8 September 2019
By: Audrey Ferdinand
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD or Committee) conducted its first review of Palestine during its 99th Session in Geneva, Switzerland, which ended 29 August 2019.
The Palestine delegation reiterated its full commitment to UN mechanisms and bodies and outlined the consultation process with civil society organisations and ethnic groups that led to its report. It reminded the Committee that discrimination has resulted from the prolonged occupation by Israel and then proceeded to discuss the Palestine's implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The Committee posed a wide-ranging series of issues and questions to the delegation ranging from the need for updated and disaggregated data on cases of discrimination; instances of honour killings, child marriage and discrimination against women; and measures taken to improve the living conditions of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), to the ability of minority groups to represent themselves in the media; how children are educated about their culture and identity without turning to racism and discrimination; and the harmonisation of laws between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The delegation then responded to with additional information on a number of points. On 29 August 2019, CERD released its concluding observations with a number of recommendations for Palestine to improve the situation of racial discrimination.
GICJ recalls that racial discrimination contributes to economic and social inequalities. The violations of rights of some minorities has disastrous impacts on their lives as well as on the development of the society in its whole. As far as possible in the context of the Israeli occupation, the State of Palestine must take all necessary measures to reduce discrimination. We hope that the State of Palestine will provide disaggregated data on cases of racial discrimination, put in place training and awareness raising campaigns regarding minorities’ rights, and adopt a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination. We look forward to Palestine's interim report in one year.
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Reviews State of Palestine during its 99th Session
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD or Committee) conducted its first review of Palestine on 13 – 14 August 2019 during its 99th Session in Geneva, Switzerland. The purpose of the review was to evaluate the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD or the Convention) by Palestine.
In this article, GICJ will explain how the Committee works and describe how the review of Palestine went, the questions of the experts, answers of the delegation, concluding observations of the Committee and, finally, GICJ’s own point of view on the session.
The Committee Process
The Committee is a body of independent experts monitoring the implementation of the Convention by its State parties. States parties must report to the Committee in the first year of their ratification and then, every two years. The reports of the State party, national human rights institutions (NHRI) and of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are submitted to the Committee and reviewed by it. The review often consists in two three-hour-long meetings and the publication of recommendations at the end of the session.
During the first meeting, the delegation of the State presents its report and gives an update, followed by the presentation of a report by the NHRI. Then one of the Committee members, which has been designated as “country rapporteur”, presents a report about the implementation of the Convention by the State party and poses a series of questions. Following this presentation, other members of the Committee pose questions to the delegation.
In the second meeting, the delegation answers the questions asked during the first meeting, then the Committee members can again make remarks and ask questions to which the delegation can provide responses. The meeting closes with concluding remarks from the country rapporteur and the delegation.
The State is asked to provide a follow-up report within one year.
Overview of the Review of Palestine
On the occasion of this first review, the delegation, chairperson and experts recalled the particular case of Palestine, which is under occupation, and underlined the difficult challenges they are facing and will face as long as the Palestinian people cannot exercise the right to self-determination.
Even though reports to UN Committees must be focused on the country reviewed, they explained that the case of Palestine cannot be understood without talking about Israeli laws and violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which undermines the actions of the State of Palestine. It further recognised that the de-facto Hamas government in the Gaza strip make the actions of the State more difficult to carry out. The Committee nonetheless recalled that the government of Palestine should take all measures to ensure the respect of the Convention and other international and national legal instruments within its whole territory.
The delegation reiterated its full commitment to UN mechanisms and bodies and outlined the consultation process with civil society organisations and ethnic groups that led to its report.
It reminded the Committee that discrimination can come from prolonged occupation and the infringements upon Palestinians’ right to self-determination through the existing colonial system, forced displacement, killings, the permit system and confiscation of lands – it called out institutionalised discrimination.
Aside from numerous discriminatory actions from Israel, the delegation discussed the issues existing within Palestine in the implementation of ICERD by the State.
The delegation stated that it conducted a survey on discrimination, according to which 18 per cent of people have been victims of discrimination. This survey showed a higher level of discrimination in the Gaza Strip.
It further declared that several laws have been passed or are under consideration, including on the access to higher education without discrimination and the amendment of article 99 of the criminal code, which previously allowed reduced sentences in case of honour killings.
The country rapporteur and experts
The chairperson and experts welcomed the report and explanations of the delegations, commending Palestine’s ratification of the Convention without reservation and the steps taken towards the elimination of racism.
The country rapporteur, Chinsung Chung, asked the government of Palestine to submit a common core document, and why such a low number of NGOs in Palestine are working on the issue of discrimination. She asked for updated and disaggregated data on race, ethnicity and national origin; on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers; and on cases of racial discrimination, hate crime and hate speech that have been brought before a court. She regretted the lack of a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination. She asked, referring to the Supreme Constitutional Court’s decisions, if the Convention will be fully implemented. She asked for information regarding the harmonisation of laws between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; on honour killings, child marriage and discrimination against women; and on religious groups. She asked about the measures taken to improve the living conditions of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as those taken to reduce the risk of statelessness, and if the government will establish data on foreign workers. Finally, she asked about the measures taken to fight human trafficking and for the rehabilitation of victims.
Other member of the Committee asked for information on Roma people; about the right of minority groups to represent themselves in the media; for data on complaints filed for racial hatred and the awareness raising and training needed for people to know their rights in this regard; if a Jewish minority was living in Palestine, and how it was integrated into society; and if an internal roadmap of SDGs is in place. They asked several questions related to children, including the request for data on school attendance and challenges faced by children to go to school; how children are educated about their culture and identity without turning to racism and discrimination; if children from minorities have access to school in their own language. They then asked questions regarding the laws, including the impact of the laws on the population; the differences in legislation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; the process of publishing and implementing laws; the laws on domestic workers, the regulation of their hours and the penalties for violent employers.
Answers from the delegation
The delegation responded to the questions by recalling that many services in Palestine are provided by Israel and that the ongoing occupation creates an atmosphere conducive to violence and discrimination. It deplored that groups of individuals are trying to force a false definition of antisemitism; outlining that being a Palestinian fighting for the rights of Palestine against Israel should not fall under the term of “antisemitism”.
The delegation said the common core document is almost finalised; that respect for every ethnic community and culture was promoted in the classroom; that a Committee has been set up to follow the implementation of the Convention; and that the State contributes financially to the Independent Commission for Human Rights. This Commission has been receiving complaints from Palestinians regarding human rights violations but, of the 2500 complaints on human rights violations received each year, none concerns racial discrimination. Since the State accepted article 14 of the ICERD, this Commission will now be in charge of receiving the individual complaints filed under this article.
The delegation outlined the issue of labelling people as “minorities”, this word giving the impression of third-class citizen, and acknowledged the importance of raising awareness regarding the specific rights this status would give.
The delegation then gave data regarding access to education, health and justice of people from different ethnic and religious groups, as well as information on the laws existing to combat racial discrimination, human trafficking, child marriage, abuses of domestic and foreign workers, and statelessness. Regarding the last issue, the delegation said it will consider ratifying the two UN convention on statelessness.
Concluding observations from CERD
On Thursday, 29 August 2019, CERD released its concluding observations on the combined initial and second periodic reports of the State of Palestine.
In these observations, the Committee, while acknowledging the difficult conditions of work for the State of Palestine due to the occupation and settlements, reminded the delegation that the State should nonetheless take “all possible measure to implement (the Convention) in all parts of the territory.” It regretted that the limited progress made in resolving internal political issues is having negative effects on Palestinians’ enjoyment of their rights. The Committee noted several positive aspects, such as Palestine’s accession to many international human rights instruments and legislative measures on public education, culture and rule of law.
It raised concerns regarding 11 main issues:
- It called for more disaggregated statistics.
- It called for the publication of the Convention in the Official Gazette and to “ensure that the interpretation of the Supreme Constitutional Court, in its decisions No. 4 of 19 November 2017 (2017) and No. 5 (2018) of 12 March 2018, and its application do not prevent persons or groups living in the territory of the State party, including Palestinian non-Arab people, from fully enjoying their rights under the Convention”, and to conduct training for both law enforcement officials and the population to ensure that the provisions of the Convention are known and used before courts.
- It asked for a comprehensive definition of “discrimination” and the adoption of legislation in this regard.
- It expressed its concerns regarding the compliance of laws with human rights treaties, especially since laws enacted by presidential decrees are not enforced in the Gaza Strip since the 2006 suspension of the Palestinian Legislative Council and since the Palestinian Legislative Council was dissolved in December 2018. It asked for the harmonisation of laws implemented in the different parts of Palestinian territory and for popular participation in decision making.
- It recommended that the State party formalize in law the establishment of the Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine and provide it with adequate human and financial resources to carry out its mandate.
- It raised its concern regarding the fact that no complaints of racial discrimination have been brought before the Independent Commission for Human Rights and recalled that this may “reveal a lack of suitable legislation” instead of the fact that such discrimination does not occur. It asked for training programs, an education campaign and disaggregated statistics in this regard.
- It is concerned that broad legal provisions of several instruments – the 1936 Penal Code, the 1960 Jordanian Penal Code, the Press and Publication Act, the Cybercrimes Act, and Presidential Decree No. 8 – allow restrictions on free speech, “the criminalization of journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression”. It asked the Government to amend the above-mentioned laws in accordance with article 4 of the Convention to ensure they are not used against human rights defenders, and to combat hate speech and incitement of violence.
- It expressed its concerns regarding the Bedouins and asked for measures ensuring all minorities have full access to their rights. It also asked Palestine to ensure that all minorities are adequately represented in public and political life.
- Regarding migrant domestic workers, the Committee regretted the lack of information on working conditions. It asked that the employment of migrant domestic workers be regulated under the Labour Act and for information on the measures taken to protect them from exploitation.
- It recommended that the State eliminate “all barriers faced by minority women in access to employment, education, health and justice.”
- It asked for the adoption of a comprehensive nationality law, harmonising the existing laws in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Other recommendations included the ratification of other treaties; to add in its next report information on measures taken to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action; to prepare and implement a suitable programme of measures and policies in collaboration with organizations and peoples of African descent.in the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent; consultations with the civil society; and the prepare a common core document that the State is encouraged to submit and update regularly.
The Committee finally requested a follow up within one year on statistics, the inclusion of the Convention in the domestic legal order, the harmonization of legislation and compliance with the Convention, and on nationality.
We recall that racial discrimination contributes to economic and social inequalities. The violations of rights of some minorities has disastrous impacts on their lives as well as on the development of the society in its whole. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated, in its article 1, that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This equality cannot be achieved when States perpetrate, or allow within their territory, acts of racial discrimination.
We further recall that the State is responsible for the implementation of the international instrument it is party to. In this aim, as far as possible in the context of the Israeli occupation, the State of Palestine must take all necessary measures to reduce discrimination.
We welcome the presentation of the report by the delegation but regret that the delegation did not answer all the Committee’s questions and are looking forward to its interim report in one year.
We hope that the State of Palestine will provide disaggregated data on cases of racial discrimination, put in place training and awareness raising campaigns regarding minorities’ rights, and adopt a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination.
 The Independent Commission for Human Rights is Palestine’s National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).
 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Concluding Observations on the Combined Initial and Second Periodic Reports of the State of Palestine, UN Doc. No. CERD/C/PSE/CO/1-2 (Advance unedited version 29 August 2019), https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/PSE/CERD_C_PSE_CO_1-2_36938_E.pdf.
human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, gicj, Geneva International Centre for Justice, Racial Discrimination, Racism, Palestine, Justice