Al-Haq Urges Continued Pursuit of International Law Standards in ongoing Negotiations
Al-Haq welcomes the decision of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to accede to key international treaties on behalf of the State of Palestine and particularly congratulates its decision not to submit any reservations. Accession to international treaties and the utilisation of their associated mechanisms is Palestine's right as a State under international law. These treaties constitute internationally legitimate means for the realisation of Palestinian human rights and set a standard to be upheld both domestically and internationally.
To this end, it is essential that the relevant Palestinian authorities ensure that their practice conforms to their obligations under international human rights law to the extent possible, taking into account Israel's continued control over the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). As such, ultimate responsibility to provide for the fundamental guarantees of protected persons under international humanitarian law, as complemented by human rights law norms, remains with Israel as the Occupying Power.
Al-Haq further welcomes the decision by the United Nations (UN) to accept the accession by the State of Palestine to eight UN human rights treaties; the decision by the Swiss Federal Council to accept the accession instruments to the Four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Geneva Conventions) and Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions; and the decision by the government of the Netherlands to accept the accession instruments to the Hague Regulations of 1907. The Four Geneva Conventions and Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions entered into force immediately upon accession, on 2 April 2014.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will enter into force for the State of Palestine on 2 May 2014. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict will enter into force for the State of Palestine on 7 May 2014. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) will enter into force for the State of Palestine on 2 July 2014. The Hague Regulations of 1907 will enter into force for the State of Palestine on 1 June 2014.
Notably, most international humanitarian and human rights law norms have been applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and to Israel's conduct as the Occupying Power prior to Palestine's formal accession as a State Party to the treaties, as many of the provisions of these treaties codify customary international norms. The accession to treaties could potentially improve the situation on the ground if monitoring and non-judicial enforcement mechanisms, such as the UN human rights treaty bodies, are utilised effectively and in good faith by public authorities and civil society.
Al-Haq condemns pressure exerted by the United States (US) and Israel to prevent Palestine from joining international organisations and acceding to international treaties, including in particular the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Under international law, the State of Palestine's right to access international accountability mechanisms cannot be restricted and, as such, must not be reduced to a political bargaining tool in the context of ongoing negotiations. Doing so would undermine the stated aim of the international legal order, enshrined in the UN Charter and constituting customary international law, to promote the settlement of international disputes "in conformity with the principles of justice and international law".
Furthermore, to equate the precondition of abstaining from accession to international treaties and joining organisations with a freeze on all Israeli settlements, as was reportedly done by US Secretary of State John Kerry last month in an attempt to push negotiations beyond their 29 April deadline, is misleading. Israel's construction of settlements and transfer of its civilians into occupied territory amount to serious breaches of international law and constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. Accession to international treaties and membership in international organisations is a lawful and peaceful means for promoting the exercise by the Palestinian people of their internationally-recognised right to self-determination, as set out in numerous UN resolutions.
"The rights of Palestinian people are not subject to compromise", Shawan Jabarin, General Director of Al-Haq, stated. "Any pressure exerted by external actors to sideline the pursuit of justice through international mechanisms should be condemned. The refusal or postponement of the process of accession to international conventions and organisations deprives Palestinians of the means that could significantly strengthen respect for human rights standards and enforce the law against Israeli violations of international law" he said.
Threats by the Israeli authorities to withhold tax money from the Palestinian Authority, and US threats to withdraw resources from international organisations, in response to Palestine's accession to international treaties, have no justification under international law. As the Occupying Power, Israel is bound by international humanitarian law, which prohibits such acts due to their effect of collective punishment of the civilian population.
Al-Haq urges the State of Palestine to take further steps in pursuance of accession to international treaties and membership in international organisations, including the Rome Statute of the ICC. Without access to the ICC or other criminal justice mechanisms, an effective remedy for Israel's internationally unlawful conduct, including violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the OPT, remains out of reach. As such, Palestine should pursue the ratification of the Rome Statute or seek to reactivate its 2009 self-referral declaration without further delay.
In the interim, all States, international organisations and actors, such as the European Union, should support the State of Palestine - represented by the PLO in its international relations - in its efforts to join international treaties and organisations. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian civil society should use international mechanisms in good faith, in pursuit of a concerted strategy that seeks accountability for perpetrators of international law violations, including international crimes. Such steps on the international level can provide a concrete normative basis for Palestinians and third States alike in challenging Israel's internationally unlawful acts.