Tovah Lazaroff
The Jerusalem Post
July 16, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel argued this week that a major human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, did not apply to its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, because those areas were outside the country’s national boundaries, even as it defended its record on that score before the covenant’s monitoring body in Geneva.

According to a press release put out on Wednesday by the UN Human Rights Committee, which held its periodic review of Israel’s compliance with that convention this week, Israel’s deputy attorney-general Malkiel Blass stated that his country believed the “convention, which was a territorially bound convention, did not apply, nor was it intended to apply, to areas outside its national territory.”

During nine hours of testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Israeli delegation added that Israel had limited government authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and therefore was not in a position to “enforce the rights under the Covenant in those areas.”

The delegation said that “Israel did not control these territories and thus could not enforce the rights under the Convention in these areas.”

It said, however, that “the rules governing armed conflict provided some measure of rights guarantees in these areas.”

A UN Human Rights Committee expert rejected the argument and said that Israel could “not just sweep aside the application of the Covenant in the occupied territories.”

The expert added that Israel responded the same way each time the issue came up for review. Israel’s last review was in 2003.

Many of the committee’s questions for Israel dealt with its treatment of the Palestinians, including the Gaza blockade, May’s flotilla incident, Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009, freedom of movement, the West Bank security barrier, housing demolitions in east Jerusalem, water rights and treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

It also wanted to know about human rights within the pre- 1967 armistice lines, including Israel’s treatment of women, Arab Israelis and Beduin. The committee members also asked about Israel’s state of emergency, which has been in place since the creation of the state in 1948.

The committee expressed concern about hate speech by politicians, although it did not mention anyone by name.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is considered one of the more significant treaties on human rights.

Israel ratified it in 1991 and takes it very seriously, according to diplomatic sources.

Officials from the Justice and Foreign ministries traveled to Geneva this week to help present Israel’s record on these matters to the committee.


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