LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN MEETING ON QUESTION
NGO Workshop Discusses Action in Solidarity with Palestinian People
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
HAVANA, 14 June -– The Havana Declaration, approved by the closing session of the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Havana this morning, declared support for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State, and for the right to return to their homeland.
By the terms of the Declaration, read out by the Rapporteur of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, Walter Balzan (Malta), the meeting declared that Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which embodied the principle of land for peace and formed the legal basis for the Middle East peace process, must be adhered to. Further, the United Nations should continue to exercise its permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it is resolved in all aspects.
Participants also declared that the excessive use of force by Israel, the occupying Power, the closures and the economic blockade of Palestinian population centres and other illegal measures of collective punishment must be ended immediately. They called for the reconvening of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention. In particular, they declared that international protection in the form of a United Nations observer presence must be provided.
Referring to current efforts at reviving the peace process, the participants declared that the recommendations of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee contained in the Mitchell Report should be swiftly implemented, in conjunction with the measures set out in the Egyptian-Jordanian peace initiative. In that respect, the Secretary–General should continue his efforts. His visit to the region in pursuit of a peaceful solution to the crisis was an important step in the right direction.
Also by the Declaration, participants declared that Latin American and Caribbean States, having had a broad experience in their struggle for decolonization and natural sovereignty, should continue their moral, political and material support for the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights.
In the closing session, the Chairman of the Committee, Ibra Deguène Ka (Senegal), the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Abelardo Moreno Fernandez, and the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations in New York, Nasser Al-Kidwa, made statements.
Prior to the closing of the meeting, the Committee sponsored a Non-Governmental Organization Workshop to discuss the theme "Achieving the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people".
NGO Workshop: Action by Civil Society in Latin America and Caribbean in Solidarity with Palestinian People
IBRA DEGUÉNE KA, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, told the workshop that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide had worked for decades for the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The role of civil society in educating their respective constituencies about the fundamental issues of the question of Palestine and in mobilizing public support was very important. There was now a greater need for sustained campaigns aimed at informing public opinion and promoting national and international action in support of the peace process and the effective implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In the months to come, NGOs should focus on Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and borders, building on what was reached in Camp David and Taba.
He said it was important for NGOs to continue to support the peace negotiations. Promoting varied assistance to the Palestinian people in nation-building and economic and social development should be another important area of work for NGOs.
He went on to say that the Committee encourages cooperation, coordination and networking among civil society organizations. In the period ahead, much of the success of non-governmental work would depend on the ability of such organizations to mobilize the broadest possible constituency for their specific initiatives. The past months had seen organized and spontaneous protest against Israeli violence. Demonstrations, solidarity marches, candlelight vigils, letter campaigns and newspaper advertisements had been organized by NGOs in all regions.
The Division of Palestinian Rights, under the guidance of the Committe , had developed a Web site for NGOs active on the issue that served as a useful tool for mutual information and mobilization. It featured useful sources of information such as the Non-governmental Action News and Calendar of Events. He encouraged non-governmental partners to inform the Division as to how it could assist them in utilizing electronic facilities more efficiently.
The Chairman of the Workshop, LOURDES CERVANTES VASQUEZ, said it would evaluate the activities carried out by civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean. Participants would review action by NGOs in Latin America and the Caribbean on the basis of the Plan of Action adopted at the 1998 meeting. They would also discuss mobilizing public opinion in support of the Palestinian people –- efforts by NGOs, religious groups and the media.
Another item to be discussed was the development of action–oriented proposals by Latin American and Caribbean non-governmental organizations and mechanisms for their implementation.
Presentations by Experts
DORIS MUSALEM, Professor, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana of Mexico, said the fundamental work in support of the Palestinian cause was achieved through the mass media, academia and cultural institutions. Representatives of NGOs had been averaging approximately two invitations a year to appear on Mexican television programmes. Since 6 January, however, no representative had been asked to appear again. She felt that when it was possible to talk about the peace process, NGOs were welcome to discuss the question of Palestine. However, when things in the occupied Territory deteriorated and public criticism of Israel increased, the invitations to discuss the issue stopped and silence on the issue ensued.
She said the mass media were reducing the time spent on the situation in the Middle East. The amount of time that pro-Palestinian advocates were asked to speak on the issue was directly linked to events in the region, and that was caused by the huge financial power of the Jewish community in Mexico. The enormous power of the Jewish lobby was crushing at the international level. Only one newspaper, La Jornada, which had a special audience of professionals, gave serious coverage to the issue.
In academia, she said, there was still space for advocates to speak out and to publish articles on the problem. In addition, she and many of her colleagues were asked to give lectures to large audiences of young people. She was appalled, however, when on one occasion, there was an announcement that the other side would be able to present their interpretation of the problem on the following day. Expressing her indignation, she had asked why the criminal should be given the same platform as the victim. During apartheid, the oppressors were not given the same time as the oppressed. She also asked if, during the Holocaust, the Nazis would have been given equal opportunity.
There were not two truths, only one, she said. How was it possible for the victim to become the victimizer? That was part of the ongoing Jewish strategy. Referring to a speech by Noam Chomsky on the importance of forming world public opinion, she emphasized that no public opinion was as important as that in the United States. Americans needed to know where their money was going. The peace negotiations could not be resumed because there never were peace negotiations. First there had to be peace, with total and unilateral withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank. Then there could be negotiations. At that critical time, a new way must be found to present the situation to the public.
One opportunity in Mexico was State Channel 11. She hoped that she could arrange for the Round Table of the Meeting’s participants that was televised yesterday in Cuba to be viewed in Mexico.
JUAN CARRETERO IBANEZ, Secretary-General of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America (OSPAAAL), said his organization offered solidarity to all people deprived of their fundamental rights. They needed support from all the organizations of the world. A priority was to reflect developments in Palestine. The Palestinians had only one option –- rebellion. He proposed that information be published about the facts of the situation in the Palestinian territory. OSPAAAL had been working for years in support of the Palestinian people.
He said the Palestinians had been waiting for their State since the partition. He suggested that on 29 November, the next International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, there should be a large mobilization of those who stood in support of the Palestinian people. In 1998 it had been said that in 1999 a Palestinian State would be established. Yet today, the Israelis were still establishing settlements and unleashing war machinery against Palestinians with impunity. One had only to look at the number of victims on each side of the conflict.
He proposed a forum to look at abuse of human rights of the Palestinian people. Non-governmental organizations should call on governments to recognize the State of Palestine as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Israel flouted international law and every resolution of the General Assembly. The Security Council could not agree on anything because of the standing veto of the United States. On 20 May, United States Government officials had said that sending observers would not help the peace process. What peace process? he asked.
He proposed that NGOs work to get the United Nations to protect Palestinians until peace could be achieved. Everything that could be done should be done. He supported recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to struggle and announced that OSPAAL was organizing a conference to be held in early 2002 in Latin America.
During the following discussion by participants, Ms. VASQUEZ reviewed proposals for a Plan of Action to be adopted by the Workshop.
Closing Statements of the United Nations Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on the Question of Palestine
ABELARDO MORENO FERNANDEZ, Deputy Foreign Minister of Cuba, said the meeting had made it clear that it was not through hypocrisy and double standards that victory would be achieved. The Security Council, which was mandated to save the world from action that would impinge on international peace and security, must act to protect the rights of the Palestinians. Moreover, the international community must keep up the pressure on the United Nations. Today’s meeting and others like it demonstrated that solidarity with the Palestinian people was real. Individuals were demanding a just and durable solution to the question of Palestine. The situation in the occupied Territory was a blot on the world’s conscience.
He expressed concern about attempts to privatize certain activities in the United Nations and remarks that the founding principles of self-determination had been assigned to oblivion. United Nations actions must seek to bring peace for Palestine, but not a peace under which the Israeli Government continued to expand settlements and millions of Palestinians continued to live in fear and humiliation. He did not want a peace in which millions of Palestinian refugees were deprived of the right to return. Nor did he want symbolic concessions made, only to be followed by a new blow against the people.
He said Cuba, which had been struggling for decades against the American blockade, was familiar with United States actions. But his country would not be defeated by such actions. He invited participants to a Cuban Forum scheduled for this evening during which they would see evidence of Cuban support for the Palestinian people. Over 10,000 people would demonstrate their solidarity with the Palestinians.
The Chairman extended his thanks to the Government of Cuba for supporting the Palestinian people and especially for the support shown by the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said that in spite of all their suffering, the Palestinian people would not change their position on an independent State with full sovereignty, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It was the only acceptable solution. Palestinians needed two things: the support of friends and their solidarity; and to be extremely cautious in determining the next tactical steps, given the recent news of a possible initial agreement. The basis of any agreement must remain the recommendations of the Mitchell fact-finding commission. Palestine had accepted the Mitchell recommendations but Israel had invented so-called stages of implementation, a position which was not acceptable. Palestinians insisted on the implementation of the recommendations as a package with the cessation of settlements.
He said he did not have confidence in the integrity of the other side to implement whatever they had agreed upon. Palestinians were committed to do their best to give peace a chance, but not at any price or compromise of their position. The Al-Aqsa uprising, excluding violence, had to continue. He did not absolve the Council of its responsibilities, regardless of the number of vetoes cast or the pressures applied on Palestinian friends.
He expressed solidarity with the Government and people of Cuba in their struggle to overcome the blockade and attempts to impose territorial application of domestic laws. The Palestinians stood by the Cubans in the attempt to achieve a better world for all mankind.
IBRA DEGUÉNE KA, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People said that the meeting had taken place at a critical crossroads in the Israeli-Palestinian track of the peace process. On the basis of the discussions, it could be concluded that most Governments and people of the Latin American and Caribbean region were committed to continuing their moral and political support to the Palestinian people until it is able to fully exercise its inalienable rights. It was encouraging to see that the Palestinian people had not been left on their own. They continued to enjoy the support of the international community in its various manifestations – be it the United Nations system entities, regional organizations and other intergovernmental structures or international civil society.
The United Nations Latin American and Caribbean meeting, convened in Havana from 12 to 14 June, was organized into three plenaries. Speakers covered the current situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem; the framework of international legitimacy within which a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine could be achieved; and the initiatives of regional and international, governmental and non-governmental actors in support of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
Participants and members of the Committee also attended a televised Round Table on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem. They were joined by the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque.
Panellists discussed the current situation in the region, the peace process, fundamental issues and the obstacles and complexities faced by the parties to the conflict. They also outlined problems that might lie ahead. In Plenary I, speakers outlined the political and economic challenges facing the Palestinian people. Speakers in Plenary II reviewed international law, international conventions and United Nations resolutions. Plenary III speakers took up actions by Latin American and Caribbean States with regard to the question of Palestine.
Numerous speakers referred to a failure by Israel to respect its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the provisions of relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, stating that such action fostered despair and frustration among Palestinians and put the peace process in jeopardy. Closures and blockades of the occupied Palestinian territory represented a dangerous escalation of an already tense situation, they warned. The effect of the closures and blockades on the Palestinian economy was also examined.
Throughout the meeting, speakers condemned the excessive use of force by the Israeli Defence Force. Frequent reference was made to a need for observer forces to protect Palestinians in the occupied territory. They called on governments to support the adoption of a proposal before the Security Council under which military and police observers would be deployed throughout the occupied territory.
The three-day meeting was sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The Committee, established by the General Assembly, was mandated to promote the realization of internationally recognized Palestinian rights – the right to self-determination, the right to national independence and sovereignty and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes. The Committee includes 25 States, with an additional 21 States as observers. The Committee monitors the situation related to the question of Palestine, and reports and makes recommendations to the General Assembly or the Security Council.
* *** *