GENEVA November 19, 2019 – The announcement by the US Secretary of State that Israeli settlements do not violate international law is a decisive break with international consensus, and will only further entrench the perpetual Israeli occupation, a UN human rights expert said today.
“This is not a step towards peace or justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. “The American Government’s decision to jettison international law and to legitimise the illegal Israeli settlements is probably the very last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.
“This effectively grants permission to the Israeli government to formally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, as it has already done with East Jerusalem,” he said. “This will only confirm a one state reality characterised by a rigid two-tier system of legal and political rights, based on ethnicity and religion. This would meet the international definition of apartheid.”
Presently, there are approximately 240 Israeli settlements and around 650,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The international community has long held that these settlements are a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 (Article 49, para. 6). The Convention strictly prohibits an occupying power from settling its own civilian population in territory that it occupies.
“The Israeli settlements are a major source of human rights violations, and they are the engine of Israel’s occupation,” said Lynk. “They are built on confiscated Palestinian property; they rely upon the illegal appropriation of Palestinian natural resources, including water, land and minerals; and they have forced Palestinians into smaller and more constricted space on their own territory.
“Most importantly, the incessant expansion of the Israeli settlements has robbed the Palestinians of hope for a future based on freedom.”
The illegality of the Israeli settlements has been affirmed by virtually every member state of the United Nations. This is also the position of the International Court of Justice, the United Nations Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and by Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations.
“Monday’s announcement by the US Secretary of State is the latest in a series of recent moves that has undermined the rules-based international order. Its earlier decisions to recognise Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and to move its embassy to Jerusalem have pushed the chances of a shared future by Israeli Jews and Palestinians based on equality even further away.”
The Special Rapporteur called upon the international community to reaffirm the illegality of the settlements. He also asked the international community to take further steps to put international law into action by prohibiting the importation of settlement goods and services into the international marketplace.
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Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.