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World

UN says dialogue with Israel on human rights is 'difficult'

Reviewing the performance of four members of a global rights covenant, the UN Human Rights Committee has criticized Israel's handling of the occupied Palestinian territories - areas Israel says don't apply to the deal.

Activists pray on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May, before it was attacked

UN also advocates investigation after Israel's flotilla raid

UN officials in Geneva are concerned about the major human rights violations in Gaza and the West Bank, and made this clear to Israel during a regular report on the country's progress as a signatory of the international covenant on civil and political rights.

However, Israeli officials say the treaty does not apply to these territories under international law, and that any problems there should be discounted, unless they befall Jewish settlers in the regions.

"We have maintained our position on the applicability of the covenant," UN Human Rights Committee member and former French judge, Christine Chanet, told a news briefing on Friday. "We are stronger because the International Court of Justice has said we were right on this position," she added, referring to a 2004 advisory ruling.

"Torture, extrajudicial killings, the demolition of houses … each state is responsible for the people under their jurisdiction, and they can't say Gaza and the West Bank is not under theirs. If you go to the West Bank you will see (Israeli) military everywhere."

Chanet described it as "very difficult to have a real dialogue" with Israel on the issue. The rights committee also called on the Israeli government to end its military blockade of the Gaza strip, and to allow an international investigation into the deadly military raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters in May.

These demands are non-binding, but pile more pressure on Israel to try to ascertain how nine Turkish people were killed as they tried to defy the Gaza blockade.

Cameroon, Colombia, Estonia also under review

A group of Colombians demonstrate to raise awareness of violence against women.

The review said women's rights are neglected around the world

The three other members under review might have been glad to be in such high profile company, with the Israeli issue rather relegating their problems to the sidelines.

Estonia was the only EU-member represented at the meeting, and its third report was received largely positively by the UN Human Rights Committee. The country was, however, asked to do more to try to improve gender equality, particularly in the workplace.

"Estonia is one of the more advanced countries of the newcomers in the European Union," committee member Krister Thelin, from Sweeden, said. "And we would expect that they fairly quickly would come to grips with this, which is a structural flaw you can find in Nordic countries - including my own - and others.

"So I wouldn't be too overly concerned about this, but the fact that we do point it out is certainly something they should take on board and work with."

Cameroon also came under fire for more serious gender-related problems, including the continued practices of female genital mutilation and polygamy in parts of the country.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, the committee said it was concerned about forced displacement, saying sexual violence and the threat of it was one of the main reasons for people, primarily women and children, fleeing their homes.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights now has 166 signatories worldwide, all of whom submit regular reports to the UN for review, detailing their progress in improving living conditions for all their citizens.

Author: Imogen Foulkes (msh)
Editor: Rob Turner

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