United Nations human rights experts on Monday, April 25, called upon governments across the world to resume funding for the six Palestinian human rights organizations banned by Israel last year after it designated them as ‘terrorist groups’. The experts criticized Israel for failing to provide any credible evidence against the groups after outlawing them. They also expressed concern that Israel is misusing anti-terrorism laws to target and persecute Palestinian human rights and civil society groups.
In a statement released yesterday on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the experts said, “Israel’s disturbing designation of these organizations as ‘terrorist organizations’ has not been accompanied by any public concrete and credible evidence. We note that the information presented by Israel has also failed to convince a number of governments and international organizations that have traditionally provided funding for the indispensable work of these six organizations. We call on the funding governments and international organizations to swiftly conclude that Israel has not established its allegations and to announce that they will continue to financially and politically support these organizations and the communities and groups they serve.”
Israel’s defense minister announced the decision to label the six Palestinian organizations as ‘terrorist’ groups in October last year. The move was condemned by the UN human rights office, international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, several Israeli and international Jewish groups including B’Tselem and Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as by a number of labor unions, governments and politicians around the world. The move was described as a blatant attack on Palestinian human rights as well as the international human rights movement. The six banned groups wereAl-Haq, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Defense for Children International Palestine, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and Union of Agricultural Work Committees. Israel proceeded to shut down their offices, confiscate their assets, and prosecute, arrest and imprison their leaders and employees on terrorism and other serious charges. The move caused several of their financial sponsors to delay or suspend contributions pending investigation of the Israeli claims. This includes the European Union which used to provide funds for two of the six banned groups.
The UN experts have now warned that the extended and unjustified lack of funds does immense damage to the Palestinian communities that these groups serve. The groups’ activities and work is related to human rights, democracy, equality, law and legal assistance, children’s and women’s rights, and the welfare of farmers. The statement goes on to “recognize and applaud the indispensable work of Palestinian civil society in holding Israel accountable for its occupation and human rights violations and in promoting democratic principles and human rights within Palestinian society.”
Regarding the terrorism charges leveled against the groups by Israel, the experts said, “applying anti-terrorism laws to well-regarded human rights defenders and civil society organizations – without persuasive evidence to substantiate these claims – seems to indicate a politically-motivated attempt by Israel to silence some of its most effective critics in violation of their rights to freedom of association and of expression. We are deeply disturbed by Israel’s apparent misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to attack some of the leading civil society organizations in Palestine. Such misuse must be rejected and countered. The United Nations has been very clear that the drafting and application of anti-terrorism laws have to be rigorously consistent with international law and human rights protections, including the principles of legal certainty, necessity, proportionality, the rule of law and non-discrimination.”
The expert welcomed a recent statement made by Belgian minister of development cooperation Meryame Kitir saying that no action will be taken against the six Palestinian groups as an internal investigation carried out by the Belgian administration did not reveal any evidence of the allegations. It further added that the evidence provided by Israel is insufficient and does not warrant any action.
The experts also ask for an increase in funding for the groups and “demand that Israel retract the designations and cease its harassment of all Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights and civil society organizations which promote human rights and accountability in Israel and Palestine.”