Occupied Palestinian Territory: UN human rights expert says Israel bent on further annexation

AMMAN, July 12, 2019 – One of the UN’s independent experts has voiced concern about lack of human rights accountability in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, pointing to the actions of “an occupying power seemingly bent on further territorial annexation”.

Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, met with Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations, and government and United Nations representatives during a week-long visit to Amman, Jordan.

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He held these meetings in Amman because Israel, the occupying power, once again refused him entry to the Palestinian Territory. “This refusal is contrary to Israel’s obligations as a UN member to cooperate fully with Experts of the United Nations,” Lynk, appointed by the Human Rights Council, said at the end of his visit.

Over the course of the week, the Special Rapporteur heard about shrinking civic space and the difficulties faced by human rights organisations in carrying out their work. He noted his reliance on their high-quality work, and indeed the importance of this work to the international community as a whole. “Baseless attacks on the credibility of human rights and humanitarian organisations and moves by some states which curtail the organisations’ ability to carry out legitimate and essential work is of great concern,” Lynk said, emphasizing concerns particularly in Gaza where the human rights and humanitarian crisis is especially dire.

Lack of accountability was noted as a pervasive problem across the OPT. Organisations engaging with the Israeli legal system expressed concern that very few of the cases in relation to the 2014 hostilities in Gaza had been investigated, much less prosecuted. “Palestinians seeking redress through the Israeli legal system face a multitude of obstacles such that ultimately, justice is elusive and largely impossible to obtain,” the independent expert said.

Lynk heard about ongoing risk of demolitions in the West Bank, and that there had been a sharp rise especially in East Jerusalem. He heard about the community of Sur Baher in East Jerusalem, which is at risk of demolition. The Rapporteur recalled the fact that demolitions, risk of demolitions, settler violence, and other factors all combine to create a coercive environment in many parts of the West Bank, which may lead Palestinians to feel they have no choice but to leave their homes, raising serious concerns of forcible transfer.

Ongoing practices related to detention, including the use of administrative detention, and detention of children, were also noted as issues of serious concern. The Rapporteur heard about the situation of children placed under house arrest, and the strain this puts on parents and particularly mothers who often have the responsibility of being the primary caregiver and thus primary enforcer of house arrest for their own children. The Special Rapporteur was dismayed to hear that children may be sentenced to house arrest or detention after confessions given under duress, and that at present more than 200 children were being held in detention.

The impact of various practices on the environment was described as particularly concerning, including practices such as dumping of hazardous waste in parts of Area C of the occupied territory, which has a negative impact on sources of clean water and the health of nearby Palestinian villages. Lynk addressed serious concerns regarding the environmental practices of the Government of Israel in the OPT in his most recent report to the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.

Additional issues of concern included the situation of Palestinian refugees in the OPT, settler violence, and access to education and attacks on education. He also raised concerns about collective punishment, including punitive demolitions, the blockade of Gaza, punitive residency revocation, and movement restrictions, the continued expansion of settlements, legislation allowing for the expropriation of private Palestinian land, and targeting of medical workers and attacks on healthcare.

“Israel’s conduct of the 52-year-old occupation is an affront to modern international law,” said the Special Rapporteur. “The United Nations has stated on numerous occasions that the Israeli settlements are illegal, its annexation of East Jerusalem is unlawful, and its violations of the human rights of the Palestinians breach international covenants and treaties. Now is the time for the international community to hold Israel fully accountable for its actions, and to determine whether Israel’s role as the occupying power has crossed the bright red line into illegality.”

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.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel