By Floriana Polito, Caritas Internationalis Delegate at UN in Geneva
On Friday 9 and Monday 12 January 2009, I attended the 9th special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the grave human rights violations in Gaza. The meeting room was crowded with State delegations, NGO representatives and UN officials. A strong feeling of solidarity united all of us in the desire to express deep concern at the suffering of the innocent civilian population and to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. During this special session, Caritas Internationalis, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Pax Romana, and the International Young Catholic Students, joined their voices to condemn human rights violations perpetrated in the Palestinian Territories; We also called on the Human Rights Council and the international community to ensure an effective protection of civilian populations in Gaza and Israel, in accordance with the International law and to facilitate necessary discussion leading to a just and longstanding solution.
On Monday morning, at 11.45 a.m., the President of the Council announced a suspension of the session to allow Member State delegations to reach an agreement on the draft resolution. Meanwhile, I received the sad announcement that one of the six operational Caritas Jerusalem’s clinics in Gaza had been completely destroyed by an Israel F-16 fighter jet. Our NGO colleagues in the room expressed their solidarity with Caritas Jerusalem, its staff, and those whom it serves.
(Made public yesterday afternoon was an address by Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi C.S., Holy See permanent observer to the United Nations at Geneva, delivered during the ninth special session of the Human Rights Council, on “the grave violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent aggression of the occupied Gaza Strip”.
The address appeals for a cease-fire and a return to negotiation, intended to express the Holy See’s “solidarity with both the people in Gaza, who are dying and suffering because of the on-going military assault by the Israeli Defence Forces, and the people in Sderot, Ashkelon and other Israeli cities who are living under the constant terror of rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants from within the Gaza Strip, which have caused casualties and wounded a number of people”.
The archbishop mentioned the initiative taken by patriarchs and heads of Churches of Jerusalem who declared Sunday 4 January “as a day of prayer with the intention to put an end to the conflict in Gaza and to restore peace and justice in the Holy Land”. He also recalled the Pope’s comments during the Angelus on that day and his meeting with members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on 8 January during which he reiterated “that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned”.
“It is evident”, the permanent observer went on, “that the warring parties are not able to exit from this vicious circle of violence without the help of the international community that should therefore fulfil its responsibilities, intervene actively to stop the bloodshed, provide access for emergency humanitarian assistance, and end all forms of confrontation.
“At the same time”, he added, “the international community should remained engaged in removing the root causes of the conflict that can only be resolved within the framework of a lasting solution of the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the international resolutions adopted during the years”. VIS 13 January 2009)
The President later resumed the session. Since consensus on the draft resolution could not be reached, the Human Rights Council decided to proceed to a vote, which resulted in the adoption of the resolution, with 33 votes in favour, 1 against and 13 abstentions. The text strongly condemned the recent Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip and called for immediate international protection of the Palestinian People. The Council also decided to dispatch an urgent independent international fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law against the Palestinian People by Israel.
The resolution – which calls for the immediate cessation of Israeli military attacks the occupied Gaza Strip and withdrawal of Israeli military forces from this area – also requests the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to investigate the latest targeting of UNRWA facilities in Gaza, in particular, its schools. Such attacks resulted in the deaths of Palestinian civilians, including women and children.
Since the Human Rights Council was established in 2006, it has held nine special sessions, and, of particular note, is the fact that five of these sessions have focused on Israeli military operations.