UN rights experts denounce Israel’s growing constraints on human rights defenders

PRESS RELEASE
Office of the High Commissioner, UN Human Rights Council

Israeli forces shower protesters in Shuhada Street with teargas and stun grenades

Israeli forces shower protesters in Shuhada Street with teargas and stun grenades

GENEVA (3 March 2017) – Two United Nations Independent Experts are calling on the Israeli Government to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of human rights defenders and organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, say human rights defenders in the region have been facing escalating restrictions by Israel on their activities.

“We are deeply concerned by the latest constraints on the invaluable work being done by human rights activists – Palestinian, Israeli and international – who investigate, research, advocate and peacefully mobilize with respect to human rights concerns in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” they said.

“Israel has an obligation under international law to protect human rights defenders and promote their work,” said the two Special Rapporteurs. “The activities of such people are crucial to ensuring meaningful protection of those individuals and communities whose fundamental rights are threatened. However, it appears that Israel’s latest actions are instead targeting these activists and undermining their efforts to defend others.”

The Special Rapporteurs were concerned about three developments in recent days; firstly, the dispersal of a protest on 24 February by the Israeli military using tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets; the peaceful protest, organized annually by a number of human rights organizations, brings together Palestinians and Israelis. The demonstrators call for the re-opening of Shuhada Street, the former commercial center of Hebron, which has been closed to Palestinians since an Israeli settler carried out a shooting at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29 Palestinian worshippers.

The Rapporteurs also expressed concern about a bill introduced in the Israeli Knesset which, if passed, would require all Israeli non-governmental organizations receiving more than half of their funding from foreign public sources to pay fees associated with requests filed under the country’s Freedom of Information Act. The bill, which would primarily affect human rights organizations, is the latest legislation debated or enacted by the Knesset that specifically targets Israeli human rights defenders and is designed to obstruct advocacy and activism.

A new law passed in July 2016 requires organizations that receive more than half of their funding from foreign public sources, a large majority of which are human rights groups, to indicate this on all publications. The Rapporteurs noted that this has a chilling effect on human rights work and skews public perception of human rights organizations.

Lastly, the Rapporteurs criticized the Israeli Government’s decision to deny a work visa application submitted by one of the investigators of Human Rights Watch, an organization which has worked in Israel for almost three decades.

“We urge the Israeli Government to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of human rights defenders and organizations,” the Special Rapporteurs said. “In particular, we call upon the Government to respect and permit peaceful assembly, to withdraw and rescind all restrictive legislation that targets human rights defenders, and to allow international rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch to freely operate in Israel and OPT.”

The Special Rapporteurs will continue to monitor the human rights situation in the OPT, and they reiterate their respective requests to visit at the earliest opportunity.