Middle East: UN experts condemn Israeli suppression of Palestinian human rights organisations

Geneva, 27 August, 2022.- UN experts* today condemned Israel’s escalating attacks against Palestinian civil society in the occupied West Bank, after the Israeli army broke into the offices of seven Palestinian human rights and humanitarian groups operating in Ramallah and shut them down last week.

“These actions amount to severe suppression of human rights defenders and are illegal and unacceptable,” the experts said, encouraging UN member states to take effective measures afforded by international law to put an end to these abuses.

In a dawn raid on 18 August, Israeli forces caused extensive damage to property and issued military orders imposing the closure of the seven Palestinian human rights groups’ offices**. These actions follow Israel’s earlier designations and declarations of these organisations as “terrorist” and “unlawful”.

“These designations and declarations are illegitimate and unjustifiable and no concrete and credible evidence substantiating Israel’s allegations has ever been provided,” said the experts, who made the same observations in April 2022.

On 18 and 21 August, the Israeli security service Shin Bet interrogated the directors of three of the seven organisations, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Al-Haq and Defence for Children-Palestine. The experts noted with particular concern the alleged threats made by Shin Bet against them, including as reported in a public statement regarding Al-Haq’s director Shawan Jabarin.

“The Israeli government has taken multiple measures to undermine civil society organisations, restricting and repressing the legitimate activities of human rights defenders, which also has a disproportionate impact on women human rights defenders,” the experts said.“The result is serious infringements of the rights to freedom of association, opinion and expression and the right to participate in public and cultural affairs, which Israel is fully obliged to fulfill, respect and protect,» the experts said. «Civil society is what is left to the Palestinians for their minimum protection. Shrinking this vital space and resource is illegal and immoral.”

The UN experts said information presented by Israel to justify its decision to blacklist human rights groups as terror organisations had failed to convince donor governments and international organisations. The experts noted that a review of Al Haq by the Anti-Fraud Office of the European Union (EU) confirmed that “no suspicions of irregularities and/or fraud affecting EU funds” had been found.

 

The experts called on the EU, all five permanent members of the Security Council, and all member states to take concrete measures to protect the Palestinian organizations and staff whose offices were raided and closed.

“Such protection depends on Israel revoking once and for all its designations and declarations of these organisations as “terrorist” and “unlawful”, the experts said. “The EU and its member states in particular must urgently use their leverage to stop these aggressive attacks on civil society, in line with their commitments and obligations to protect human rights defenders and civic space.”

“Once again, it is clear that statements condemning and regretting Israel’s unlawful measures are not sufficient – it is time that words are followed by swift and determined action by the international community to put diplomatic pressure on Israel to restore the rule of law, justice and human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory,» the experts said.

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