The following is the full text of the intervention being made by Alexandros Karides on behalf of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (WCC/CCIA) to the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The intervention will come under Item 8, which is being discussed on 26 and 27 March:

I speak on behalf of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of more than 340 churches in over 100 countries. I bring you greetings from all church leaders in Jerusalem who for understandable reasons could not be present at this Session.

Our member churches around the world reiterate immense alarm and regret at the continued intensification of gross and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that we have witnessed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) over the last 18 months.

It is with deep concern that we note the unprecedented escalation of violence and continued grave breaches of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949 (Fourth Geneva Convention) by Israel, in the form of willful killing and causing of great suffering and serious injury, torture and inhuman punishment as well as collective punishments, including the bombing and shelling of civilian neighbourhoods, the extensive destruction of agricultural land and homes, and the appropriation of property. Moreover, the severe restrictions on the freedom of movement, including the denial of access to timely medical assistance have had a devastating socio-economic effect on the Palestinian population. By denying access to the Holy sites, these harsh closures also violate the right to worship and religious freedom.

We further note additional breaches of the Convention, such as the expansion of the Israeli settlements in the OPT and the continued policy of unlawful targeted killings that have been documented by the Special Rapporteur Mr John Dugard in his report dated March 6 (E/CN.4/2002/32), the conclusions and recommendations of which the WCC welcomes.

Even more distressing is the emergence of new patterns of abuses such as the Israeli military re-occupation of Palestinian cities, incursions into refugee camps, mass arbitrary detentions of civilians under degrading circumstances and the deadly attacks on medical and rescue staff, as attested by Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations.

We also condemn the unjustified and unacceptable occupation and major physical damage to local church-related and internationally supported schools and other facilities by the Israeli forces, corroborated by eye-witness accounts which the WCC receives daily from members of the clergy and other church workers in the OPT.

On March 9, the thirteen Patriarchs and Heads of Churches and Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a statement calling on the Israeli government to "stop all kinds of destruction and death caused by the heavy Israeli weaponry". It is their belief that "Israeli security is dependent on Palestinian freedom and justice," and they note that "the way the present Israeli Government is dealing with the situation makes neither for security nor for a just peace". The local church leaders also urge the Palestinian people to put "an end to every kind of violent response", reiterating that the way to peace is through negotiations.

Indeed, Mr Chairman, the attacks on Israeli unarmed civilians are deplorable. As people of faith, we uphold and defend the sanctity of all life, both Palestinian and Israeli, and cannot remain silent in the face of suffering, insecurity and fear of both peoples. The victims of violence on both sides are paying a high price for the policy of occupation and dispossession. We therefore urge this Commission, the United Nations and the international community as a whole to address Israel's repeated defiance of international law, its continuing occupation and the impunity it has so long enjoyed. We are convinced that these are the underlying and fundamental causes of the present violence and the main threats to peace and security. The international community is well aware that the granting or the de facto acceptance of impunity for those holding political, military and economic power erodes the very basis of the social order and helps nurture a "culture of violence".

The united message of churches around the world has been clearly highlighted in over one hundred different statements and actions made by WCC member churches and ecumenical partners since October 2000. The WCC governing body in its turn has stated unanimously that the illegal occupation of Palestine must come to an end. It is at the root of the violence and at the root of all human rights abuses. Unless this is urgently addressed, there can be little hope for the respect of human rights nor for a just and lasting peace. In the context of its Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010), the WCC has launched an Ecumenical Campaign to "End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine: Support a Just Peace in the Middle East", mobilizing churches worldwide.

Mr Chairman, the WCC, following the work and decision of this Commission, has also initiated the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which will provide a continuous international ecumenical presence to monitor and report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists. However, while such a civil society initiative reflects our intensified commitment to advocacy and solidarity, it is evidently not enough to provide the immediate and effective protection that is urgently required.

We therefore appeal to the Commission to heed the call for international observers by the High Commissioner Mrs Mary Robinson in her opening statement, and that of the Special Rapporteur who, in his report, concludes that "an international presence ... of monitors or peacekeepers, is surely imperative to reduce violence, restore respect for human rights and create conditions in which negotiations can be resumed".

It has been over a year since the Commission received the recommendations of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission of March 16, 2001 (E/CN.4/2001/121) for such a presence. In the light of all that has happened in the OPT over the last 12 months, what bigger tragedy is the international community waiting for before taking these actions? The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC therefore calls upon this 58th Session of the UN Human Rights Commission to:

  • take immediate and practical measures for the establishment of an effective international presence to ensure full protection of the human rights of the Palestinian people, as also recommended by the Special Rapporteur in his submitted report;

Our prayers are with each and every member of this Commission.