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WCC calls on Israel to observe its responsibilities under Fourth Geneva Convention
The World Council of Churches' Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (WCC/CCIA) has released a statement on the occasion of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, being held in Geneva today.
As a depositary of the Geneva Conventions, the Swiss government has called this conference to discuss the implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) governs the treatment of civilians in armed conflict and under occupation, and is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law. The convention is binding upon the 189 states or High Contracting Parties (HCP), including Israel, which, along with the United States, has stated that it is boycotting the conference. Throughout its 34-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem, Israel has been alone amongst the HCP in refusing to recognize the legal applicability of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Salpy Eskidjian, programme executive for WCC International Relations, noted the importance of the conference particularly in light of the escalating violence in the region. "The recent vicious cycle of violence should be a painful reminder to the international community about the absolute necessity that they abide by international humanitarian and human rights law, as the only credible basis for a just and durable peace for both Israelis and Palestinians," she noted. "The churches have an obligation in this as well to speak out against violence in all its forms. How many more lives should be lost before we break this conspiracy of silence and the persistent culture of impunity? Israel must be held accountable to its own responsibilities as a High Contracting Party and as an occupying power," she stated.
WCC/CCIA, while welcoming the conference, says the declaration under consideration "falls short by failing to recommend concrete measures" to ensure the protection of civilian populations under occupation and believes that there are immediate moves available to fulfill this obligation.
The statement calls on Israel to "abide scrupulously" by its legal responsibilities as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention. WCC/CCIA also notes that "Israel's repeated defiance of international law, its continuing occupation and the impunity it has so long enjoyed are the fundamental causes of the present violence and threaten peace and security of both peoples."
"As people of faith we uphold and defend the sanctity of all life, both Palestinian and Israeli, and cannot remain silent in the face of suffering, insecurity and fear of both peoples," the statement reads.
WCC/CCIA highlights recent decisions of the WCC Executive Committee to "focus attention in 2002 on intensive efforts to end the illegal occupation of Palestine, and to participate actively in coordinated ecumenical efforts, among others, to support the newly established Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in Palestine and Israel (EMPPI); to join in non-violent acts of resistance to the destruction of Palestinian properties, and to forced evictions of people from their homes and lands; an international boycott of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; and in international prayer vigils to strengthen the "chain of solidarity" with the Palestinian people, and for a just peace in the Middle East."
The text of the statement follows:
The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (hereinafter WCC/CCIA) welcomes today's conference of the High Contracting Parties (hereinafter HCP) to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention (hereinafter the Convention) "on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure respect thereof in accordance with common Article 1" (UNGA RES/ES -10/3, July 1997; 10/4 November 1997; 10/5 March 1998; 10/6 February 1999).
While the WCC /CCIA believes that the reaffirmation by the HCP of the principles defined for the protection of civilian populations under occupation is an important step, the Declaration of December 5th, 2001 falls short by failing to recommend concrete measures to ensure the respect of these same principles.
In view of the horrific escalation of the conflict, especially in these last weeks, the WCC/CCIA reaffirms once again its endorsement of the conclusions and recommendations of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission of 16 March 2001, which, inter alia, recommended that the reconvened "Conference should establish an effective international mechanism for taking urgent measures needed ... to alleviate the daily suffering of the Palestinian people flowing from the severe breaches of international humanitarian law."
The WCC /CCIA notes that the Convention is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law and provides basic legal standards for the treatment of civilians during armed conflict or under occupation. It bans, among other things; indiscriminate use of force against civilians, wanton destruction of property, torture, collective punishment, the annexation of occupied territory, the establishment of settlements on occupied land and requires judicial accountability for those who commit war crimes.
Most importantly WCC/CCIA reiterates that the Convention requires that all HCP ensure that the Convention is respected in all circumstances. In this context the WCC /CCIA believes that there are immediate moves available to fulfill this obligation, and a meeting of the HCP is the first effective step towards achieving that goal.
The WCC/CCIA reaffirms previous statements of its governing bodies, where it highlighted grave breaches of the Convention by Israel against civilians, including repressive forms of collective punishments, restriction of freedom of movement including access to the Holy sites, the bombing and shelling of civilian neighborhoods and the destruction of property including tens of thousands of olive trees and the denial of access to timely medical assistance.
The WCC/CCIA once again calls upon Israel to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention to put an end to the ongoing violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including the military occupation itself. In addition, it restates its position that Israel's repeated defiance of international law, its continuing occupation and the impunity it has so long enjoyed are the fundamental causes of the present violence and threaten peace and security of both peoples.
The WCC/CCIA appeals to the international community to fulfill its obligations under international humanitarian law. This it should do by ensuring that Israel complies with the requirements of international law so that the international community is not complicit in its violations of human rights but is instrumental in ensuring the protection of all civilians.
As people of faith we uphold and defend the sanctity of all life, both Palestinian and Israeli and can not remain silent in the face of suffering, insecurity and fear of both peoples.
Therefore we reiterate the WCC Executive Committee resolution of September 14, 2001 which calls the WCC member churches, ecumenical partners and Christians around the world, in the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010), to focus attention in 2002 on intensive efforts to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine, and to participate actively in coordinated ecumenical efforts, among others, to support the newly established Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in Palestine and Israel (EMPPI); to join in non-violent acts of resistance to the destruction of Palestinian properties and to forced evictions of people from their homes and lands; an international boycott of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; and in international prayer vigils to strengthen the "chain of solidarity" with the Palestinian people, and for a just peace in the Middle East.
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.