UN Human Rights Chief’s dialogue with civil society in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

“Human rights defenders everywhere have my full support”, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay assured civil society representatives during her recent visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “All States have a responsibility to ensure the enjoyment of freedom of association, assembly and expression.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meets with fishermen at the port in Gaza. © OHCHR Photo/Rupert Colville The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights held four meeting with groups of human rights defenders in East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza City. “Civil society organizations everywhere must be able to carry out their activities in an open, safe and secure environment, without fear of retribution or curtailment of their activities,” she said.

Following her final civil society meeting in Gaza City, Pillay commended Gaza-based human rights defenders and civil society organizations “for their courageous efforts to promote human rights, accountability and the respect for the rule of law. In particular, I wish to salute the many organizations devoted to the rights of women in Gaza. Their work is absolutely essential. Recent crackdowns by the de-facto authorities, including forced closures of NGOs as well as efforts to limit the independence and unity of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, are unacceptable.” 

In Ramallah, NGOs noted the importance of follow-up on the recommendations of the Goldstone report, and informed the High Commissioner of measures, such as detention and travel bans, imposed on human rights defenders. 

Israel-based Non-Governmental Organizations raised issues of accountability and combating discrimination.  The High Commissioner noted “the current pressure … applied to Israel’s famously strong, independent and generally very professional human rights defenders. This is manifested in a dramatic increase in inflammatory rhetoric aiming to discredit them and undermine their work. This is a very troubling development. A strong and independent civil society is, like a free media and an independent judiciary, a cornerstone of an open democratic society. Israel should defend and be proud of its civil society organizations.”

Pillay told the defenders that it is her practice to hold consultations with civil society in Geneva and in the course of her visits to all regions.  “It is important for me to gain first-hand understanding of current human rights dynamics, and seeing how the role of civil society has developed, and is developing, is a crucial element in this,” she added.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 6 to 11 February. She met with officials at the highest level, including Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, as well as UN Agencies, and carried out several field visits.

24 February 2011