Gulf News Online Edition
Dubai:Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Arab League flays double standards in anti-terror war
Abu Dhabi | By Nadim Kawach | 16/07/2002 |

A section of the audience at the conference. Picture: WAM

The Arab League used a conference on human rights yesterday to denounce double-standards in a global anti-terror campaign, and said the world's silence towards Israel's human rights abuses is evidence of this defective diplomacy.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said all League members are committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms but want such a drive to include human rights violations.

Inaugurating the conference on "Human Rights and War Victims in International Law" at the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Khalifa Al Murrar, Executive Director of the Centre, noted humankind has unfortunately undergone the worst kinds of atrocities due to wars and conflicts.

"President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is today a symbol of world peace, and has emphasised the need to tread the path of peace that ensures prosperity and welfare of humankind," he pointed out.

"Sheikh Zayed's commitment to world peace and his total rejection of war and use of force to resolve disputes regionally or internationally gives an international dimension to his efforts to protect mankind from the aftermath of wars and conflicts."

Referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict he added: "The Israeli military machine has committed unprecedented crimes. It has destroyed towns, blown up houses, buried innocent people and above all has aborted all attempts to document details of human rights violations."

He emphasised Zayed Centre is hosting this conference to spread the message of peace and highlight the need for respecting human dignity.

In an address to the conference read by Moussa's representative, Adel Al Khudari, he said Israel had massively violated human rights by failing to respect the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians, referring to the killing of Palestinian civilians, demolition of their houses, and continuous attacks by Israeli forces against hospitals.

"We are passing through extremely difficult circumstances in which the entire world is witnessing serious challenges against all principles and norms on which the human rights march has been based," Al Khudari told the conference.

"After human rights issues dominated our priorities, they have now receded on the grounds that priority should be given to fighting terrorism.

"There is no doubt it is an extremely important matter but serious violations of human rights are being committed under the name of fighting terrorism in the countries which have always boasted that they are an edifice of freedom and democracy and protectors of human rights."

Al Khudari said the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign should be within a legal framework and should not exclude any party which is involved in terrorism or human rights abuses.

"The international community should not deal with such issues through a double-standard policy nor should it accept that Israel continue such practices as a state above the law, violating all principles and norms in the field of human rights without any deterrence."

Al Khudari described the situation in the occupied Palestinian areas as tragic and catastrophic because of Israel's daily aggressions.

He said Israel was killing Palestinians without discrimination and its blockade of their homes and institutions has severely affected their lives.

"Israel is not distinguishing between a child, a woman, and old people. Its siege has largely increased the suffering of the Palestinian people while it pursues a policy of demolishing their houses and destroying their infrastructure and farms in violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in war," he noted.

"Israel has massively violated this Convention. It has gone further by attacking hospitals which provide health and humanitarian care to the sick and injured.

"This is also in violation of that Convention which strictly banned any attack on such institutions and called on all conflicting parties to respect this agreement."

A Western speaker at the two-day conference assailed the United Nations for what he described as its failure to force Israel to accept relevant resolutions and to protect civilians in occupied Palestine over the past decades.

Hans Koechler, president of the International Progress Organisation in Austria, also cited the UN's failure to force Israel to accept the dispatch of a fact-finding mission to the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin after Israeli forces committed a massacre during their month-long offensive against the West Bank in April.

"The total failure of the United Nations organisation to protect the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territories is appalling," he observed.

"The international community is now confronted with the question as to how the provisions of the Geneva Convention can be enforced when the only organ of the UN able to undertake compulsory measures in those territories is paralysed because of the American veto, or more precisely because of the threat of an American veto in case the Security Council intends to adopt an enforceable resolution that would go beyond mere recommendations and lip service to Palestinian human rights."

He added:" Regrettably, this situation has made the UN not only impotent, but irrelevant when it comes to the enforcement of international humanitarian law in Palestine and to remedies for the civilian population that has suffered so much as a result of transgressions committed by the occupying power."

He pointed out that the recent establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Rome provided a chance to condemn and prosecute persons involved in human rights abuses.

But he added any ICC verdict against Israel would not be effective because Tel Aviv has not ratified the ICC agreement and the Palestinian territories have yet to be clearly defined.

"A real chance for the prosecution of war crimes by the ICC may only exist if and when the State of Palestine has been recognised as a subject of international law and as a member of the United Nations and after this state will have ratified the Rome Statute," he said.

"This may have a deterring effect in regard to the eventual commission of war crimes by hostile forces on Palestinian territory in the future but it will not bring a remedy to the present situation ... it is not without explanation that the United States not only has unsigned the Rome Statute but totally rejects the idea of an international criminal court acting independently of the Security Council exercising universal jurisdiction."

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