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Annan calls for enforcing human rights in Middle East

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said "appalling" human rights abuses have taken place in the Middle East

(Keystone Archive)

In a strongly worded speech, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said the UN cannot remain neutral in the face of "massive" human rights violations in the Palestinian Territories.

Just two days after the Swiss cabinet approved a diplomatic initiative aimed at restoring human rights in the Israeli Occupied Territories, Annan addressed the same concerns. Military force must only be used in accordance with international law, he said at the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Friday.

He told reporters separately that the rights violations were so "appalling" that an international force should be sent immediately to the region.

Targeting civilians and using disproportionate force violated international humanitarian law and were unacceptable, he said, adding that in the Palestinian Territories, human rights violations were being carried out "on a massive scale".

"One of the lessons of history is that the United Nations cannot afford to be neutral in the face of great moral challenges. We are faced with such a moral challenge today," Annan told the commission members.

Verdict of history

"Wanton disregard for human rights and humanitarian law is something we cannot accept. We must let those responsible know they face the verdict of history," he continued.

The same applied to armed resistance movements, he noted. Describing suicide bombings as "morally repugnant", he said the killing of innocent civilians "undermines the cause it purports to serve".

As Switzerland suggested in its diplomatic initiative, a first step would be for the leaders of both sides to make an immediate commitment to respect basic human rights norms and humanitarian law, the UN chief said.

Swiss message

This is essentially the message Switzerland asked Spain - currently president of the European Union Council of Ministers - to pass on to Annan and the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, at a meeting about the Middle East crisis in Madrid on Wednesday.

Switzerland believes a commitment to respecting humanitarian law and human rights should precede even a ceasefire.

In his speech, Annan mounted a vigorous defence of the Geneva Conventions, saying they should be respected by all parties to a conflict. He rejected suggestions that they should be reinterpreted.

"Their purpose is crystal clear and their wording is broad enough to apply in all armed conflicts, no matter what the specific circumstances," Annan said. "From now on they should be obeyed."

The 53-nation Human Rights Commission is scheduled to vote on Friday on an Arab-sponsored resolution that accuses Israel of "gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law."

by Roy Probert


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