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Human rights defenders under growing legal pressure in the OPT – UN rights experts

GENEVA (16 December 2016) – Human rights activists working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory face daily violations of some of the most fundamental protections afforded by international human rights and humanitarian laws, two United Nations independent experts said today.

“We have received a worrying number of complaints in recent months regarding human rights defenders who are arrested and, in many cases, arbitrarily detained, often apparently as a direct result of their important work in their communities,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the OPT, Michael Lynk, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

“Human rights work is critical to creating a just society and maintaining peace and security. These are the goals all parties ultimately share,” the experts stressed. “However, it appears that rights defenders are facing ever greater challenges in the OPT.”

The Special Rapporteurs drew special attention to the cases against Issa Amro, founder of the Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements, and Farid al-Atrash, a lawyer from Hebron, who were arrested due to their participation in a peaceful protest in February of this year. Mr. Amro is currently facing trial in an Israeli military court on 18 charges dating back to 2010, including participation in a rally without a permit.

“This relatively unusual practice of bringing up stale charges, which were not pursued many years ago, strongly suggests that Mr. Amro is being unfairly targeted due to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work,” the experts noted.

“Mr. Amro has been subject to a concerted pattern of harassment and intimidation by the Israeli authorities aimed at inhibiting his work as a human rights defender,” they said recalling previous warnings from UN human rights experts. “This trial appears to form part of this same pattern.”

The two Special Rapporteurs emphasized that charges of participation in a rally without a permit are nearly impossible to avoid for Palestinians in the West Bank who peacefully protest and oppose the almost 50 year-old occupation.

They noted that Israeli Military Order 101 (issued in 1967) effectively prohibits free association and assembly, in clear violation of the basic tenets of international human rights law.

“The right of all those who are seeking hope and participation in concrete, nonviolent action must be protected, particularly as we are seeing the deepening entrenchment of the Israeli occupation and the accompanying human rights violations,” they stressed.

Other cases

The Special Rapporteurs also recalled the case of Hasan Safadi, media coordinator for Addameer human rights organization, whose three-month administrative detention order was renewed for an additional six months on 8 December. And the case of Salah Khawaja, a member of the Stop the Wall Campaign, who was arrested on 26 October and remains in detention without charges.

“We are also troubled by reports of harassment and threats made against groups seeking to promote accountability and engage with the International Criminal Court,” the UN experts said.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to ensure fair trial guarantees for human rights defenders and respect their unfettered exercise of fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” they said.

The Special Rapporteurs will continue to follow these cases closely and recalled their outstanding requests to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territory at the earliest opportunity.

This statement has also been endorsed by Mr. Roland Adjovi, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council designated Mr. Michael Lynk (Canada) as the seventh Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/PS/Pages/SRPalestine.aspx

Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. For more information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country pages:
Occupied Palestinian Territories: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx
Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Katharine Marshall (+41 (0) 22- 917-9695 / kmarshall@ohchr.org) or Kiyohiko Hasegawa (+41 (0) 22-928-9211 / khasegawa@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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