On 4 June 2020, Al-Haq, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) submitted a joint written statement to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council highlights Israel’s illegal closure of Gaza as collective punishment. The organisations called for effective measures at the Council to immediately lift the closure and to address root causes entrenching Israeli apartheid over the Palestinian people.
The written statement examined the illegality of Israel’s prolonged closure of the Gaza Strip, which enters its 13th year this June, as repeatedly affirmed by the UN. Notably, in 2013, the UN Secretary-General considered that “the blockade and related restrictions target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed,” therefore amounting to collective punishment in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Moreover, for 13 years, Israel’s closure has undermined all aspects of life in Gaza, denying Palestinians the enjoyment of all rights without discrimination.
The organisations highlighting third State failure to act despite calls by various UN bodies, experts, and officials for Israel’s illegal closure to be lifted, recalling that the UN has repeatedly warned that the Gaza Strip will become uninhabitable by 2020 should Israel fail to lift the closure. Notably, in February 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory recommended that Israel, the occupying Power: “Lift the blockade on Gaza with immediate effect.” On 22 March 2019, Member States of the Human Rights Council adopted the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and committed to pursuing their implementation, as mandated by resolution 40/13.
In December 2019, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called on Israel to “review its blockade policy and urgently allow and facilitate the rebuilding of homes and civilian infrastructures, ensure access to necessary urgent humanitarian assistance as well as to the right to freedom of movement, housing, education, health, water and sanitation.” CERD also found that Israel’s closure of Gaza is inconsistent with the prohibition on racial segregation and apartheid.
All High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention have a legal duty under Common Article 1 to “respect and to ensure respect for the … Convention in all circumstances,” including to bring an end to all forms of collective punishment imposed by Israel, the occupying Power, over the Palestinian people. Yet, third States have systematically failed to uphold this obligation.
Accordingly, the organisations called on the Council and on all UN Member States to:
- Adopt effective measures to implement Human Rights Council resolution 40/13 within a clear and specified time frame and without any further delay;
- Welcome the forthcoming June 2020 report on collective punishment by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, and act to end all forms of collective punishment imposed over the Palestinian people, including Israel’s illegal closure of Gaza;
- Overcome Israel’s strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people by welcoming CERD’s 2019 concluding observations on Israel, which highlighted Israeli policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid targeting the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line;
- Reconstitute the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and the UN Centre against Apartheid and expand the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 to cover the Palestinian people as a whole, on both sides of the Green Line and as refugees and exiles abroad, and call on the Special Rapporteur to report annually to the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly on steps taken to comply with the terms of the 1973 Apartheid Convention;
- Pursue international justice and accountability for suspected crimes committed against the Palestinian people by activating universal jurisdiction mechanisms to try suspected perpetrators in their own jurisdictions and supporting a full, thorough, and comprehensive ICC investigation into the Situation in Palestine.