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Statements Special Procedures

Israel/oPt: Enabling human rights defenders and peaceful protests vital for achieving ceasefire and lasting peace, say UN experts

13 February 2024

GENEVA (13 February 2024) – Undue restrictions imposed by States on peaceful protests and civil society working to protect human rights and advocating for respect of humanitarian law in the context of the war on Gaza, run contrary to States’ obligation under international law to prevent atrocity crimes, such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and apartheid, UN experts warned today. They issued the following statement:

As the international community takes steps towards negotiating a ceasefire that will end brutal hostilities in Gaza and deliver accountability for atrocities committed in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, we urge States to respect and enable the rights of everyone to freedom of peaceful assembly, of association and of expression.

It is urgent that States respect and protect the rights of civil society, human rights defenders, the academic community, and growing movements and protests calling for a ceasefire, peace, justice and the release of hostages and detained Palestinian civilians. These rights are key for enabling civil society and peaceful protest movements to play their important role to ensure a just and sustainable peace and end atrocity crimes and grave human rights violations, which we are currently witnessing against the Palestinian population in Gaza.

States must ensure that any measures related to countering terrorism, hate speech or anti-Semitism, public order or national security do not result in imposing undue restrictions, criminalisation or reprisals against civil society actors, human rights defenders and protesters.

Western countries and donors should immediately reverse their recent decision to suspend or restrict funding to vital Palestinian and Israeli civil society organisations that have been working on human rights for years. These measures, based on apparent unsubstantiated allegations related to diverting funding to “terrorist entities”, and specifically targeting civil society working on Palestinian rights, infringe the principle of non-discrimination, and violate the right of associations to seek, receive and use financial resources.

In line with the UN Secretary General’s call, we reiterate our calls for member States to reverse their funding suspension to the UN Agency for Palestine refugees in the near East (UNRWA), following serious allegations that 12 UNRWA personnel were involved in the 7 October attacks in southern Israel. Such broad measures, suspending or halting funding to entire organisations, are grossly disproportionate, appear politically motivated and contribute to collective punishment against Palestinian civilians already subjected to immense suffering, killing and starvation.

Peaceful protests and rights movements should be facilitated rather than restricted or criminalised for advocating for human rights, for international criminal accountability and an end to the international crimes against Palestinians.

Enabling and protecting human rights defenders and fundamental freedoms is also vital to give effect to the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice, which ordered preventing acts of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, including through the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts of genocide, monitoring and reporting on Israel’s compliance with the court order.”

See full statement here.

*The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; Ms. Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms. Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. Ms. Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Ms. Cecilia M. Bailliet, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.

Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups 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 of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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