Permanent Representative of Israel
to the ICCPR
Geneva, 15 July 1998
Thank you, Madam Chair.
At the outset, let me express our Delegation’s satisfaction at being here today to present and to review with you, Israel’s Combined Initial and First Periodic Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Our Delegation is made up of Mr. Joshua Schoffman, Deputy Attorney General of Israel, who will be presenting the report, Mr. Richard Bardenstein, Advisor to the Ministry of Justice, who had a major part in preparing the report, and Mr. Malkiel Blass, a Director of the Public Law Division at the State Attorney’s Office – and of course myself, as Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Deputy Permanent Representative in our Mission, Mr. Alexander Galilee.
We realize our report has been somewhat long in coming but we hope you will agree that our tardiness is compensated by the seriousness of the report itself. We hope, too, that it will be apparent from the report that Israel’s commitment to human rights has been part of its credo and ethic, long before the actual establishment of the State in 1948. Indeed, the principles set out in the Preamble of the UK Charter reaffirming "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small" find expression in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, adopted on 14 May 1948, in the following words:
"It [The State of Israel] will rest upon foundations of liberty, justice and peace as envisioned by the Prophets of Israel. It will maintain complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens, without distinction of creed, race or sex. It will guarantee freedom of religion and conscience, of language, education and culture. It will safeguard the Holy Places of all religious. It will be loyal to the principles of the United Nations Charter."
In brief, Israel’s commitment to human rights did not commence with its ratification of the Covenant on 3 October 1991. That commitment is deeply rooted in our very essence as a people, in our governmental and judicial system and in the very unique fabric of our modern society. The significance of our becoming a party to the Covenant lies perhaps in the addition of the element of transparency, which the Covenant provides through its reporting mechanism, and now with the concomitant opening of a substantive, professional dialogue between Israel and this Committee, which we welcome.
The concept of transparency is not new to Israel. We are an open society where all matters of civil and political, as well as of social, religious and cultural import are freely aired and universally debated, sometimes, one feels, overly so. NGO activity, whether local or international, is unrestricted. The media, both local and international, are unfettered and our courts, of high and independent standing, are open to all who consider their rights to have been violated. Hence, the extension of this transparency through our reporting to this Conzmttee fits well with an eminently developed feature of our society.
Israel’s situation as a free and open society is unique. Israel is the only country in the democratic world which has had to grapple with serious threats to its very existence from its inception, and has had to live in a state of extended conflict with most of its neighbours for 50 years. This is not an easy or congenial climate for the preservation and implementation of civil and political rights – especially when we are faced until today with an ongoing struggle against individuals and groups bent on perpetrating acts of terror against our civil and social system, in our streets, our markets, our shopping centres, our sidewalk cafes, on our buses and wherever else they can find a weak spot. In this very real and apparently endless struggle, we find ourselves faced with the conflicting imperatives of preserving the democratic and open character of our society with all its civil and political liberties on the one hand, while maintaining public security and defending the lives of individuals under our jurisdiction on the other. Agonising choices have to be made. They are usually not easy; very often they are sui generis; and on occasion they are far from being the choices one would wish for in an ideal world. But Israel at least does not live in the best of all worlds. If there is some relief on the horizon, it stems from the fact that we are engaged in a peace process – a lengthy, laborious and painful process fraught with dangers – which, once completed, should go a great distance to resolve many of the dilemmas we face.
In the politically and emotionally charged atmosphere unfortunately surrounding Israel both externally and internally – any discussion on civil and political rights, at any level, inevitably carries with it political undertones, if not distinct overtones. Nevertheless, we both hope and trust, Madam Chair, that the discussion we are about to embark upon will remain substantive and strictly professional, directly related to the subject matter of the Covenant.
Let me go further. We would hope and trust that the political aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be left to the parties themselves – not to mention those numerous political fora within the UN system which, for better or worse, are presently seized with aspects of the dispute, whether they be the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Commission for Human Rights, to name but a few.
This Committee is not part of those particular frameworks. Its members are independent experts with internationally recognised competence in the field of civil and political rights. We look forward to engaging in a constructive and professional dialogue in order to learn, to improve our performance and, in a word, to better achieve the principles and purposes of the Covenant. For our part, we will make every effort to be as open and forthcoming as we can.
With your permission therefore, Madam Chair, Mr. Schoffman will now present our report.