UN expert warns of deteriorating situation for human rights defenders in Palestine and Israel

Human rights defenders working to draw attention to abuses associated with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territory are being increasingly targeted as a result of their work, according to a new report from a United Nations human rights expert.

Michael Lynk – the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 – expressed deep concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“As human rights defenders – Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals – persist with their intrepid activism to investigate and oppose the regime of human rights violations that is integral to the occupation. All indications are that they will continue to be the prime targets of those who are intolerant of their criticisms, yet alarmed by their effectiveness,” Mr. Lynk said.

The Rapporteur noted with alarm that Palestinian human rights defenders have been subjected to attacks, arrest, detention, and threats to their lives and safety. “They have experienced sophisticated interference with their vital work, and have faced toxic denunciations aimed at silencing them and discouraging their supporters,” he continued.

Mr. Lynk also drew attention to the work of Israeli human rights organizations which call attention to human rights abuses that occur in the context of the occupation. He noted that these organizations “are enduring an increasingly hostile public atmosphere in Israel and from the settlement movement, stoked by the Israeli political leadership and the media, as well as obstructive legislation enacted or being considered by the Knesset.”
The Rapporteur emphasized the essential nature of the work of these defenders: “They provide invaluable advocacy, independent and reliable analysis, effective protection, the courage to investigate and protest, and offer both a progressive interpretation of existing rights as well as a vision of new rights in embryo. The work of these human rights defenders animates and enlarges the enjoyment of human rights for the rest of us.”

In his report, the Rapporteur also highlighted issues of pressing concern with respect to the human rights situation in the OPT. He noted with alarm the rapid pace with which the settlement enterprise has advanced since the start of 2017, referencing the announcement of the construction of 6000 new housing units. He also expressed concern about the so-called “Regularization Bill”, noting that “removing one of the only domestic legal barriers to settlement construction moves Israel even further from compliance with international law.”

The Rapporteur further drew attention to the situation in Gaza, highlighting the fact that as the 10th year of the blockade begins, the situation is becoming ever more dire as infrastructure crumbles under the strain of a growing population and continued significant import and movement restrictions. Mr. Lynk also noted the decline in the number of exit permits granted at the end of 2016.

“The free movement of people would bring education, training, and increased skills to a part of the world that not only is in desperate need, but shows great resilience and potential for innovation,” the Rapporteur said.

Mr. Lynk called on the Government of Israel to end the blockade of Gaza, and to comply with Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed that settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law”. He also called on the Government of Israel to fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report.

(Source / 21.03.2017)

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