Gaza: UN expert welcomes landing of ships carrying human rights activists

25 August 2008
Food aid being distributed at UNRWA's food centre, Beach Camp, Gaza Strip

An independent United Nations human rights expert today hailed the landing of two wooden boats in Gaza carrying 46 human rights activists as a key symbolic victory.

The activists – part of the Free Gaza Movement – seek to draw attention to the plight of the area’s 1.5 million residents who have been “under siege” for the past year, Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement.

“That siege, the coast blockade, and the overflights by Israeli aircraft all bear witness to the fact that despite Israel’s claimed ‘disengagement’ in 2005, these realities on the ground establish that Gaza remains under Israeli occupation, and as a result Israel remains legally responsible for protecting the human rights of its civilian population.”

He called on the international community to take measures to ensure that human rights are respected in the Gaza Strip, calling the situation in the area one “that has been ignored, despite overwhelming evidence of deteriorating mental and physical health that has reached crisis proportions.”

Mr. Falk noted that Israel’s willingness to allow in the two ships could be a sign of a change in the country’s approach, possibly reflecting a greater respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.

Another sign of progress, he said, would be Israel allowing the Palestinian winners of Fulbright scholarships to travel to the United States unimpeded so they can study.

“Above all, what is being tested is whether the imaginative engagement of dedicated private citizens can influence the struggle of a beleaguered people for basic human rights, and whether their courage and commitment can awaken the conscience of humanity to an unfolding tragedy,” the Rapporteur stated.

Special Rapporteurs such as Mr. Falk serve in an independent and unpaid capacity and report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.


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