Al-Haq Welcomes Adoption of UN Commission of Inquiry Recommendations on the Great Return March

Date: 23 March 2019
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Al-Haq participates in 40th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva – Source: UN Photo/Elma OkicAt the close of its 40th regular session, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council adopted on Friday, 22 March 2019, four resolutions on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including on accountability within the context of the Great Return March, adopting the recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 OPT Protests.[1].

Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), draft resolution A/HRC/40/L.25 was adopted by 23 votes in favour, eight votes against, and 15 abstentions, under the Council’s Agenda Item 2 on reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary-General. Moreover, three additional draft resolutions on Palestine were adopted under Agenda Item 7 on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, including on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (A/HRC/40/L.26), on the human rights situation in the OPT, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/40/L.27), and on Israeli settlements in the OPT and in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/HRC/40/L.28).

Adoption of Resolution on Accountability in the Context of the Great Return March

Al-Haq welcomes the adoption of draft accountability resolution A/HRC/40/L.25 on Friday, 22 March 2019, in which the UN Human Rights Council noted with grave concern the serious human rights violations and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity contained in the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry on 2018 OPT Protests, expressing alarm “that long-standing systemic impunity for international law violations has allowed for the recurrence of grave violations without consequence,” and stressing “the need to ensure accountability for all violations … in order to end impunity, ensure justice, deter further violations, [and] protect civilians”.

Accordingly, the resolution welcomes the report of the UN commission of inquiry on the 2018 OPT protests,[2] and called on all duty bearers and UN bodies to pursue the implementation of the commission’s recommendations, including in relation to lifting the Gaza closure, in addition to implementing the recommendations of previous UN commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions on Palestine.[3] The resolution further condemned “the apparent intentional use of unlawful lethal and other excessive force by Israel, the occupying Power, against civilians, including against civilians with special protected status under international law, notably children, journalists, health workers and persons with disabilities, who pose no imminent threat to life”[4], since the start of the Great Return March.

In addition, the resolution calls on States to fully cooperate with the preliminary examination, which is being conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court into the situation in Palestine, and with any subsequent investigation that may be opened.[5] The resolution calls upon all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) to respect, and to ensure respect for, international humanitarian law in the OPT, in compliance with their obligations as third States under Common Article 1 to the Geneva Conventions, and to fulfil their obligations under Articles 146, 147, and 148 with regard to penal sanctions for the commission of grave breaches.[6]

Finally, the resolution requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to strengthen the field presence” of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the OPT, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, “to deploy the personnel and expertise necessary to monitor and document the ongoing violations of international law in the context of large-scale civilian protests”, in addition to following up on the implementation of the UN recommendations contained in the report of the UN commission of inquiry.[7] As such, OHCHR is expected to provide the Human Rights Council with an oral update at its forty-second session in September 2019, and to present a report to the Council at its forty-third session in March 2020, to be followed by an interactive dialogue.[8]

Challenges Undermining Meaningful Accountability

Al-Haq welcomes the adoption of draft accountability resolution A/HRC/40/L.25, and applauds the stance taken by the UN Human Rights Council to bring an end to Israel’s impunity within the context of the ongoing Great Return March in the occupied Gaza Strip, which the IOF have violently suppressed since 30 March 2018.[9] In particular, Al-Haq welcomes the principled position taken by Spain, who voted in favour and noted its appreciation of the efforts by the State of Palestine to table the draft resolution under Item 2, instead of Item 7, to facilitate the discussion on ending Israel’s impunity.

At the same time, Al-Haq notes with grave concern that eight States have voted against the draft resolution, including: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Fiji, Hungary, and Ukraine. In addition, 15 States abstained from the vote, including: Argentina, Bahamas, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Rwanda, Slovakia, Togo, the United Kingdom (UK), and Uruguay. In particular, Al-Haq notes with concern that support for accountability in Palestine has declined since the Human Rights Council adopted resolution S-28/1 on 18 May 2018, establishing the UN commission of inquiry on the 2018 OPT protests, which had passed with 29 votes in favour, two votes against, and 14 abstentions.[10]

In this context, Al-Haq endorses the statement made by the Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva, Mr. Ibrahim Khreisheh, to the effect that “the voting patterns have shown that the issue is not about Item 7, it’s about how to grant Israel, the occupying power, impunity.”[11] In this regard, Al-Haq further deplores the position taken by the UK, Australia, and Denmark, who instead of supporting the promotion and protection of Palestinians’ rights, have voted against all draft resolutions presented under Item 7, including on illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT and in the occupied Syrian Golan, on the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and on ongoing human rights violations in the OPT. Rather than improve the efficiency of the UN Human Rights Council, this deplorable stance stands in violation of the obligations of third States, reinforces Israel’s long-standing impunity, and fails to protect Palestinians from further Israeli assaults.

UN Commission of Inquiry Recommendations and International Justice

Al-Haq strongly welcomes the Human Rights Council’s adoption of the recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 OPT protests, particularly its calls on Israel to lift its closure of the Gaza Strip with immediate effect and to fulfil the right to health of protected Palestinians, including injured protesters from the Great Return March. In this regard, Al-Haq calls for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations without delay and reaffirms once again its position that meaningful accountability can only be achieved once the root causes of the Great Return March are addressed and remedied.[12] Overall, the international community must step up its efforts towards adopting effective measures, within a specified time frame, to bring Israel’s 11-year closure, which has made Gaza uninhabitable, to an end. Ultimately, the international community must ensure the full realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of Palestinians to self-determination, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property, as mandated by international law.

As the Great Return March approaches its one-year mark on 30 March 2019, Al-Haq addresses urgent calls to third States, UN bodies and officials to guarantee the protection of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as they continue to exercise their right to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, including through effective monitoring during the upcoming demonstrations. At the same time, Al-Haq urges the High Commissioner for Human Rights to immediately refer the dossier on alleged perpetrators prepared by the UN Commission of Inquiry to the International Criminal Court, while reiterating its calls on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to immediately open an investigation into the situation in Palestine since 13 June 2014, and to investigate and prosecute suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the IOF in the context of the Great Return March in the occupied Gaza since 30 March 2018. Ultimately, Al-Haq’s General Director, Mr. Shawan Jabarin, has stressed that “international peace and security are grounded in achieving international justice and redress for the Palestinian people and in bringing to an end Israel’s culture of impunity.”

[1] See Al-Haq, “Press Release: Al-Haq Welcomes Report of UN Commission of Inquiry on Great Return March” (28 February 2019), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/targets/united-nations/1362-press-release-issued-by-al-haq-al-haq-welcomes-report-of-un-commission-of-inquiry-on-great-return-march.

[2] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 1.

[3] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 2.

[4] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 8.

[5] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 6.

[6] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 10.

[7] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 11.

[8] UN Doc. A/HRC/40/L.25, para. 11.

[9] Al-Haq, “30 March: 15 Palestinians Killed, More than a Thousand Injured, as IOF Violently Suppress Palestinian Protestors in the Gaza Strip” (31 March 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1206-30-march-15-palestinians-killed-more-than-a-thousand-injured-as-iof-violently-suppress-palestinian-protestors-in-the-gaza-strip.

[10] Al-Haq, “Al-Haq Attends 28th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the Situation in Palestine, Calls for Accountability” (22 May 2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/targets/united-nations/1255-al-haq-attends-28th-special-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council-on-the-situation-in-palestine-calls-for-accountability.

[11] See Wafa, “Palestine's envoy to UNHRC hails UN resolutions condemning Israel's abuse of Palestinian human rights” (22 March 2019), available at: http://english.wafa.ps/page.aspx?id=7TRDGqa108849135351a7TRDGq.

[12] Al-Haq, “Diplomatic Briefing: ‘The Great Return March: One Year On’” (15 March 2019), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/gaza/1369-diplomatic-briefing-the-great-return-march-one-year-on.