Rights Experts Urge Parties To Protect Civilians
AS MIDEAST FIGHTING RAGES, UN RIGHTS EXPERTS URGE PARTIES TO PROTECT CIVILIANS
New York, Jul 22 2006 9:00PM
Responding to the recent explosion of violence in the Middle East, a number of United Nations human rights experts have joined their voices to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, urging the parties to respect their obligations to protect civilians.
"We, express our grave concern that the ongoing armed conflict in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza poses serious human rights and humanitarian threats to the civilian population," said the six experts in a statement released Friday in Geneva.
"We call on the parties to the conflict to fully respect the principle of proportionality in the conduct of hostilities and to refrain from indiscriminate attacks on civilians causing loss of life and mass displacement. We urge them to immediately agree on the cessation of hostilities in order to permit unrestricted and secure passage of all humanitarian assistance."
In issuing their call, the experts cited the carnage against civilians -- the UN World Health Organization has estimated that over 350 Lebanese have died and 34 Israelis -- as well as the "massive destruction of public infrastructure" which is blocking delivery of humanitarian assistance to persons in need of urgent medical assistance, food, and safe water and sanitation.
"The reported destruction of schools will detrimentally affect enjoyment of the right to education in the long term," the experts said. "The wounding of media professionals, destruction of media infrastructure, and restrictions on access to war zones pose a threat to the freedom of information and expression."
In Israel, large numbers have been forced into shelters, many are fleeing northern cities, and water supplies in the north have been affected, the statement noted.
“We recall that the civilian population must be protected in all circumstances and parties to a conflict must comply with the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilian and military objectives,” the experts said, calling for urgent measures to protect the civilian population and ensure non-discriminatory access to all necessary assistance and services.
The international community, they said, "must not ignore that the current upsurge of violence in the region is triggering a serious humanitarian crisis," joining Mr. Annan's call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and urging all parties to meet their obligations under international law.
The statement was jointly issued by the Secretary-General's Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin; the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari; the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt; and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz.