WCC Report on the Fifth Special Session of the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights
17-19 October 2000, Geneva

A Special Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories took place in Geneva from the 17th to the 19th October 2000, after a request by Algeria on behalf of the League of Arab States and authorisation by 47 of the Commission’s 53 member States.

The WCC was represented by its (then) International Relations team (CCIA) which also hosted a three-member Palestinian ecumenical delegation that provided first hand information to participants on the latest violent clashes. The WCC’s contribution included three public briefings as well as written and oral statements at the Session.

On its last day, the Session adopted a resolution condemning what it said were ‘grave and massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel’ and calling for the establishment of a ‘human rights inquiry commission’ to compile information on violations of human rights in the occupied territories. It also requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the area to assess the situation after what it called ‘disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force’ by Israel against Palestinian civilians in the confrontations since September 28th.



The delegation hosted by the (then) International Relations team included Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem representing His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros, His Grace Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and Mr. Marwan Bishara, author and journalist from Nazareth and a research fellow of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

They were accompanied by Father George Tsetsis from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Contstantinople and member of the WCC Central and Executive Committees along with staff from the WCC team. Three other invitees were unable to join the delegation in Geneva due to the military closure of the Palestinian territories. They were Ms. Jean Zaru, a Quaker from Ramallah and vice-chair of the board of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, Jerusalem, Mr. Constantine El’Dabbagh of Gaza, from the Department for Services for Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches and Ms. Nahed Awwad of Beit Sahour from The Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People (a WCC Peace to the City network partner).

Written submission

The WCC’s written submission to the Session (full text attached) stated that Israel had often ignored or openly violated UN resolutions and reports thus delaying and denying justice to the Palestinian people. It indicated that in the post-Oslo period Israel had maintained and even accelerated a policy of unilaterally changing ‘facts on the ground’ including confiscation of identity cards, house demolition, expansion of illegal settlements and repeated closures restricting Palestinian movement. The consequence of such systematic violations of human rights and repeated defiance of international law, the statement continued, has been to incite violence and deny peace and security to both peoples.

The statement further mentioned that the WCC welcomed the decision of the Security Council in Resolution 1322 (2000) that stressed "the importance of establishing a mechanism for a speedy and objective inquiry into the tragic events of the last few days with the aim of preventing their repetition" (attached). It said that such an investigation could provide an essential beginning to revealing, sharing and mutually accepting the truth about past systemic violations of people’s rights, a necessary process if justice, peace and reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims is to be achieved.

In its first recommendation to the Session, the WCC asked that the UNCHR respond to Resolution 1322 and contribute within its mandate to the undertaking of such an inquiry. It also recommended that the Commission continues to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the Question of Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories and encourage the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories to continue and intensify its work. The Commission was further asked to reiterate its demand that Israel cooperate fully with these investigations.

It further requested that the Commission encourage the Working Group on Minorities of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to investigate systematic violations of the human rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel and follow up the work on impunity of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights with respect to holding states and individuals suspected of having committed mass violations of the right to life accountable for their acts. Finally it recommended that the Commission reiterate its demand that Israel fully comply with its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Oral statement, public briefings and call for prayer

During the first day of the session, Father Tsetsis made an oral intervention on the WCC’s behalf highlighting significant elements of the written statement and adding that for too long the ministries of the churches in the Holy Land had been the victims of injustice due to displacement, abject poverty and the systematic violation of human rights. He told the Session that even though the churches have never failed to bring a message of hope and the promise of peace given by God, the consistent defiance of international law and the admonitions of the international community on behalf of the occupying power had made holding fast to this message a very difficult task. Father Tsetsis also quoted from Latin Patriarch Michael Sabbah’s words who was speaking on behalf of his fellow Patriarchs and heads of the thirteen churches in Jerusalem at a service of Ecumenical Prayer for Peace. "Our destiny is freedom in our land", he cited, "and hence tranquility and security for all, Palestinians and Israelis alike". He ended by a call "to conversion of the heart, of the mind and of the spirit".

The WCC also organised meetings with the press and sponsored two briefings at the Palais des Nations on the 17th and 18th of October in which members of the hosted delegation had the opportunity to share information and views regarding the situation in the region with diplomats, NGOs and the press. Moreover, the WCC Public Information team gave a wide coverage of the WCC’s contribution to the Special Session through continuous press releases and updates.

At a final briefing held at the Ecumenical Centre on October 19th, WCC delegation member Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna called on churches around the world to have special prayers beginning on Sunday October 22nd for the Palestinian people living under occupation, Christian and Muslim, and for "a real and whole peace in the Middle East". Speaking on behalf of the churches in Jerusalem and Arab Christians, Archimandrite Theodosios also said that the churches needed to commit themselves "to help make visible the suffering of the Palestinian people". He added that "all the churches have their voice and if they could speak out for justice and rights, this would make a difference". Acting WCC General Secretary George Lemonopoulos lifted up Archimandrite Theodosios’ call and encouraged WCC member churches to join in prayer, recalling the September resolution of the WCC Executive Committee "to remain constant in prayer and in solidarity with the local churches for a just peace in Jerusalem and for the whole of the Middle East" (attached).


Mission Report by the Special Rapporteur

Among the significant contributions before the Session was that of Giorgio Giacomelli, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967. Mr. Giacomelli, who had conducted a mission to the region from 11-15 October, underlined the excessive use of force that increased the violence and civil unrest. His report mentions that "the Occupying Power has dramatically escalated the use of lethal force against civilian population" with 85 Palestinians dead, of whom more than 20 were children under 18, and up to 3700 injured in the first two weeks of the current crisis. The report also elaborates on methods of the use of force including troops using "machine guns, deployed tanks... rockets and antitank missiles" and firing from "helicopter gunships and naval vessels". It further mentioned the denial of emergency medical aid to victims because of obstruction by the Israeli forces and because of supply shortages due to the exacerbated restrictions on freedom of movement and the sealing off of Palestinian populated areas. Among the urgent actions recommended by the Special Rapporteur were the issue of orders consistent with international humanitarian norms by Israel to all its forces and the establishment of a permanent mechanism to ensure that these are followed and when not, to determine accountability, assign punishment and redress violations.

Resolution E/CN.4/S-5/L.2/Rev.1 on Grave and massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel

Besides condemning the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force, Resolution E/CN.4/S-5/L.2/Rev.1 on grave and massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel also affirmed that the Israeli occupation in itself constituted a grave violation of Palestinian human rights and that the deliberate and systematic killing of civilians and children constituted a crime against humanity. On establishing a human rights inquiry commission, the resolution provides that its membership should be based on the principles of independence and objectivity. In addition the resolution requested the UNCHR’s Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, torture, violence against women, religious intolerance, racial discrimination, and right to housing to carry out immediate missions to the occupied Palestinian territories and to report their findings to the Commission at its fifty-seventh session.

The resolution was adopted with 19 in favour and 16 opposed, with 17 abstentions. Countries in favour: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia and Venezuela.

Countries against: Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom and United States. Abstentions: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Rwanda, and Zambia.


ECOSOC and High Commissioner’s Report

The decision of the UNCHR to establish a ‘human rights inquiry commission’ on violations of human rights and acts which constitute grave breeches of international humanitarian law by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories was endorsed by the UN’s Social and Economic Council on November 22nd. The decision, adopted by a vote of 21 in favour to 19 against with 11 abstentions, also endorsed the request that the High Commissioner for Human Rights undertake an urgent visit to the occupied territories to take stock of the human rights violations and that the Commission’s special rapporteurs also carry out immediate missions and report back on the situation concerning their individual areas of responsibility.

Due to the gravity of the situation, High Commissioner Mary Robinson visited the Middle East from November 8th to 16th. Her report on the visit, which included Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territories was submitted to the UNCHR on November 29th. In its conclusions, the High Commissioner, considering the urgent and widespread calls for international protection made to her while visiting the territories, proposes that every effort should be made to explore the feasibility of establishing an international monitoring presence there.

Among the specific steps she recommends in order to stop the escalation of violence is the application of the principle of proportionality whenever force is used and the adoption of all necessary measures to avoid loss of life or injury to civilians. Impunity should be avoided by investigating and subjecting cases of use of lethal force on both sides to the processes of justice. She also calls for an end to the construction of new settlements and the removal of those located in the midst of heavily populated Palestinian areas. Furthermore, she urges that all holy sites and access to them by all faiths should be respected.

Regarding the region’s future, Mrs. Robinson believes that only a framework conforming to humanitarian law and international human rights requirements could achieve peaceful and stable coexistence. Her full report can be found on the ‘Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ web site.

International Affairs, Peace & Human Security
November 30, 2000

Click to:
SHARING THE LAND, THE TRUTH AND THE PEACE. Statement by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs to the Fifth Special Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights presently being held in Geneva, Switzerland. (17.10.00)
RESOLUTION ON JERUSALEM FINAL STATUS NEGOTIATIONS, WCC Executive Committee, Geneva, 26-29 September 2000 October 10 2000 letter from WCC General Secretary to H.E.Mr. Kofi Annan

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