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PRESS BRIEFING BY SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR OF COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

7 August 2002

A United Nations expert on housing and land rights this afternoon strongly condemned the Israeli military's methodical destruction of homes and habitat as well as its systematic confiscation of land in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Briefing correspondents at Headquarters, Miloon Kothari, the Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of an adequate standard of living, said the international community was "duty bound" to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian people. He visited the region last January.

Mr. Kothari, who was in New York to hold a series of dialogues with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on women, housing and land in preparation for the 2003 session of the Human Rights Commission, said recent studies described what appeared to be a systematic consolidation of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. In the past 10 years, Israeli authorities had demolished more than 2,200 residences, displacing some 13,000 Palestinians while establishing at least 155 settlements for more than 170,000 Israelis.

With a mandate that covers issues including access to water and sanitation, forced evictions and displacement, land rights matters and natural resources, Mr. Kothari said that while the home demolitions, hoarding of natural resources and other collective punishments, which continued unabated in Palestinian areas, should be considered war crimes, the psychological effects of those actions warranted equal condemnation.

He said information compiled by his office showed that home demolitions were found to have a consistently negative effect on mental health. Specifically on the grave situation of children, he added that there had been increased diagnoses of bed-wetting, depression, under-eating and fear of leaving home throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.

In addition, he said, a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) study had shown that during March and April of this year, 330,000 Palestinian children had been confined to their homes, some 500,000 had been unable to access health and social services, and nearly 600,000 children had been prevented from attending school. "I am particularly concerned that no steps are being taken by the international community to address this situation which is seriously impacting the future generation of Palestinians living in the occupied territories", he said.

While not enough work had been done to assess the depth of the occupation's psychological impact on women, it was clear that the loss of homes and the impact of the consequences on families -- lack of shelter and forced displacement -- had a significant effect on women. In fact, he added, in most refugee camps, approximately half of the uprooted people were women and girls. Stripped of the protection of homes and family structure, they were particularly vulnerable.

Emphasizing the need to address the issue of compensation and restitution, including resettlement and rehabilitation, Mr. Kothari said such matters appeared to have "fallen off" the international agenda, both in general discussions and in the context of the peace process. He strongly condemned a recent Israeli Supreme Court decision which permitted the seizure or demolition of homes and property belonging to relatives of suspected participants in suicide bombings, saying it clearly contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

He added that United Nations treaty monitoring bodies had repeatedly pointed out the scale of violations, but there seemed to be no attempt in the wider international community to hold Israel accountable to any internationally agreed legal precepts.

Responding to concerns that his briefing had presented an unbalanced view of the situation, Mr. Kothari said that while he understood those concerns, his office had received no cooperation from the Israeli authorities. "They do not recognize the mandates of the Commission, nor do they meet with us or participate in the work of country missions in any way when we are in the occupied territories", he added.

Such lack of cooperation had not stopped his office from meeting and consulting with a wide representation of Israeli civil society, including humanitarian actors, he continued. The report he had compiled of his visit contained not only the views of the Palestinian side but also those of actors in mainstream Israeli society.

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