Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane yesterday in Jerusalem publicly backed the right of return of Palestinian refugees and demanded that armed international observers be deployed in the territories.
Israel responded by declaring the London-based human rights group was losing the moral high ground, since siding with the Palestinians on these two explosive issues involved it in political arguments.
Both issues have been at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian acrimony, with the right of return emerging as one of the causes for the collapse of the peace talks.
Sane said the presence of observers could help reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and that the right of refugees to return is universal.
"Palestinian refugees were forcibly exiled from their homes," Sane told a news conference that capped his week-long tour in the territories, where he met with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Sane also met with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat, but Israeli ministers refused to meet with him.
"[The refugees] have the right to exercise their right of return to their homes. This is an international human right that can't be negotiated away by politicians," Sane said. He pointed to solutions in El Salvador, Bosnia and Rwanda that could serve as models.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Amnesty was losing its credibility: "The group's suggestions on armed observers and Palestinian refugees are just a recipe for more violence and friction," said Raanan Gissin.
In a 10-point document, Sane accused both Israel and the PA of sweeping human rights violations. The document decried PA execution of Palestinians suspected of aiding Israeli security forces, as well as Israel's destruction of Palestinian property and its imposition of travel restrictions on West Bank and Gaza Strip residents.
"Recent months clearly showed, more than once, that when human rights
are sacrificed on the altar of peace and security, there can be no peace
and no security," the Amnesty document said.