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Change the Discourse on Palestine – Integrate a Human Rights Perspective Now!

23 September 2014

“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action. That is the essence of your mandate. That is ultimately how you will be judged. I wish you strength and inspiration in that mission,” Mr. Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General United Nations addressing the Human Rights Council in March 2007

It’s a human rights obligation

Human rights are not selective; they apply to all people at all times regardless of nationality, race, religion or gender and must be applied without discrimination. The images of the impact of the destruction in Gaza on ordinary civilians, particularly on children, have moved hundreds of thousands around the world to demonstrate and to call on their governments to take action to protect the population of Gaza. They expected a response.

To date, it is clear that exigencies of political and economic allegiance have overridden human rights obligations in this Council. The positions adopted reiterate views which seek to justify violence, rather than to find ways of preventing that violence by offering solutions.

Side-event on Gaza
WILPF’s side-event on the situation in Gaza at the 27th Human Rights Council
Lack of action and state responsibility

The Goldstone Report of 2009 clearly identified violations of international humanitarian law by both parties but with far, far greater impact on Palestinians.

No action was taken by member states to follow through on the recommendations, leading the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to question whether, if there had been implementation, this last onslaught against Gaza would, or even could, have taken place.

States have a responsibility to assist other states to uphold their obligations under international law, to their own populations, to those under their occupation, and to those which are in conflict. The test in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia in the International Court of Justice clarifies the nature of this responsibility.

Law of itself will not solve the conflict unless it is accompanied by a different approach, as Archbishop Tutu said:

“It requires a mind-set shift. A mind-set shift that recognizes that attempting to perpetuate the current status quo is to damn future generations to violence and insecurity. A mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state’s policies as an attack on Judaism. A mind-set shift that begins at home and ripples out across communities and nations and regions – to the Diaspora scattered across the world we share. The only world we share,“ Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 14 August 2014

Commission of Inquiry

As voted by the Human Rights Council itself in its Resolution of the 23th July 2014 the two parties to the conflict cannot be considered equal powers, and their actions, once again, appear to be of incomparable magnitude.

The abstention by many states in voting for the resolution, which additionally, (and again), established an independent commission of inquiry, is indicative of this failure to find a mind-set shift to one where we uphold law and ensure its implementation through policy.

Power and conflict analysis

During the 27th session of the Human Rights Council, WILPF International hosted a high level delegation of representatives from Palestinian women’s organisations.

Yet again, women have been disproportionally affected by the conflict and aggression in Gaza. Despite their long-term capacity in peace processes and negotiations, they are absent from any attempts to resolve the conflict. They are seriously concerned that the reconstruction processes will continue to exclude women from decision-making and participation.

During the four day programme in Geneva, the delegation addressed member states and relevant UN agencies with its analysis and recommendations to change the discourse and move towards a response to the on-going violence, in particular from the occupying power in accordance with, and in reliance on, international human rights law.

It also emphasised the importance of integrating a comprehensive gender perspective in any political, humanitarian and civilian response to the conflict.

What is the answer?

In a side-event on the 19th September, co-sponsored by the permanent mission of Norway to the UN Geneva, the delegation highlighted the impact of human rights violations that have taken place in the occupied State of Palestine for decades, the consequences of the occupation and the effects of the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza to the civilian population.

The event emphasised what it is all about, changing the mind-set to use all necessary means and available mechanisms to address the human rights violation as a collective responsibility and to put pressure to end the occupation on Palestine.

Failing to address these issues will only increase extremism, violence and insecurity both in the occupied State of Palestine and in Israel.

The delegation appeals to member states to “help assist Israel in creating security in the region by ending the occupation, and ensuring its human rights obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law are fulfilled. The only way to achieve sustainable peace is for Israel to end its occupation, and to ensure there is no impunity for human rights violations”.

Currently, the international community and UN agencies present are not able to provide protection for the civilian population. It is not known what will happen on the 27th of September when the ceasefire ends.

The delegation strongly called for international protection in the occupied State of Palestine: Gaza, the West Bank and Area “C” including east Jerusalem to prevent more human rights violations and ensure a durable and just reconstruction of the demolished areas.

The siege that has been imposed on Gaza for more than seven years as well as the segregation wall exhibit the characteristics of collective punishment and  are contrary to article 33 of the Forth Geneva Convention.

The women’s delegation urge the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take its responsibility to ensure respect for the obligations arising from the Convention in relation to the occupied State of Palestine, and to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties without delays to agree on necessary measures to be taken to ensure immediate compliance.

Include the women

As women continue to be excluded from any formal processes of negotiating a more long-term settlement or continued ceasefire, the delegation demand involvement and equal meaningful participation of women in the resolution of the conflict.

It is the collective responsibility of the international community to ensure women’s protection and security in accordance with UNSCR 1325, 2122 and CEDAW GR30.

The full list of recommendations is available here.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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