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Annexation is a flagrant violation of international law, says UN human rights expert

20 June 2019

GENEVA (20 June 2019) - Recent statements by senior Israeli political leaders and US diplomats in support of the annexation of parts or all of the occupied West Bank by Israel fly in the face of the absolute prohibition against the annexation of occupied territories, a UN human rights expert said today.

“International law is very clear: annexation and territorial conquest are forbidden by the Charter of the United Nations,” said Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. “The Security Council, beginning with Resolution 242 in November 1967, has expressly affirmed the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war or force on eight occasions, most recently in 2016.”

This reflects the seminal observation of Lassa Oppenheim, a renowned scholar of international law, who wrote in 1917, amidst the bloodbath of the First World War, that: “There is not an atom of sovereignty in the authority of the occupying power.”

Since the Second World War, the nations of the world have accepted that allowing war and conquest to remain a legitimate policy of modern statecraft is folly, Lynk said. “Without this absolute prohibition, acquisitive states would have a strong incentive to obfuscate the origins of the territorial acquisition, leading us backwards to the days when borders were impediments to overcome, rather than frontiers to respect.”

The Special Rapporteur observed that the absolute prohibition against annexation applies whether the occupied territory was acquired through a war of aggression or a defensive war.

“While annexation has not disappeared from the modern world, this strict prohibition in international law has had a considerable dampening effect,” said Lynk. He noted that the instances of annexation since 1948 have significantly declined, compared to the 120 years before the Second World War. “The power of the prohibition is that annexations in the modern world, when they do happen, are rarely recognized by other nations. International law, when married to international resolve, works.”

The Special Rapporteur called upon the international community to state now, clearly and comprehensively, that any further de jure annexations of occupied Palestinian territory by Israel will be condemned and will not be recognized. He also requested the international community to access its menu of international remedies and countermeasures, and to demand accountability from Israel with respect to its settlement enterprise and its current and planned annexation measures. 

“International criticism, absent any consequences, can no longer be justified in the current circumstances,” said Lynk “If annexation proceeds, the chances for a genuine and just peace in the foreseeable future will have gone from implausible to unimaginable.”


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. 

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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