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On 15 March 2022, national and regional partners, organized an online side event in parallel to the 49th Session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) titled: ‘Protecting Palestinian Human Rights Defenders and Civil Society Organizations: Israel’s Baseless Designation of the 6.’ The panel included Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ms. Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Sahar Francis from Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Mr. Moayyad Bsharat from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), moderated by Ms. Maha Abdallah from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
The side event addressed Israel’s latest attack on the leading Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations designated by Israel’s apartheid regime as “terrorist organizations” under its Anti-Terrorism Law of 2016, and later transposed to the occupied Palestinian territory by a military order declaring the organizations unlawful. The event discussed the long-term and systematic smear campaign intended to delegitimize, repress, and drain the resources of CSOs and intimidate HRDs.
The side event highlighted the harassment and intimidation of Palestinian civil society and basing the designation on “secret evidence” which the Israeli authorities have refused to disclose due to “security reasons.” UN Special Rapporteur, Mary Lawlor commented that “the designation decisions were based on vague and unsubstantiated reasons. Some reasonings refer to entirely peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. I know from seeing what happens elsewhere in the world that such smears are highly dangerous.”
Commenting on the designation of the organizations, UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin discussed the trend she had witnessed in counterterrorism and its misuse across the MENA region and beyond, but had been particularly alarmed by Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism legislation and military orders. The designation of the six Palestinian organisations was more striking and serious than had been seen elsewhere, warning that “these designations are an attempt at civic death”. On the issue of basing these designations on “secret evidence,” the UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin stated that “any penalties that are taken to address civil society have to be proportionate to the offence found and implemented in full compliance with well settled, non-arguable due process and fair trial guarantees under international law, including most particularly and most importantly in this case, the right to access and refute evidence against them.” Professor Fionnuala, at the side event called for the urgent rescission of the designation of the six Palestinian organisations.
Mr. Moayyad Bsharat representing the UAWC explained the effects of Israel’s unlawful designations to their funding, and the ramifications it has on their vital work with Palestinian communities, especially in Area C of the occupied Palestinian territory.
The panel continued to discuss the efforts needed from the international community to challenge Israel’s designation and ensure the safety of Palestinian CSOs and HRDs. The side event called for urgent action to be taken to address Israel’s escalation of attacks on civil society and stressed the need to end Israel’s long-enjoyed cycle of impunity. Ms. Sahar Francis, the General Director of Addameer, declared that “it’s time to send a clear message to the Israeli government that they cannot continue with such practices and that they must rescind their designation,” confirming that “it is the time for sanctions, and to use the international system properly.”
The UN Special Rapporteurs specifically called for urgent action by the international community to support Palestinian civil society and HRDs. UN Special Rapporteur Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin stated: “To the entire international community including all member states, international agencies, and other agencies, you must continue to support Palestinian civil society organisation loudly, consistently, and unflinchingly.” UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor also concluded with a powerful statement to all governments on the designation of the six Palestinian organisations, stating that “We will continue to stand with defenders unjustly labelled as terrorists and show how these laws are consistently misused to prevent legitimate human rights work. We will continue to remind governments who support human rights advocacy and who support human rights defenders that just because a government designates someone as a terrorist or a group as a terrorist group it doesn’t make it true.”
The overriding message from the side event is for action by the international community to enforce international norms and standards, and not to misuse counterterrorism measures as a tool to silence opposition and critical voices of human rights violations. UN Special Rapporteur Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin stressed that “It cannot and should not be used as a pretext to crack down on the legitimate and protected activities of civil society organisations under international law, including human rights and humanitarian law.”
Both UN Special Rappartuers and Ms. Sahar Francis and Mr. Moayyad Bsharat stressed the importance of protecting human rights organizations for the vital and fundamental work needed for defending human rights in Palestine, and to put an end to Israel’s impunity and practices against the Palestinian people.
This is especially the case, as those attacks on Palestinian civil society coincides with recent developments attributed to the Palestinian organisations’ work; including the recent opening of an International Criminal Court investigation into the Situation in Palestine, the establishment of an ongoing Commission of Inquiry in May 2021 to look at the root causes of Israel’s systematic discrimination on both sides of the Green Line, and amidst mounting recognition of Israel’s apartheid regime imposed upon the Palestinian people as a whole.
It is within this context that the side event was organized to discuss the ramifications of Israel’s designation of the six Palestinian organizations, the application and implications of Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law to the six organizations in the context of occupation and apartheid, as well as the efforts needed from the international community to challenge Israel’s designation and ensure the safety of Palestinian HRDs and civil society.
The side event was organized by Al-Haq, and co-sponsored by the following organisations: Adalah, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Bisan Center Research and Development Studies, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Community Action Center/Al-Quds University, Human Rights & Democratic Participation Center “SHAMS”, Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), Palestinian NGOs Network, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling.
Watch the recording of this event here.
* Find the transcripts of UNSR Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism here.
* Find the transcripts of UNSR Ms Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders here.
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