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Al-Haq and partners amplify engagement with Human Rights Council on Israeli apartheid
04، Jul 2020

In June 2020, Al-Haq, in collaboration with Palestinian, regional, and international civil society, highlighted systemic racism and Israeli apartheid during the 43rd Regular Session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, which began on 24 February 2020 and was suspended on 13 March 2020 due to COVID-19. Between 16 and 18 June, Al-Haq delivered and joined six oral interventions, including under Item 7 on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, under Item 9 on racism, racial discrimination, and related forms of intolerance, and during the urgent debate on racism organised by the Human Rights Council in response to police brutality and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters in the United States of America (US) and other parts of the world.

Overall, Al-Haq delivered and joined ten oral interventions during the 43rd Regular Session. Before the suspension of the session on 13 March 2020 due to COVID-19, Al-Haq delivered two oral interventions under Item 2 on the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory, and two oral interventions under Item 3, including a statement on torture and a statement on transnational corporations. Prior to the 43rd Regular Session, Al-Haq submitted five joint written statements under Items 2, 3, 7, and 9 of the Council’s agenda, highlighting the prolonged closure of Gaza, Israel’s systematic use of torture and ill-treatment, human rights violations in Jerusalem, the UN database of businesses involved in Israeli settlements, and Israeli apartheid over the Palestinian people. Side events were cancelled during the 43rd Regular Session due to COVID-19. 

Item 7: Annexation, Gaza closure, and UN database

On 16 June 2020, Al-Haq delivered a joint oral intervention on Israel’s impending annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank on behalf of 29 civil society organisations from Palestine, the region, and around the world. Delivered under Item 7 of the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Palestine. the statement highlighted the failure of third States to end Israeli impunity, recalling that annexation was already illegal in 1948 and 1967. As such, they stated that: “the only genuine response to annexation needs to start by addressing the root causes prolonging Palestinian oppression: dismantling Israeli apartheid.” The organisations called on third States to impose sanctions on Israel, to publicly support and cooperate with an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the Situation in Palestine, and to welcome the release of the UN database of businesses operating with illegal Israeli settlements.

Al-Haq further joined two oral interventions under Item 7. The first statement  was delivered by Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, as part of the joint Gaza2020* ‘Lift the Closure’ campaign. Speaking on behalf of 45 civil society organisations, Al Mezan highlighted Israel’s 13-year closure of Gaza, stressing that: “The UN has repeatedly warned that Gaza would become uninhabitable by 2020 should Israel fail to lift the illegal closure. Today, half of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty, 80 per cent depend on some form of humanitarian aid, 68 per cent are food insecure, and 69 per cent of the youth are unemployed.” Accordingly, the organisations called on third States to live up to their responsibility to bring Israel’s illegal closure of Gaza to an end, as recommended by the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in Gaza, and to uphold the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including to self-determination and return.

Al-Haq further joined a statement  on the UN database delivered by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on behalf of 41 Palestinian, regional, and international civil society organisations. The organisations commended the High Commissioner and her Office for the initial release of the report on the database of businesses involved in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and called for its annual update, urging that it be made publicly accessible until illegal settlements are dismantled, Israel’s prolonged occupation is brought to an end, and the Palestinian people are fully able to exercise their right to self-determination. In particular, the organisations stressed that: “The progress made over the years in the development of international humanitarian law and the eradication of colonialism, will continue to be threatened so long as Israel is able to continue to exploit occupied territory and its civilian population as a ‘business venture.’”

Item 9: Racism and apartheid

On 16 June, Al-Haq joined another two oral interventions delivered under Item 9 on Israeli racial discrimination and apartheid. Al-Haq joined a statement delivered by CIHRS on behalf of 114 civil society organisations from Palestine and around the world. The organisations stressed that now is the time to recognise that Israel has established and continues to maintain an apartheid regime of institutionalised racial oppression and domination over all Palestinians, including Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line and Palestinian refugees and exiles denied their right of return. The organisations added that: “Since 1948, Palestinians have faced an ongoing Nakba of continued displacement and dispossession, as part of Israel’s endeavour to uproot the indigenous Palestinian people from their homes, lands, and property. For 72 years, Israel has strategically fragmented, segregated, and isolated the Palestinian people, denying the right of return of Palestinian refugees, revoking residency rights and banning family unification – thus imposing an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, as defined under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Accordingly, the organisations called on UN Member States to recognise and address Israeli apartheid over the Palestinian people, to endorse the December 2019 concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on Israel, which recognised policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid over Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and recommended the reconstitution of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and the UN Centre against Apartheid to put an end to apartheid in the 21st Century.

Also under Item 9 on 16 June, Al-Haq joined Adalah, Al Mezan, the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), and CIHRS, in highlighting that Israel’s annexation, “normalizes Israel’s colonial project and amounts to apartheid via the continued expansion and construction of illegal settlements, displacement and dispossession of Palestinians, and demographic manipulation.” The organisations stressed that “The principles of this plan are enshrined in Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Basic Law enacted in July 2018,” which established “a constitutional order based on systematic ethnic supremacy, domination, and segregation in the so-called ‘Land of Israel’ and the denial of the realization of national self-determination for the Palestinian people.” The organisations added: “Article 7 of this law provides that Jewish settlement is a national value to be encouraged and strengthened, giving the state authorities further constitutional legal tools to justify the illegal settlement enterprise” and to “justify as constitutional segregation in land and housing that targets all Palestinians in historic Palestine, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have suffered decades of systematic oppression.” Overall, the organisations stressed that “Annexation would further entrench racial, ethnic, and religious segregation as a legal norm. In this context, Israel will formally establish itself as the sole sovereign regime over the Palestinian people in historic Palestine.”

Urgent debate on racism

On 18 June 2020, during the Human Rights Council’s urgent debate on racism, Al-Haq delivered a joint oral intervention together with Adalah, Al Mezan, CIHRS, and Habitat International Coalition on systemic racism impacting the Palestinian people as well as Black Americans, people of African descent, and other people of colour in the US and other parts of the globe. The organisations stressed that “Palestinians stand in solidary with the Black Lives Matter movement in calling for an end to systemic racism and the ongoing erasure of Black people, Native Americans, and indigenous peoples worldwide. We stand together in the struggle against colonial dispossession and the deep-rooted legacy of slavery and recognise the long history of Black-Palestinian solidarity.” Notably, the organisations highlighted that: “Just five days after George Floyd was brutally murdered by US police, Israeli border police killed Palestinian person with disability Iyad Al-Hallaq in occupied East Jerusalem,” who was shot and killed on his way to a day centre for persons with disabilities in the Old City, in what amounts to a war crime of wilful killing, giving rise to individual criminal responsibility at the ICC.

The organisations stressed that: “Iyad’s killing is not isolated. Over the years, Israel has resorted to a systematic shoot-to-kill policy targeting Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line,” recalling that the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza protests found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children, and persons with disabilities in Gaza, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such. The organisations concluded that Israel maintains effective control “over all Palestinians in historic Palestine, imposing systematic racial supremacy and domination over the Palestinian people, while justifying the exploitation of their natural resources on the basis of entitlement, in what amounts to apartheid.” Accordingly, they endorsed calls “for the creation of a commission of inquiry into systemic racism, police brutality, and excessive use of force against Black people and other people of colour in the US and worldwide, with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice.” At the close of the 43rd Regular Session, Member States of the Human Rights Council failed to adopt effective measures, including the creation of a UN Commission of Inquiry into systemic racism in the US and elsewhere, due to US political pressure exerted on Member States of the Council. This failure is directly linked to political efforts to undermine justice and accountability at the Human Rights Council and amounts to an entrenchment of longstanding impunity for widespread and systematic human rights violations.

Item 2: Accountability

The 43rd Regular Session was opened on 24 February 2020 and suspended on 13 March 2020 due to COVID-19. Before the suspension of the session, Al-Haq attended the Council under Item 2 and delivered an oral intervention during the interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the occupied Palestinian territory, as a follow up to accountability resolution 40/13 of 22 March 2020. Delivered on 26 February 2020, Al-Haq’s Item 2 statement commended the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the release of the UN database on business involvement in illegal settlements, as an important step towards corporate accountability. The intervention highlighted that “corporate activity does not occur in a vacuum,” and that, in the context of Palestine, “corporate activity is very much linked to Israel’s colonial practices in denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination, including permanent sovereignty over natural resources, which constitute the root cause of past and ongoing protests.”

The statement highlighted pervasive impunity for widespread and systematic human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people, stressing that: “The Commission of Inquiry is only one in a long line of investigatory mechanisms dispatched by this Office, which have yet to yield tangible results in the pursuit of justice and accountability. Despite the now ten UN commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions created on Palestine over the past two decades, no recommendations have ever been implemented. Yet, this same number of mechanisms has been used to criticize this body as being disproportionately focused on Israeli practices, while ignoring other violations around the world.” Al-Haq emphasized that “It is this failure of States to act outside of the Human Rights Council system, including to adopt sanctions, that leads to our continued engagement therein. Until the international community takes steps towards meaningful accountability outside of this system, Israel deserves all the attention it gets within it.”

Also on 26 February 2020, Al-Haq joined a statement under Item 2 delivered by CIHRS together with BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and Al Mezan, urging the Council to lift the Gaza closure and adopt effective measures to implement the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations without delay. The organisations recalled: “On 22 March 2019, the Council adopted resolution 40/13, calling on States to implement the recommendations of the 2018 Commission of Inquiry on protests in the occupied Palestinian territory. One year on, these recommendations for justice and accountability remain unfulfilled while the root causes of the demonstrations, including Israel’s 12-year illegal closure, which has made Gaza uninhabitable, and the prolonged denial of Palestinian rights since the Nakba, remain unaddressed, including in the High Commissioner’s report.” The groups stressed that since 30 March 2018, the Israeli occupying forces intentionally resorted to lethal and other excessive force to suppress the Great Return March in Gaza, killing 217 Palestinians, including 48 children, nine persons with disabilities, four paramedics, and two journalists. They added: “In 2019 alone, Israeli forces killed 135 Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory, reflecting this Council’s continued failure to put an end to Israeli impunity.”

Item 3: Torture and ill-treatment

On 28 February 2020, Al-Haq engaged under Item 3 of the Human Rights Council’s 43rd Regular Session, delivering a joint statement together with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and CIHRS during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture. Highlighting the systematic torture and ill-treatment in Israeli occupation prisons and interrogation centres, the organisations recalled that “torture inflicted upon Palestinians is sanctioned under Israeli law” and that “Israeli courts continue to sanction rather than prosecute the use of torture against Palestinian detainees.” They noted that “In 2019, Israel’s Security Agency subjected Palestinian detainees at al-Mascobiyya Interrogation Centre in Jerusalem to severe physical and psychological torture and ill-treatment. The victims, including students, human rights defenders, and political leaders, suffered harsh beatings, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, stress positions, sexual harassment, and the pulling of facial and body hair, and were denied access to sanitary facilities. They were also subjected to intensive psychological torture, including threats to harm family members and other detainees.” Accordingly, the organisations urged Member States of the Council and OHCHR to address Israel’s widespread and systematic use of torture against Palestinian detainees, to ensure prompt, independent, and transparent investigations, and to hold perpetrators accountable.

Item 3: Transnational corporations

On 6 March 2020, also under Item 3, Al-Haq joined a statement  delivered by CIHRS during the general debate on the report of the intergovernmental working group (IGWG) on transnational corporations together with Al Mezan and Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), welcoming “the recently released business database on Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise… as an important tool in preventing a military occupation from becoming an incentivized colonial venture” and commending “the High Commissioner and her team for their commitment to principles in the face of pressure.” The groups highlighted that “Business-related human rights abuses in situations of conflict and occupation are not only enabled by State action or inaction towards private enterprise. As history has shown, they are often at the core of State policies towards unlawful belligerence and domination. As such, the legally binding instrument must address the present with the past in mind. Conflicts and situations of occupation must not be exploited as business opportunities.”

Read all oral interventions delivered and joined by Al-Haq at the 43rd Regular Session:

  1. Oral intervention under Item 2 on accountability delivered by Al-Haq 
  2. Joint oral intervention under Item 2 on accountability
  3. Joint oral intervention under Item 3 on torture 
  4. Joint oral intervention under Item 3 on transnational corporations 
  5. Joint oral intervention under Item 7 on annexation
  6. Joint oral intervention under Item 7 on Gaza 
  7. Joint oral intervention under Item 7 on the UN database 
  8. Joint oral intervention under Item 9 on apartheid 
  9. Joint oral intervention under Item 9 on the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law 
  10. Joint oral intervention under the urgent debate on racism 

Read all written statements submitted jointly by Al-Haq and partners at the 43rd Regular Session:

  1. Joint written submission on Gaza under Item 2
  2. Joint written submission on torture under Item 3
  3. Joint written submission on Jerusalem under Item 7
  4. Joint written submission on the UN database under Item 7
  5. Joint written submission on apartheid under Item 9