HRC49: Interactive Debate on Human Rights Violations in the OPT

49th Session of the Human Rights Council

28th February - 1st April 2022

Item 7 - Presentation of the High Commissioner and Secretary General’s reports

3rd March and 25th March 2022

By Lola Stirling and Yasmine Darwish / GICJ

Executive summary

During the meetings on the 3rd and the 25th of March 2022, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk presented their report on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory at the 49th session of the Human Rights Council. 

In her report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented that her Office had documented several incidents in which Israeli attacks may have violated international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and feasible precautions. However, almost 10 months later, her Office was not informed of any criminal investigations being launched regarding these incidents. She also noted pervasive impunity afforded to members of the Israeli security forces for incidents of possible excessive use of force outside the context of hostilities. Regarding the accountability of Palestinian authorities, she noted that the reporting period was marked by increased violence by Palestinian security forces, which may amount to violations against the right to life and physical integrity.

The Special Rapporteur’s report pays particular attention to the question of whether the Israeli occupation in Palestinian territory now amounts to apartheid.  Mr Lynk built on his findings and applied the Rome Statute's three-step test to demonstrate that, although the situation does share some of the same characteristics as the previous apartheid regime, Israel is imposing unprecedented measures in the territory. According to the Special Rapporteur's findings, the Israeli occupation fulfills the characteristics set out in the test for proof of apartheid. 

Geneva International Centre for Justice strongly supports the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. It is imperative that his important work in highlighting the vast number of injustices and human rights abuses occurring in the Occupied Territories be allowed to continue without hindrance. GICJ commends the Special Rapporteur for calling out the Israeli occupation of Palestine for what it is, an apartheid state. 


The Palestinian territory comprises the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem all of which have been under Israeli occupation and military rule since the Six Day War in 1967. To date, five million Palestinians are stateless and live without rights, suffering daily agressions which hinder their freedom. 

Despite settlement expansion being considered illegal under international law, Israel has continued to build settlements and expropriate land at an alarming rate, showing no remorse in evicting and displacing Palestinian people whilst demolishing their homes.  

This report is submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/2 A and Human Rights Council resolution 5/1. Under section 2(a) of this report, the Special Rapporteur is to investigate Israel’s violations of international law, international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention. Section 2(b) stipulates that the Special Rapporteur will receive communications, listen to witness testimony and use the procedure deemed necessary for his mandate. Section 2(c) denotes that the Special Rapporteur will continue to conduct reports, make conclusions and recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights at sessions until the end of the Israeli occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Special Rapporteur is to use information gained from conducting his mandate to foster international cooperation and to work alongside governments and civil society. 

Presentation of the Reports

Michelle Bachelet said the Israeli Minister of Defence has classified six Palestinian human rights and humanitarian groups as “terrorist organisations” under Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law, and the Israeli military commander in the West Bank has declared these and one other organisation ‘unlawful’. These decisions were based on vague and unsubstantiated allegations and it was stated that her Office remained unaware of any credible evidence to support the accusations. The High Commissioner, therefore, called upon Israel to revoke the classifications of Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organisations as terrorist or unlawful organisations due to the absence of sufficient evidence for these claims. She assured that her Office would continue monitoring the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and she called for the accountability of alleged violations committed by all relevant duty bearers.

Both the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur presenting their reports on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, said that during the reporting period, between 1 November 2020 and 31 October 2021, the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had further deteriorated. This period was marked by a significant increase in violence, including the largest escalation of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza since 2014. Israeli forces killed 315 Palestinians and injured 17,597 Palestinians. Several incidents, in which Israeli attacks may have violated international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and feasible precautions, were documented. 

However, almost a year later, there is still no record of any criminal investigation into these incidents for violations of international humanitarian law, including alleged war crimes perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. The High Commissioner also highlighted the pervasive impunity afforded to members of the Israeli Security Forces for incidents of possible excessive use of force outside the context of hostilities. Similarly, there was no progress in investigations into allegations of ill-treatment and torture of Palestinians in Israeli detention facilities.

Mr Lynk expressed deep concern over increasing settler violence and the suffering of Palestinian civil society. This is aggravated by the increasing number of settlements being erected. Settler violence has dramatically increased, with a rare few being held accountable ..for their actions which are often supported by Israeli authorities. Reports indicate the passive nature of Israeli authorities when dealing with incidents of settler violence, the lack of accountability further emboldens settlers to increase violence without worry of consequences. Figures state that 91% of Israeli investigations into settler attacks between 2005 and 2019 were closed without charges filed. 

Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk’s report strongly declares the existence of an apartheid state in Israel. Through applying the three step test from the Convention Against Apartheid and the Rome Statue, the Special Rapporteur has concluded that an apartheid state exists. The current Israeli political system provides one racial-ethnic group with substantial benefits, rights and privileges which it does not afford to the others. Israel even goes beyond this by depriving other groups of their basic rights and enforcing obstacles to hinder daily life, as seen with their relentless blockades, ruthless military presence and checkpoints to name a few. According to the Special Rapporteur this satisfies the evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid. 

He notes that although this apartheid regime shares some of the features practiced during the apartheid regime in South Africa, there are new features Israel imposes on its citizens which were not previously practiced. These include: segregated highways, high walls and extensive checkpoints, barricaded population, missile strikes, abandonment of Palestinians’ social welfare and the shelling of civilians. The Special Rapporteur asserts that “with the eyes of the international community wide open, Israel has imposed upon Palestine an apartheid reality in a post-apartheid world”.

The differences in the living conditions and citizenship rights between Palestinians and Israeli Jews is “stark, deeply discriminatory and maintained through systematic and institutionalised oppression.” According to the Special Rapporteur the system means that “the freedoms of one group are inextricably bound up in the subjugation of the other.” He asserts that discrimination has been built into Israel’s legal system and has been established for the long-term, to ensure and maintain Israeli domination over the Palestinian people. Israel’s continued mistreatment of the Palestinian people is in clear violation of international law and this realisation is not new. The Special Rapporteur states that in recent decades the Israeli occupation has become “indistinguishable from annexation”.

Ms Bachelet concluded her report by calling on Israeli authorities to conduct prompt, independent, impartial, thorough, effective and transparent investigations into all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including allegations of international crimes, and to ensure effective remedies to victims. The Special Rapporteur concluded his report with a series of recommendations, the first being that Israel complies with its obligations under international law and end the occupation of the Palestinian territory. All discriminatory and apartheid laws, practices and policies must end and the human rights of Palestinians must be fully respected. There must also be international measures that hold Israel accountable. The ICC and ICJ must also be fully supported by the international community. The Special Rapporteur further recommended the re-establishment of the Special Committee Against apartheid to investigate practices of systematic discrimination and oppression amounting to apartheid that occur globally, including in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Interactive dialogue


Concerned States

After presenting their report, the Special Rapporteur and the High Commissioner opened the floor to the states concerned. Israel did not attend.

The State of Palestine said the report of the High Commissioner lacked balance, as Israel was the occupying power, and Palestine was the victim of a colonialist occupation. The violence had caused the loss of hundreds of lives, including children, the elderly, journalists and medical workers which were flagrant violations of international law. The demolition and destruction of houses in East Jerusalem, and aggressions by settlers against Palestinians, involving settlers taking public and private property has become commonplace. Moreover, the blockade of the Gaza Strip has continued for more than 14 years, a gross violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The delegate decried the failure of the International Community to fulfil its responsibility to protect Palestine and the lack of accountability of the perpetrators who must be prosecuted.

Regarding the report of the Special Rapporteur, the Palestianian delegation commenced by thanking him for his ‘excellent report’ despite Israel preventing him from visiting. He continued his statement by highlighting the rising number of daily and continuous violations committed by Israel against the Palestinian people which had been demonstrated in Mr Lynk’s report. He spoke of daily hardships and expulsions with Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem used as poignant examples. The delegate condemned Israeli settler mobs and the daily provocations that Palestinian people are forced to endure. These daily provocations include; road closures, attacks on farmers, demolition of homes, daily targeting, extra judicial killings, and attacks on the media and civil society organisations. The delegate spoke out against the discriminatory laws in place, treating Palestinians as second class citizens under draconian rule, the Knesset denying them basic protections yet affording a comfortable life to Israeli Jews. The delegate labelled de facto rule as a ‘crime against humanity’ and asserted that Israel has concocted a system based on colonialism and merged with apartheid. They strongly called on the international community to compel the occupying power to dismantle the regime, end the occupation, take punitive steps and to revoke support for the current system. The representative terminated his statement by asking the Special Rapporteur about the possible legal ways to implement the conclusions stated in his report. 

Arab States

The first observing state to deliver a statement at the session was Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The statement designated apartheid as belonging to the same legal category as a war crime. Illegal policies and unilateral practices such as expansion, demolition and land grabs are used as brutal tools to undermine the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and to introduce strategic fragmentation of Palestinian territory. The delegate condemned the failure of the international community to impose sanctions enabling Israeli impunity. He implored  the international community to hold Israel accountable.

The Moroccan delegate  condemned the mass expulsions, transfers and deportations of Palestinian people. The delegate stated that Israel is in clear violation of its obligation as an occupying power. They echoed previous statements declaring Israel as committing the crime of apartheid and asked the international community to help dismantle and recognise the illegal situation. They firmly stated that Israel must be held accountable through economic sanctions. 

The delegate of Qatar commenced their statement by  condemning the Israeli authorities for not allowing the Special Rapporteur access to the territory while he was conducting his research for the report. The delegate spoke of the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the occupied territories highlighted throughout the Special Rapporteur’s report. The delegate condemned the Israeli expansion of settlements as a flagrant violation of international law. The delegate stated that Israel was in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and was committing a war crime in the eyes of the Rome Statute. They implored the international community to take actual measures against the occupier. Qatar concluded itsstatement by affirming their support for a Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders.

The delegate of Iraq  expressed agreement with previous states’ concerns regarding the human rights situation in the occupied territory and condemned the Israeli government for preventing the Special Rapporteur entry into Palestine to carry out his mission. The delegate deplored the racial discrimination suffered by Palestinian civilians at the hands of the occupying power. The delegate echoed the view that Israel was committing war crimes and is in violation of international law and human rights law. Iraq called on the international community to force the occupying power to be held accountable for its actions and to respect international law. The delegate concluded his statement by asserting that the only way to achieve peace is to put an end to the occupation and for Palestine to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. 

The delegate of Syria strongly condemned the war crimes and serious violations committed by Israel. Israel was accused of imposing colonial occupation and depriving the Palestinian people of their right to self-determination. The representative for Syria stated that Israel must be held accountable and must not be afforded Western protection. 

The representative of Saudi Arabia declared that Israel was disrespecting the Human Rights Council and the UN. The delegate called for an end to all discriminatory policies and for the respect of the rights of the Palestinian people and advocated for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. 

The representative of Kuwait condemned the international community’s disregard of the decisions of the council as ‘regretful’. The delegate criticised Israel’s attempts to eliminate the heritage of Jerusalem and condemned the invasions of settlers on holy sites and mosques. The delegate called for the international community to put an end to violations by implementing norms and holding Israel accountable. Kuwait stated that the Palestinian people were at the heart of their concerns. 

Yemen strongly criticised the excessive use of Israeli force as highlighted in the Special Rapporteur’s report. The delegate expressed support for the rights of the Palestinian people with pre 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital. Lebanon applauded the Special Rapporteur’s report for research conducted through legitimate and  convincing evidence and for the Special Rapporteur’s political analysis of the situation. The delegate condemned Israel’s actions,  stating that the occupier continues to impose a reality based on apartheid with the intention to consecrate the occupation and to deny Palestinians the right to self determination. The delegate called for an end to the occupation in the ‘strongest language’.

The delegate for Iran stated that those providing military assistance to Israel must be held to account, namely the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada. The delegate for Iran concluded the statement by asking the Special Rapporteur what the international community can do to fulfil its legal and moral responsibility. 

Asian States

The representative of Indonesia expressed concern regarding the demolition of Palestinian homes and Israeli settlement expansion. The delegate condemned apartheid, asserting that it ‘has no place in this world’ and that we must call a spade a spade, denouncing  Israel for what it is, an apartheid state. 

The delegate of Malaysia described the Special Rapporteur’s report as profoundly alarming. The delegate implored the international community to collectively denounce Israel’s apartheid policies and called for an end to Israeli impunity to allow for long lasting peace. The country expressed support for an independent Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

South American States

The Venezuelan delegate described the occupied territory as a ‘human warehouse with fierce blockades for more than 15 years with utter impunity’. The representative condemned the strategic division of Palestinian territory enhanced by Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing changing the legal and demographic nature of the state. The delegate referenced the 3 part test for apartheid and named Israel as fully satisfying the standard for the existence of apartheid. Venezuela expressed full support for an independent Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. 

African States

The representative for Namibia spoke of an apartheid reality existing with the state maintaining the dominance of one ethnic group. The delegate reminded the council of its obligation to prevent the emergence of apartheid regimes which negates the very principles of the Human Rights Council. The delegate expressed the need for a mechanism to be established to deal with apartheid practices against the Palestinian people. Namibia extended support to the people of Palestine. 

South Africa’s statement contained poignant references to their history with apartheid and noted the long term impact such a system has on a state. The delegate emphasised that the amount of violence used to sustain the occupation is constantly increasing and impacting the lives of Palestinian people. 

NGOs and civil society organisations

Most of the statements delivered by NGOs and civil society organisations mirrored those of the states in almost unanimous agreement that apartheid is being practiced. Israeli practices such as denying Palestinians the right to return, the transfer of Palestinian people, repressive policies to maintain apartheid, strategic fragmentation of Palestinian people, enabled Israeli impunity.

Some NGOs disagreed with the report calling it ‘antisemitic’ and stated that they were left “speechless” at the reasoning behind the Special Rapporteur’s claim that the Israeli state was practicing apartheid. The NGOs that asserted this did not however provide reasoning to support the notion that Israel is not an apartheid state. One of the statements was interrupted by the High Commissioner after they spoke only of previous antisemitic atrocities and events. The High Commissioner reminded the speakers to focus solely on the report at hand instead of assuming that the Human Rights Council is not aware of past atrocities. 

Concluding observations of the Special Rapporteur:

In response to questions posed by States and NGOs, Mr Lynk laid out recommendations for the international community to take action. Firstly, the international community should develop a comprehensive list of accountability measures until it complies with all relevant resolutions. Second, states must fully support the prosecutor of the ICC. Furthermore, the international community must support any initiative coming from the UN respecting the advisory opinions from the ICJ. If a peace process is to start, there must be active international intervention, the framework used must employ a rights based approach anchored in international law, the end goal must be the realisation of the Palestinian state and Israel must be designated as a bad faith occupier, occupation must end with deliberate speed. 

He further asserted that the UN should establish an international committee against apartheid.

In response to claims of antisemitism he referenced a recent article by Michael Ben-Yair, former attorney general of Israel. The article labelled the ongoing occupation as ‘a gross injustice’ and claimed that the state of Israel has ‘sunk to moral depths that it is now an apartheid regime’. Since 1977 Israeli authorities have justified their occupation by labelling it as ‘temporary until peace is found’, yet five decades later Israel shows no interest in rescinding control.  

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) thanks the Special Rapporteur and the High Commissioner for their comprehensive and factual reports and condemn Israel’s attempts to impede Mr Lynk’s research. GICJ stands firmly against any and all violations of hexpresses solidarity with the Palestinian people and with the creation of an independent Palestinian state. We remphasise that there can be no legitimacy of a Colonial State that continues to violate international human rights law and deny the Palestinian people their inalienable right to self-determination. In an oral statement delivered during the session, Amie Sillito, on behalf of GICJ and EAFORD, urged the International Community to pressure Israel to respect international law within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The occupying power must be held accountable for all of its actions, which are tantamount to apartheid. Concrete steps should be taken to implement international law and end the racist Israeli occupation.

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