Human Lives Human Rights: A report to the Human Rights Council by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel says that authorities in all areas are violating the rights of civil society members in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory through harassment, threats, arrests, interrogations, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
The report examined attacks, restrictions and harassment of civil society actors in Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem. It found that most of the violations are being committed by Israeli authorities as part of the Israeli Government’s goal of maintaining and consolidating its permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people.
The report found that the Israeli Government has increasingly restricted civic space through a strategy of discrediting and silencing civil society. This includes criminalizing Palestinian civil society organizations and their members by labelling them as “terrorists,” pressuring and threatening institutions that give a platform for civil society discourse, actively lobbying donors, and implementing measures intended to cut sources of funding and support.
This strategy is being implemented in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory against Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations and activists, and internationally against international advocates of Palestinian rights.
The report determined that the designations by Israeli authorities of six Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist” organizations and a seventh Palestinian NGO as unlawful were unjustified and violated fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression, opinion, peaceful assembly, privacy and the right to a fair trial.
Palestinian authorities in both the occupied West Bank and in Gaza were also found to be targeting Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society activists with the aim of silencing dissenting opinions. The arrest and detention of Palestinian activists by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities was noted as a particularly harsh reality for many Palestinian activists.
Navi Pillay, Chair of the Commission said: “We were especially concerned by the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders, who are routinely subject to a range of punitive measures as part of the occupation regime. These measures also have far-reaching consequences for children, contributing to family fragmentation and to increased psychological trauma and fear.”
The Commission conducted more than 127 interviews with victims and witnesses, experts and others for the report; these included public and closed hearings in Geneva held in November 2022 and March 2023. Its call for submissions issued on 2 November 2022 resulted in 21 submissions being received.
The Commission dedicated a significant part of the report to reviewing restrictive policies and practices, and their impact on different civil society groups, including journalists, women human rights defenders, artists and cultural activists and Palestinian cultural centres promoting diversity and the inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
The report found that Palestinian journalists are particularly targeted and subjected to frequent harassment and punitive measures, seemingly as part of an effort to deter them from continuing their work. Israeli journalists are also being monitored and harassed, and increasingly practise self-censorship out of fear of attacks and losing employment.
Women human rights defenders face significant and distinct risks due to their visibility and role in fighting for societal and political change. They have been specifically targeted by Palestinian State actors and anti-gender rights groups because they are perceived as challenging religious and cultural norms and the status quo.
The report also found that actions by Israeli and Palestinian authorities that shrink freedom of expression in the cultural space, affecting artists and cultural activists, constitute violations of cultural rights.
The report recommended that all duty bearers ensure that the rights to freedoms of association, expression and opinion and peaceful assembly, and economic, social and cultural rights including health, housing and education, are respected and protected and that civil society actors, including human rights defenders, journalists and women human rights defenders, are able to conduct their activities safely, freely and without harassment or retribution.
The report also recommended that the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court prioritize the investigation into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the identification of direct perpetrators, those exercising command responsibility and individuals who aid or abet the commission of crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction.
The Commission’s 22-page report will be complemented by a more detailed document in the form of a conference room paper (CRP), to be distributed during the upcoming 53rd session of the Council in June.