GENEVA (8 August 2019) – UN human rights experts said the international community has a duty to stand by their collective promise to protect the rights of the Palestinian people, and to take decisive action to prevent Israel’s planned construction of a record number of housing units in its West Bank settlements.
The experts refer in their comments to the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee meeting held this week, announcing the approval of around 2,400 housing units and public infrastructure in 21 settlements and outposts. These approvals are intended to formalize existing structures as well as provide initial permits.
“These settlement housing units are clearly meant to solidify the Israeli claim of sovereignty over the West Bank,” said Leilani Farha, the Special Rapporteur for the right to housing, and Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.
“Building civilian settlements in occupied territory is illegal, as is the annexation of territory. The international community has spoken out against the Israeli settlements, but it has not imposed effective consequences for the country’s defiance of international law.”
The Israeli Government has already approved approximately 3,700 settlement housing units this year. The approval of a further 2,400 units will brings the total approvals for this year to 6,100. By comparison, the Israeli Government approved 5,600 housing units in all of 2018.
“Israel’s actions indicate it plans to remain permanently and advance a claim of sovereignty,” said the human rights experts. “The Israeli Prime Minister made this clear when he said recently that: ‘No settlement and no settlers will ever be uprooted.’ Should we not take him at his word that Israel has no intention of complying with international law?
“Criticism without consequences is hollow. The international community has a wide menu of commonly-used countermeasures to push recalcitrant states into compliance with their international duties. If the international community is serious about its support for Palestinian self-determination and its opposition to Israeli settlements then, surely, the time has come for meaningful action.”
Occupying powers are forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Conventionfrom building civilian settlements in occupied territory. The Rome Statutehas defined the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian 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, as a war crime. The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 2334 (23 December 2016), stated that the Israeli settlements constitute “a flagrant violation under international law”.
The Israeli security cabinet also announced last week the approval of approximately 6,000 housing units for settlements, and 715 housing units for Palestinians living in Area C of the occupied West Bank.
The human rights experts noted that although the potential approval of housing units for Palestinians represents some progress, it by no means addresses the need. Between 2009 and 2016 there were more than 3,350 applications for permits with only 66 being approved. The experts expressed grave concern noting that the housing crisis and low rate of housing permit approval contributes to the coercive atmosphere facing Palestinians in Area C. Furthermore, the discriminatory approval of housing units, favouring Israelis and generally excluding Palestinians, would constitute a violation of articles 2.2 and 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Israel on 3 October 1991.
The experts also noted the comments of Israeli cabinet ministers, who have stated that the Palestinian housing permits were issued in order to deflect international criticism of Israel’s policies of house demolition and record approval of new settlement housing units and to thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state.
Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.
Ms. Leilani Farha is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms. Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. Her most recent report to the Human Rights Council focuses on access to justice for the right to housing.
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 Page: Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
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