UN decries “disastrous” human rights for Palestinians

December 8, 2021 - 16:19

TEHRAN - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has strongly condemned Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, describing their situation as disastrous, with severe infringements occurring that are affecting the lives of millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation.

Michelle Bachelet was briefing the UN Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in Geneva. The Committee’s recommendations were endorsed by the General Assembly, to which the Committee reports annually. It was set up to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination without external interference, national independence, and sovereignty; and to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced.

The UN rights expert expressed outrage over the regime’s ongoing harassment of human rights activists in the occupied Palestinian Territories. 

That outrage was also strongly directed towards Israel’s recent designation of six civil society groups as “terrorist organizations.” Bachelet slammed Israel for designating groups based on “vague or unsubstantiated grounds.” She underscored how the groups have been working with the international community for decades, defending human rights and delivering humanitarian aid for thousands of people. Bachelet said, “without adequate substantive evidence, these decisions appear arbitrary, and further erode the civic and humanitarian space in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The UN raised alarm at “recurring incidents of excessive use of force leading to the death and injury of Palestinian children.”Also at the committee briefing, Omar Shakir, Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, condemned the designations as a frontal assault on the international human rights movement. He says the escalating Israeli campaign against human rights advocates is aimed at maligning and attacking them as well as denying them access to Palestinian territory. Meanwhile.

Human rights lawyer Michael Sfard observed that Israel has a history of targeting the human rights community. 

Saleh Hijazi, head of Amnesty International’s Palestine office, described Israel’s policies a “shrinking space”, as they restrict and punish groups aiming to expose Israel’s human rights abuses and hold the regime to account. He says Israel has threatened and hindered his organization’s work, imposing “bureaucratic obstacles or subjecting them to electronic surveillance”, while urging the international community to end Israel’s era of impunity. Other speakers included a member of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine to the United Nations.

Some speakers called for an annual forum to be held, where they can express their concerns over atrocities such as Israeli actions that cripple civil society groups. Others said the international community must respond to Israel’s actions on multiple levels, stressing the need to support the International Criminal Court’s measures, as well as efforts to ban illegal settlements. Others at the committee said words of condemnation must immediately be translated into action, demanding Israel be pressured to either rescind its persecution of civil society groups or face consequences. Also addressing the committee were representatives from Cuba and Turkey, among others.

Bachelet’s briefing also directed attention to Israel’s tragic killing in the month of May this year of 261 Palestinians, including 67 children. She noted that in the aftermath of the atrocity, the UN Human Rights Council set up an international, independent commission of enquiry to investigate “all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up and since 13 April 2021.” She also highlighted the Gaza Strip’s suffering; from a 15‑year old land, sea and air blockade that has deeply damaged its human rights. She said, “humanitarian conditions remain deeply concerning.”

In remarks elsewhere, Bachelet’s touched on other deepening concerns over the recent numerous killings and injuries of Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territories by Israeli forces; as well as, increasingly, by armed settlers. She decried the use of excessive or entirely unwarranted force by Israeli forces, which “appears in many instances to be a measure of first – rather than last – resort, as required under international law.”

The UN rights chief raised particular alarm at “recurring incidents of excessive use of force leading to the death and injury of Palestinian children.” On 5 November, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was shot with live ammunition in the abdomen, and killed, by Israeli forces stationed about 50 meters away, during demonstrations in Deir Al-Hatab near the illegal Israeli settlement Elon Moreh. This year, Israeli forces have killed 16 children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem al-Quds.

“These and all other killings, as well as all incidents of excessive and unwarranted use of lethal force by Israeli forces, must be thoroughly and effectively investigated, and those responsible held to account. The chronic impunity in the occupied Palestinian territory for violations has been repeatedly raised in reports by the Secretary-General and myself.

Settler-related violence is also at alarmingly high levels, amid continued tensions over settlement expansion and the annual olive harvest season.”

In the past year, there have been 490 incidents resulting in deaths, injury, and/or significant property damage, which is the highest incidence of settler violence ever recorded by the United Nations.

However, the actual figure is more than likely to be much higher as Israeli regime forces regularly restrict access to international and local monitors. Currently, according to the UN figures it represents an average of almost one incident of settler violence every day.

According to the UN rights chief, the severity of the violence has also intensified, with four Palestinians killed recently and 167 injured by settlers, including seven with live ammunition. In three additional cases, it was not possible for the UN to determine whether the victims were killed by Israeli occupation forces or by settlers.

“This lack of accountability for settler violence contributes to the increased number and severity of attacks.

I note also that the approval, planning, and construction of Israeli settlements continue unabated across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem [al-Quds]. In the past year, settlers have established 12 new outposts in the [occupied] West Bank. Most recently, on 24 October, Israeli authorities announced tenders for some 1,350 housing units in settlements. The announcement also included a re-issuance of tenders for some 80 units in the settlement of Givat Hamatos, and would further curtail access and links between East Jerusalem [al-Quds] and [holy] Bethlehem.”

During the end of Bachelet’s briefing, she touched on the continued suffering of Palestinian children and the “disproportionate impact [incurred on children] from the recurring cycles of [Israeli] military escalation and associated deprivation. Reports by our UN partners indicate that 75 percent of all children in [besieged] Gaza are in need of mental health and psycho-social support, as well as other community- and family-based services.”

Currently, 160 Palestinian children are detained by Israel, some of them without charge, under administrative detention, a violation of international law that stipulates “arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and that children must benefit from a child-friendly justice system that minimizes the challenges they face in each aspect of a legal proceeding.” Bachelet added that “It should be clearly understood that under international law, administrative detention is permitted only in exceptional circumstances and must be subject to strict safeguards to prevent arbitrariness. This is not the case in the Occupied Palestinian Territory today.” We also continue to receive disturbing reports of the ill-treatment of children during their arrest, transfer, interrogation, and detention by Israeli authorities.

Overall, the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories at present can easily be characterized as “disastrous.”