Israeli practices in Palestinian territories impede rights defenders – UN envoy

“The environment is totally non-conducive for human rights defenders to conduct their work with facility or safety,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, said in a statement in Jerusalem yesterday at the end of a week-long visit to the region.Ms. Jilani also noted reports of serious violations committed by the security apparatus under the Palestinian National Authority. Human rights defenders who have exposed abuses of power, conditions and treatment of persons under detention, and corruption in the security apparatus, have been threatened and intimidated or have suffered serious harm, she said. The Government of Israel is relatively open towards non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in the country. “I have noted that in gerneral there is respect for their rights and defenders have access to governmental authorities, members of the Knesset, and Knesset Sub Committees. Defender have acknowledged that they have opportunities to look and comment on legislative drafts,” she said. But human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories operate under conditions that are “absolutely incompatible with international norms and standards of human rights or the principles set forth in the Declaration,” she added, referring to a UN Declaration promoting Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms adopted in 1998. Lawyers are consistently denied access to clients, journalists are stopped from observing incidents and reporting on human rights violations, humanitarian assistance is impeded, and health professionals are hampered from providing medical assistance and care, she said.She noted that in response to her expressions of concern, the Israeli Government strongly stressed the security imperatives that make these measures absolutely necessary. “While I accept the security concerns which the Government supports with reference to acts of terrorism against the civilian population in Israel, I am fully conscious of the vulnerability of the Palestinian population and see the security of this population equally, if not more severely threatened and eroded by practices of the occupation as well as some non-state elements within the Israeli society,” she said.“‘Security imperatives’ have been allowed to deprive a vast population of their very basic rights and these measures need deeper scrutiny by all concerned if any respect for norms of international human rights and humanitarian law is to be preserved,” she added.“The absence of peace and security does not excuse non-compliance with international human rights norms and international humanitarian law,” she declared, urging immediate steps to relieve conditions obstructing the defence of human rights.