Human Rights Watch called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaged in final-status negotiations to uphold the right of return for Palestinian refugees as part of a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. In letters to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, the organization said that a peace agreement between the two sides should allow Palestinians in exile to choose freely among three options: returning to their country of origin, integrating into the country of asylum, or resettling in a third country.
The organization also called on President Clinton and the international community to ensure that individual refugees are permitted a free and informed choice among the three options and that returns take place in a gradual and orderly manner.
"The options of local integration and third-country resettlement should not extinguish the right of return," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Rather, they should enhance the choices facing individual refugees. All three options should be available."
Roth noted that Human Rights Watch has defended the right of refugees to return to their homes in Bosnia, Chile, China, East Timor, Rwanda and Guatemala, as well as in other instances. "It is a right that persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested, or has changed hands," he said.
In the letters to Barak, Arafat, and Clinton, Human Rights Watch said that it made no claim to preempt consideration of the negotiating parties' political and national security interests. Rather, these interests should be met in a manner consistent with internationally recognized human rights.