of the blockade. While we cannot bring back the dead, we here at United Nations headquarters have an obligation to prevent more senseless deaths.
As President of the General Assembly, I exhort you, in your capacity as President, to lead the Security Council in taking responsibility for ensuring implementation of its own resolutions on the matter. In keeping with GA resolution 58/126, operative paragraph 51, I would respectfully request that you inform me of the measures that the Security Council has already undertaken to date, that ate currently underway or that are under consideration to guarantee “full and urgent” compliance with Security Council Resolution 1860, in order that I might comply with my obligation to inform Member States of the on-going work of the Council.
As to Security Council responsibility regarding accountability for violations of international law: lifting the blockade and guaranteeing the provisioning of humanitarian relief and development assistance, while important, are not enough. Numerous accounts of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including serious international war crimes, committed by Israeli troops during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, must be independently investigated. This investigation must enjoy the full cooperation of our entire Organization and all Member States. All those who are in breach of international humanitarian and human rights law must be brought into compliance and we must hold all Member States and all violators accountable for their actions. In this regard, the United Nations has undertaken a series of actions of which I will name only a few.
In April the Secretary-General commissioned a Board of Inquiry, led by Mr. Ian Martin, to review and investigate a number of specific incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 27.December 2008 and 19 January 2009 and in which deaths or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to, United Nations premises or in the course of United Nations operations. Nine incidents were investigated by UN Board of Inquiry. The summary of the report, submitted to the Security Council by the Secretary-General, censured the Israeli government for causing death, injuries and damage to UN property in seven incidents involving action by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). It also contained a series of recommendations that include demanding that the Israeli government retract its claim that Palestinians had been firing at Israel forces from within UN premises, and it recommended that the UN pursue reparations from Israel, including for the death or injury of UN personnel or third parties, and the repair of UN property. Rather than move immediately to implement the Board of Inquiry’s recommendations, news accounts report that the Secretary- General in a letter to the Council noted that “the Israeli government had significant reservations and objections to the document” and it was later announced that he would not be taking any further action. To date, the two United Nations agencies most directly concerned, UNRWA and OCFIA, and whom the repot estimates lost millions of dollars in damages, have yet to receive the full report.
Madame President, while I am cognizant of the need to honor the commitments of confidentiality made to persons cooperating with the Board’s investigation, these must not become a basis for buttressing the wall of impunity or suppressing the victims’ right of access to relevant information and to seek reparations. These basic rights are enshrined as Principle VII(c) under GA resolution 60/140 on The Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law. The Secretary-General’s decision to suppress the release of the full report of the UN Board of Inquiry violates the letter and the spirit of GA Res. 60/140, as well as basic principles of international justice.
I strongly urge the Security Council, as a principal organ of our Organization responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, and mandated by the Charter to “act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations”, to join the Assembly in exhorting the Secretary-General to immediately release to the Security Council, the General Assembly, relevant UN Agencies, and victims the full report of the UN Board of Inquiry
On 3 April 2009, the President of the Human Rights Council established an independent UN Fact-Finding Mission, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 1.8 January 2009, whether before, during or after.” The Commission’s report is expected to further document facts already established by earlier United Nations and other inter-governmental and human rights agencies, as well as to provide much needed clarity concerning the legality of the thousands of deaths and injuries, and the widespread destruction that occurred. The release of the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission is forthcoming. This report, together with the report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will be considered in the Human Rights Council later this month. Madame President, I encourage the members of your Council to also give the reports the serious consideration that they deserve, and to move expeditiously to ensure implementation o f their recommendations.
It is an unfortunate fact that the failure of the Security Council to hold certain Member States accountable for their violations has caused the United Nations to lose credibility as an Organization capable of putting an end to the scourge of war and of providing meaningful protection of human rights.
Excellency, I need not remind you that it is the permanent responsibility of the United Nations to protect the Palestinian people until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are fully realized, in conformity with all relevant United Nations resolutions and norms of international law.
I kindly request that this letter and your response be circulated to all Member States of the United Nations and to all relevant UN agencies, but in particular, to UNRWA, OCHA, UNSCO, UNHRC, and UNICEF.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration and esteem.