Statement by Minister Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, on the importance of upholding the principles of self-determination and non-discrimination: Justice for the Palestinian People, 8 June 2021

Her Excellency Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of Namibia,

His Excellency Riyad al-Maliki, Foreign Affairs Minister of the State of Palestine,

Fellow panellists,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the past few weeks, the world has witnessed some of the most horrific scenes of brutality and violence exercised against Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. We have witnessed the senseless taking of young, innocent lives, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and livelihoods in an “unbalanced power equation between an Occupying Power and a people, resisting occupation”.

The Palestinian narrative evokes experiences of South Africa’s own history of racial segregation and oppression. As oppressed South Africans, we experienced first-hand the effects of racial inequality and discrimination and we are well aware of the long-term impact and consequences of racial and other forms of discrimination.

An unwavering commitment is required to eradicate discrimination and policies of exclusion completely and permanently the world over. It is paramount that the global system deepens its efforts to eradicate the scourge of racism and discrimination and allow those whose basic rights have been violated, to enjoy the inherent human rights that others enjoy on a daily basis.

The fundamental freedoms that many of us take for granted remain absent for Palestinians living in the Occupied Territory. A recent report published by The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, provides a detailed account of the military occupation imposed on the approximately five million Palestinians living in the Occupied Territory, and the laws and practices engineered to impede them from participating in the political system that governs their lives and determines their future. The Human Rights Watch Report “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” published on 27 April 2021 draws similar conclusions. The regular land dispossession and illegal seizure of homes evoke apartheid forced removals and intolerable harm to all people.

These actions undermine the Palestinian people and deprive them of their universal and inalienable right to self-determination and equality. It goes against internationally adopted human rights instruments, violates international law, further provoking political tension and endangering international peace and security.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since its inception in 1945, the United Nations has championed the principles of equality, non-discrimination and the right to self-determination as an integral element of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. With international human rights instruments to guide us such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960), we ask, why is it that, over half a century later, the Question of Palestine remains unresolved and why is it that the people of Palestine are denied many of the rights contained in these seminal documents?

We, along with many in the UN membership have long accepted and supported a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. Decades of aggression have made this internationally recognised concept improbable.

The pivotal role played by the UN and civil society in supporting our respective liberation struggles and the impact this had in us achieving our self-determination must encourage the UN and its Member States, the international community and civil society to join efforts to strengthen international action and coordination to uphold international norms and standards as we seek justice for Palestinians.

Most importantly with regard to the ongoing human rights violations Palestinians endure, South Africa urges the international community and in particular the UN to ensure the safeguarding of the rights of the Palestinian people. In this regard, we welcome the initiative to convene a Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the grave human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem which was held on 27 May 2021. South Africa supports the recent adoption of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution which establishes an International Commission of Inquiry to Investigate Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel. However, action in this regard has to be peremptory to avoid reducing these initiatives to “feel good talk shops”. It is therefore our sincerest hope that the Independent Commission of Inquiry will be established with all due haste to investigate all violations and abuses and that the necessary action will be taken to follow-up on the Commissions’ findings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are currently living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented enormous social and economic challenges, straining existing systems that are already grappling with numerous difficulties. The pandemic has further exacerbated the challenges faced by civilians and vulnerable groups, especially women, girls, people with disabilities and children, including those in the Occupied Territory. Containment measures have affected access to socio-economic necessities. Women and girls living under occupation and in armed conflicts are often subjected to not only social, economic and political subjugation but are also at particular risk of suffering from lifelong psychological traumas.  In this regard, it is paramount that the occupying power fulfil its obligations in terms of international law and together with the international community ensure that all barriers to accessing health care are eliminated in order to save lives.

In conclusion, we wish to reiterate that illegal settlements leading to dispossession and displacements and human rights abuses are incompatible with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The policies and practices of Israel, as the occupying power are in flagrant violation of United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and contravene international law. It is therefore imperative that the Security Council, as the body entrusted to maintain international peace and security, take concrete steps against these illegal acts and go beyond mere rhetoric condemnation. The recorded failures of the Security Council in ensuring respect for and the upholding of the rule of law has dented the integrity of this august organ and highlighted the urgent need for Security Council reform.

We hope that through dialogues of this nature, we will be able to not only highlight the human rights challenges faced by the Palestinian people, but also propose concrete actions that we, as Member States and civil society can take, including strengthening existing UN mechanisms to bring greater focus on this matter central to the maintenance of international peace and security.

I thank you

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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