SOAS University of London

SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law and the Centre for Palestine Studies Urge UN Special Procedures to Defend the Rights of Human Rights Defenders in Palestine

29 November 2021

The SOAS Centre for Human Rights Law and the SOAS Centre for Palestine Studies are marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians, called for by the UN General Assembly in 1977, with an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association (the ‘Special Rapporteurs’) to request Israel to rescind its designation of six human rights organisations as “terrorist” on 19 October 2021. The outlawed organisations include internationally renowned human rights organisations with which SOAS academics have long collaborated in the struggle for justice for Palestinians. The six organisations are Al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.

The appeal provides detailed evidence of the illegality of the 19 October designation and notes its grave legal consequences for the organisations and their staff as well as for human rights endeavours in the occupied territories. Under Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law and Defence (Emergency) Regulations, as well as the Military Orders issued subsequently in the West Bank, Israeli military authorities can close the offices of the organisations, confiscate their properties, freeze their funds and block their funding, as well as endanger staff freedom and safety because they become liable to detention and criminal sanctions. 

The appeal states that the “measures form part of a broader pattern of oppression and harassment of Palestinian civil society organisations and violate their, and their members’, freedom of expression, assembly and association, and they violate the prohibition of racial discrimination. Further, the lack of an effective appeal against these measures violates the right to an effective remedy. The designation and military orders are incompatible with the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (‘Declaration on Human Rights Defenders’).”

The appeal is the latest of several solidarity activities supported by the two SOAS centres and by the larger SOAS academic community drawing attention to the discriminatory nature of the Israeli actions. 

On Friday 26 November, the two centres hosted ‘Defending the Right to Defend Palestinian Rights’ a panel of speakers including UN Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Professor S. Michael Lynk, long-term Palestinian Human Rights Defender and General Director of Addameer, Sahar Francis, and Head of Legal Research and Advocacy at Al Haq, Dr Susan Power. Scholars assessing the manner in which advocacy groups have been targeted in this manner, including Dr Power, have drawn an analysis which links such acts to Article 2(f) of the Apartheid Convention, the practice of which is recognized as a crime against humanity.  

Recordings of this meeting are available on YouTube.

At the end of October, about 77 SOAS academics wrote a statement unequivocally condemning and rejecting the designation by the Israeli Ministry of Defence of six prominent Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organisations. Two professors from the School of Law were also parties to a statement of support and solidarity with the six organisations posted by former workers at al-Haq.

The proscription and criminalisation of human rights advocacy and other lawful forms of oppositional civil society activity in the occupied Palestinian territory are in the same degree profoundly odious and profoundly dangerous, in a context of the systematic denial of basic rights protection and the routine commission by public and private Israeli actors of regular abuses and violations. 

The current appeal provides a detailed analysis setting out the manner in which the Israeli government has failed to provide justifications for its measures that are in accordance with the requirements as set out in international human rights standards – namely legality, legitimate aim or purpose and proportionality. These are standards which the government itself has repeatedly claimed to hold itself accountable through its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1991, its voting in favour of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1999 and its reaffirmation of this commitment to upholding the rights of human rights defenders again in 2015, supporting a second resolution which noted that the Assembly was “gravely concerned that national security and counter-terrorism legislation” as well as “laws regulating civil society organizations” that were “in some instances misused to target human rights defenders or hinder their work, endangering their safety in a manner contrary to international law.” 

The appeal strongly urges the Special Rapporteurs to request Israel to withdraw the designation of the organisations as “terrorist organisations”, and the corresponding military orders in the West Bank, to affirm its commitment to uphold the rights guaranteed in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and to refrain from any measures that constitute unjustified interference with the legitimate work of the organisations.