Monday, September 18, 2006

UN rapporteur ends mission to probe Israeli violations of right to food

UN rapporteur ends mission to probe Israeli violations of right to food
By Iman Azzi Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: "Intentionally destroying civilian infrastructure, including factories which produce food, is a war crime under international law," the UN Human Rights Commission's special rapporteur for the right to food said Friday as he ended a five-day fact-finding mission to Lebanon. Jean Zeigler, an independent human rights expert who is consulting for the world body, arrived in Lebanon on Monday to gather first-hand information, establish facts and investigate persistent allegations of violations of the right to food during the recent conflict with Israel. Zeigler's investigations focused on the long-term effects on Lebanon's farming and fishing industries, with specific attention to water availability, after Israel unleashed a 34-day bombing campaign on the country in reaction to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid by Hizbullah on June 12. "The irrigation system was completely destroyed. Paradoxically the irrigation cannot be fixed until the de-mining is done. If you irrigate the fields, the bomblets will move and make the process more difficult," Zeigler told reporters at the Beirut Marriott Hotel. Without proper irrigation, Zeigler added, crops that have already been planted will dry up. "The water damage is quite impressive," he said. "Reservoir pumps are mostly destroyed. Lebanon is already a dry country, and water in the South is 500 or 600 meters underground. They need these pumps not only for farming but for health reasons." Even before the war, Lebanese citizens were consuming only 60 liters of water a day instead of the 120 liters recommended for consumption and hygiene by the World Health Organization.

"I've seen many post-conflict areas - Ethiopia, Somalia, Bangladesh - and generally there is heavy destruction but never have I seen a situation where there is all this destruction and the problem of the 1.2 million bomblets, hanging on trees, laying in the fields, on the ground, impeding reconstruction," Zeigler, said."The destruction of infrastructure makes it hard, if not impossible, to resume agricultural works. These bomblets were dropped in over 450 locations and although they have started to be removed in the fields - olive, citrus, tobacco - it will take years to clear." Forty percent of Lebanese are directly or indirectly dependent on the agricultural sector and many farmers must take out loans to pay for new crops. "Farmers pay last year's debts with this year's harvest," he said. "The cycle of debt will worsen as they will not be able to plant this season. Over 8,000 Lebanese families rely on fishing. Ziegler warned that the full effects of the oil spill can not be known. As an example, he mentioned that after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the eco-system broke down three years after the initial spill. Zeigler, a professor by training at universities in Paris and Geneva, examined the situation according to standards of basic human rights and according to international humanitarian law: "We went wherever we wanted with no restriction, thanks to the Lebanese government's efficient cooperation." Ziegler's work follows a visit last week by four other UN special rapporteurs on the rights to health; adequate housing; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and on internally displaced persons. He is expected to present his final findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Commission in the coming week.

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