UN fact-finding mission: Israeli settlements violate intl law; Israel must ‘immediately initiate a process of withdrawal’; Governments and companies must ‘[terminate] their business interests in the settlements’

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(Photo: Reuters)

A U.N. fact-finding mission into “the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory” has issued a blockbuster report (PDF) on the Israeli settlement project warning of “creeping annexation” of the occupied territories and making the closest call yet from the U.N. for sanctioning Israel over its violation of Palestinian human rights and international law.

Reuters summarizes:

U.N. human rights investigators called on Israel on Thursday to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

A three-member U.N. panel said private companies should stop working in the settlements if their work adversely affected the human rights of Palestinians, and urged member states to ensure companies respected human rights.

“Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights,” Christine Chanet, a French judge who led the U.N. inquiry, told a news conference.

The settlements contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory and could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations report said.

“To transfer its own population into an occupied territory is prohibited because it is an obstacle to the exercise of the right to self-determination,” Chanet said.

Unity Dow, a judge and human rights activist from Botswana who served on the mission, said in a statement:

“The magnitude of violations relating to Israel’s policies of dispossessions, evictions, demolitions and displacements from land shows the widespread nature of these breaches of human rights . . . The motivation behind violence and intimidation against the Palestinians and their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands, allowing the settlements to expand.”

The report is wide ranging and covers the history of Israeli colonization of the occupied territories, Israeli restrictions over Palestinian freedom of movement, Israeli restrictions over Palestinian freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, restrictions over access to water and economic rights, inequality and discrimination in the legal regime of the occupied territories, settler violence and intimidation, and the overarching process dispossessing and displacing Palestinians from the land. Here is an overview for the finding from the conclusion:

100. The facts brought to the attention of the Mission indicate that the State of Israel has had full control of the settlements in the OPT since 1967 and continues to promote and sustain them through infrastructure and security measures. The Mission notes that despite all the pertinent United Nations resolutions declaring that the existence of the settlements is illegal and calling for their cessation, the planning and growth of the settlements continues both of existing as well as new structures.

101. The establishment of the settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem is a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

102. The settlements have been established and developed at the expense of violating international human rights laws and international humanitarian law, as applicable in the OPT as notably recognised by the 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion.

103. The settlements are established for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews; settlements are being maintained and developed through a system of total segregation between the settlers and the rest of the population living in the OPT. This system of segregation is supported and facilitated by a strict military and law enforcement control to the detriment of the rights of the Palestinian population.

104. The Mission considers that in relation to the settlements Israel is committing serious breaches of its obligations under the right to self-determination and “certain obligations under international humanitarian law”, including the obligation not to transfer its population into the OPT. The Rome Statute establishes the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the deportation or transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying Power of parts of its own population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory. Ratification of the Statute by Palestine may lead to
accountability for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law and justice for victims.

105. The existence of the settlements has had a heavy toll on the rights of the Palestinians. Their rights to freedom of self-determination, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, equality, due process, fair trial, not to be arbitrarily detained, liberty and security of person, freedom of expression, freedom to access places of worship, education, water, housing, adequate standard of living, property, access to
natural resources and effective remedy are being violated consistently and on a daily basis.

106. The volume of information received on dispossession, evictions, demolitions and displacement points to the magnitude of these practices. These are particularly widespread in certain areas and acute in East Jerusalem.

107. The Mission has noted that the identities of settlers who are responsible for violence and intimidation are known to the Israeli authorities, yet these acts continue with impunity. The Mission is led to the clear conclusion that there is institutionalised  discrimination against the Palestinian people when it comes to addressing violence. The Mission believes that the motivation behind this violence and the intimidation against the Palestinians as well as their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands and allow the settlements to expand.

108. The Mission is gravely concerned at the high number of children who are apprehended or detained, including for minor offences. They are invariably mistreated, denied due process and fair trial. In violation of international law they are transferred to detention centres in Israel.

109. Children suffer harassment, violence and encounter significant obstacles in attending educational institutions, which limits their right to access education. Israel, the occupying Power is failing in its duty to protect the right to access education of the Palestinian children and failing to facilitate the proper working of educational institutions.

110. Information gathered by the Mission show that some private entities have enabled, facilitated and profited, from the construction and growth of the settlements, either directly or indirectly.

111. Women alone in their homes, the Bedouins and other vulnerable groups are easy targets for settler violence, creating a sense of insecurity amongst the wider Palestinian society.

Among the report recommendations the mission called for Israel to “cease all settlement activities without preconditions” and “immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT.” In addition, the report calls for companies and governments to “assess the human rights impact of their activities” and end any connection to the settlements:

117. Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps – including by terminating their business interests in the settlements – to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian People in conformity with international law as well as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Mission calls upon all Member States to take appropriate measures to ensure that business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction, including those owned or controlled by them, that conduct activities in or related to the settlements respect human rights throughout their operations. The Mission recommends that the Human Rights Council Working Group on Business and Human Rights be seized of this matter.

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