The 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council
27 February – 4 April 2023
Agenda Item 2: Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
3rd March 2023
By Farah Caïdi / GICJ
2022 saw the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the past 17 years. Yet, 2023 is closely following the same trend.
On the 3rd of March 2023, in his report, the High Commissioner for human rights warned of lethal force being regularly used by Israeli Security Forces as an initial measure rather than a last resort measure, regardless of the level of threats they face.
Additionally, 2022 marked the highest number of Palestinians in administrative detention in 15 years. Being held in administrative detention means being denied access to a proper defence, trial, and legal detention conditions.
Settlements’ implementations are on the rise, further dividing and fragmenting Palestinian Occupied Territory. These settlers' outposts, encouraged by the Israeli government, are only fueling settlers’ violence against Palestinians.
Finally, Palestinian civil society is more than ever threatened by Israel. With the aim of instilling fear and breaking their influence, human rights organisations especially suffer from Israeli reprisals, thus impacting the whole society. Many of them have warned about this alarming trend.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the work of the High Commissioner and calls for accountability to be the priority when coming to examine the Israel/Palestine question.
The present report’s recommendations to achieve accountability clearly converge with other UN mechanisms' conclusions. The Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel identified "forced displacement, threats of forced displacement, demolitions, settlement construction and expansion, settler violence, and the blockade of Gaza as contributing factors to recurring cycles of violence". The Commission emphasised that “impunity and perpetual occupation are the root causes of escalating tensions and violence”. Therefore, the cycle of violence can only be broken when impunity is no more.
Back in the beginning of 2021, tensions increased by the day in Palestine, particularly in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Escalating tensions around East Jerusalem and Al Aqsa compound during the Holy month of Ramadan have sparked fire to Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the whole of Palestine, leading to a worldwide wave of protests in solidarity with the latter. It unfortunately led to the deadly episode of bombings between Israel and the Gaza Strip that devastated the latter (10-21 May 2021).
In 2021, East Jerusalem, already considered illegally occupied under international law, felt more than ever under threat. Their residents felt they were being pushed out from the city and from its religious sites.
The Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood came under the spotlight. More than a hundred families lived under the pressure of home eviction and house demolition. Some families have already been evicted and their houses demolished over the years, and the rest are living with the daily fear of eviction by the Israeli authorities. This is when the families decided to mobilise and gather support. Muna and Mohammed al Kurd, two siblings living there, became the face of the solidarity movement when they decided to run two media campaigns, one in Arabic and one in English to spur international reaction. These campaigns were a success and played a huge role in galvanising the waves of solidarity in Palestine and worldwide.
In response to the protests of Palestinians on the ground, and alarmed by the extent of their unification around this cause, Israeli forces reacted with force. As a regular modus operandi, they violently dispersed any group forming, using sound and stun grenades as well as skunk water.
Consequently, pressure was also put on Palestinians in their access to the Damascus gate (Bab al Amoud) and to Al Aqsa compound. Worshippers were also dispersed and dissuaded to stay in the mosque, resulting in images showing Israeli security forces violently beating them, breaking the mosque’s windows, firing stun grenades and tear gas inside. Adding to that, some flagrant violations of Al Aqsa status quo and to the right of the Palestinians to perform their religion were committed, with processions of settlers coming on the compound under the protection of Israeli forces. These tensions triggered the deadly episode of bombings between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The beginning of 2022 started under the banner of continued violence and showed no ending sign of demolitions and occupation. The eviction of a prominent family of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in January set the tone of this new year. 2022 has been recorded by the United Nations as being the most violent and deadly year in the OPT since it started to record violations in 2005.
A resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in March 2022 came to specifically demand action on accountability and justice regarding the human rights violations committed throughout the years as well as the ongoing violations. At the request of this resolution, a report was released at the Human Rights Council 52 and a discussion was scheduled with States and civil society organisations. Since the resolution’s adoption, all the alarming trends highlighted by the different experts and civil society organisations on the ground have taken shape. Impunity fuels the cycles of violence, and this is the main point outlined by the High Commissioner’s report summarised below.
Presentation of the report
The present report was submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 49/4 and covers the period between 1 November 2021 and 31 October 2022.
The resolution 49/4 was adopted by the Human Rights Council on the 31st of March 2022.
The report was achieved by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR’s office) on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The OHCHR’s staff couldn’t get information on the ground as Israel refused to grant them entry visas.
During the reporting period, the human rights situation kept aggravating, especially in the northern West Bank. The casualties amounted to 161 Palestinians killed and 10,298 injured in the OPT by Israeli forces. The report noted as well a continued increase of settlers’ attacks.
Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and update on accountability
- Civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects during conduct of hostilities
The report highlights the casualties and damages to civilian objects that happened during the escalation of hostilities in Gaza from 5 to 7 August 2022. The UN counted 50 Palestinians killed, among them 36 civilians. 383 Palestinians were injured including 164 children.
Over 600 Palestinians were left homeless.
Given the high number of civilian casualties and damages to civilian objects, the report raised questions about the respect for the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the principles of proportionality and precautions in attack.
It warned about attacks that seemed to be targeted to civilians without any military objective nearby, possibly constituting a war crime.
The same concern was raised by the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
No criminal investigations were opened as of 31st October 2022 for the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces during the August 2022 hostilities.
The same lack of proper investigations was noted for the previous hostilities of May 2021, despite numerous alleged violations of humanitarian law and human rights reported.
- Collective punishment
Collective punishment is identified in International Humanitarian Law as being general sanctions inflicted on a population on account of the acts of individuals.
The land, sea and air blockade on Gaza is by far the most flagrant example of collective punishment on a whole population, estimated at 2.5 million inhabitants. The closure of this region creates other human rights violations, whether it is on freedom of movement but also on access to water, food and medical care. The report shed light on 11 patients who died while waiting for Israel to grant permits enabling them to be treated outside of Gaza.
But this kind of punitive measure is being committed regularly and on a wide scale by Israel. It takes multiple shapes. For example, they regularly resort to blockades of cities, neighbourhoods or refugee camps, controlling their entry and exit. But it can also materialise into punitive demolitions of the family homes of alleged Palestinian attackers.
During the reporting period, the High Commissioner recorded 11 residential structures punitively demolished.
No information was released on any measures taken by Israel to stop this practice or to hold the perpetrators to account.
- Unlawful killings and injuries in the context of law enforcement
The High Commissioner recorded 131 Palestinians (97 men, 29 boys and 5 women) killed by the Israeli security forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, mostly by use of firearms. Around half of them were killed in the context of attempted or alleged attacks on Israelis or in armed clashes.
It is important to note as well that nearly half of the Palestinians were killed when they were not using firearms but throwing stones. Consequently, Israel forces are strongly suspected by the report of having committed extrajudicial killings.
The attack on the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and her team is symbolic of the regular violence and the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force and firearms.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s case is also significant in showing the complete lack of accountability. The journalist was a binational, US and Palestinian citizen. Even though, no transparent and conclusive investigations were conducted by Israel or the United States.
The same impunity is highlighted in the report regarding the unlawful use of force by Israeli security forces outside the context of hostilities.
Since the High Commissioner began reporting to the Human Rights Council on accountability (between January 2017 and October 2022), 559 Palestinians have been killed, including 120 children. Only 79 criminal investigations were opened by Israel, only 3 of those led to convictions.
The High Commissioner recalled that “International human rights law requires that all deaths and injuries caused by use of force in law enforcement operations be subject to an independent, impartial, transparent, thorough and effective investigation.”
- Undue restrictions on freedoms of expression and association
Echoing the calls of numerous civil society organisations, the report shed light on a continued decline of the civil society space.
Illustrating this alarming trend, is the designation of 6 human rights organisations as “terrorist organisations” for their supposed affiliation to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in October 2021. Others were designated as “unlawful”. These designations were quickly followed by a military order that enabled the Israeli forces to execute the measures related to the designation, such as closures of offices, confiscation, administrative arrests and more. In August 2022, their offices suffered from a violent crackdown of Israeli forces. They raided and damaged their offices and material, confiscating their files. A military order to close the offices was left. They have not received prior notice regarding these actions.
The allegations against the organisations are still unknown. Israel claims that the accusations they have are part of a secret file they can’t disclose. However, the defence must be provided with something to answer to in order to uphold their innocence. In this situation, the lawyers are therefore unable to challenge the decision legally and are even threatened by the Ministry of Defence for representing “terrorist organisations”. One of the members of the Commission of Inquiry on the OPT once said that these actions amount to obstruction of justice among others, which is a violation of international law.
- Gender-based violence, including against women human rights defenders
Women human rights defenders were particularly targeted, as some of them occupying senior positions in organisations promoting women’s rights were threatened and arbitrarily detained. The report mentions the case of the director of the “Health Work Committees'' organisation, detained between July 2021 and June 2022.
She testified of ill-treatment she suffered for weeks: limited sleep, 8-to-11-hour interrogations, being transported to interrogation while handcuffed, and being shackled for 8 hours every day. She testified that it led to her coerced confession. That is why the report stated strong suspicions of torture during interrogation leading to coerced confession.
In addition, the victims mentioned the threats they received against their families, some of them directed at women specifically, revealing deep-rooted discriminations.
- Arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment
The report shed light on 820 Palestinians in administrative detention (812 men, 5 boys and 3 women), without charge or trial. The High Commissioner concluded that it is the highest number since 2008.
In administrative detention, a person is held without trial without having committed an offence, on the grounds that he or she plans to break the law in the future. As this measure is supposed to be preventive, it has no time limit.
The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them. This leaves the detainees helpless – facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released, and without being charged, tried or convicted.
Some of the Palesitians detained are kept in this situation for years, regularly subjected to ill-treatments.
The report mentions that the lack of accountability affects also the violations relating to torture and ill-treatment of Palestinians in Israeli detention facilities.
Sexual assault, physical harms, and humiliation are far too common.
Recommendations of the report
The High Commissioner recommended to ensure the respect of human rights law and humanitarian law, including regarding the use of firearms in law enforcement activities. They must be used only in cases of imminent threat of death or serious injury as a measure of last resort.
Prompt, thorough, independent, impartial and effective investigations must be conducted after each incident of use of force. Perpetrators must be held accountable and victims must be granted compensations.
All measures of collective punishments must be brought to an end, including the end of the blockade and closure of the Gaza Strip.
All duty bearers must end all practices that may amount to torture or ill-treatment, including sexual violence.
The designations against the Palestinians human rights organisations as “terrorists” or “unlawful” must be urgently revoked.
Finally, the report asked Israel to resume its cooperation with the OHCHR, including granting visas to its international staff to access the OPT.
The Israeli delegation was not present at the discussion.
State of Palestine:
The delegate of Palestine recalled that the report mentioned Israel as being the occupying power and the State of Palestine described as being under colonial and settler occupation which amounts to an apartheid regime.
He denounced the new government of Israel as having escalated the situation against Palestinians, especially against its religious sites.
He further condemned the discourse of some other States, in particular the United States, promoting human rights, but not speaking a word about Palestinians, or when so, to denounce the measures the UN would take to reinforce accountability on the field. The delegate recalled the criticisms made by the USA regarding the establishment of a fact finding mission in Israel.
He asked for the international community to take punitive measures against Israel as an occupying power.
Qatar on behalf of the group of Arab States:
The Arab group condemned Israel's refusal to cooperate with the OHCHR and the council’s mechanisms. The delegate denounced the human rights violations committed by Israel, including war crimes, apartheid related crimes, and illegal expansion of colonial settlements in the OPT.
The European Union (EU):
The EU delegate called for a proportionate use of force by Israel and expressed the EU strong opposition of Israel settlement policy including in East Jerusalem. The EU condemned settlers’ violence. He denounced the launch of rockets on both sides.
Oman on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC):
The representative expressed the Gulf Cooperation Council’s concern regarding the escalation of hostilities and human rights violations without any sign of slowing down.
They called Israel to fulfil its international obligation. The delegate reaffirmed that the GCC’s States support an independent Palestinian State within the border of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Arab Peace initiative.
Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC):
The OIC denounced what it finds as a pattern in the report to create a false equivalence between Israel, the occupying power and the Palestinians, the people living under occupation.
The delegate reiterated that no legitimacy is possible for a colonising State that has committed grave crimes against humanity for decades. He condemned the continuity of those said crimes without accountability and recalled that they are well established in international law.
The representative of Kuwait reiterated the State condemnation of all flagrant violations committed by the Israeli State.
France aligned itself with the EU statement. The French delegate called for all parties to refrain from actions that could further fuel the escalation of violence. She reiterated the condemnation of the illegal settlement policy.
The Tunisian delegate denounced the report for putting Israel and the Palestinian people on the same scale in terms of obligations and rights. He reaffirmed Tunisia’s support to the Palestinian people in their struggle for independence from the occupying power.
The representative of Qatar condemned the human rights violations and the complete lack of accountability to this day.
The United Arab Emirates:
The UAE representative called for all parties to respect international human rights law. He further insisted that both sides particularly must implement the recommendations listed at the end of the report.
He urged both sides to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms, especially the Human Rights Council.
The State aligned with the EU statement.
The Irish delegate especially insisted on the obligations falling upon Israel as an occupying power under international law, including the duty to protect civilians.
He condemned the announcement of the settlements’ expansions as well as the legalisation of settlements outposts. He supported the High Commissioner's request to revoke the designations targeting some of the human rights organisations as “terrorists” or “unlawful”.
The Chinese representative expressed China’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and condemned the human rights violations exposed in the High Commissioner’s report.
Indonesia aligned itself with the statement of Pakistan on behalf of the OIC.
The delegate called for the Human Rights Council’s unity on the support of the Palestinian people and rights.
The Egyptian delegate expressed the country’s concern about the lack of accountability and the recent escalation of violence.
He encouraged investigations and accountability.
The delegate of Malaysia shared her support with the Palestinian people and recalled that the violations committed by the occupying power amount to the crime of apartheid. She called for the Human Rights Council to take its responsibilities and asked that the High Commissioner release the update of the database listing the companies operating in the OPT (resolution 31/36).
After denouncing Israeli violations of international law, the Turkish representative called for the respect of the holy sites’ status quo, and particularly urged Israelis to stop their provocations in the Al Aqsa compound.
The delegate of Jordan condemned all the violations committed by the Israeli State and called for the occupation to stop, and for Palestinian to be granted independence within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
After denouncing Israelis' violations, the representative of Niger urged for the parties to implement the two-States solution.
The Saudi delegate condemned the lack of accountability in face of Israelis violations. He expressed his concern about the recent escalation of violence. He also urged for an independent State of Palestine on the 1967 borders.
The delegate of Algeria denounced as well the violations committed by Israel, called for Israel to be held accountable and expressed Algeria’s support to the Palestinian people.
The representative shared Switzerland’s concern regarding the report’s finding. He called for accountability for the killing of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
The Lebanese delegate joined the previous statements in support of Palestine and the requests for accountability, human rights and self-determination.
The representative of South Africa recalled the Commission of inquiry’s report which finds that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that Israeli occupation is unlawful under international law. She mentioned as well the conclusions of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, which stated that the situation in the OPT satisfied the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid.
She urged that the only way to stop the spiral of violence in Palestine is for the international community to hold Israel accountable for its actions. She recalled Nelson Mandela's quote stating that the “Palestinian cause is the greatest moral issue of our time”.
Civil Society organisations:
GICJ delivered three statements, jointly with the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), Meezaan Center for Human rights and Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration.
First, Kiyana recalled that the international community attending the Human Rights Council are continually falling short of their obligations to defend the Palestinian people, compounding, and prolonging the suffering through lack of accountability and exceptional treatment.
Juanita continued by denouncing the unlawful expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT and their grave impact on human rights of Palestinian people.
Finally, Isabel condemned the impunity granted to Israeli Security forces, and the lack of investigations inside Israel.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) reiterates once again its support to the Palestinian people and their ongoing struggle to have their rights upheld. GICJ particularly shares its unwavering support to the civil society organisations facing retaliation for their work under the international law framework to protect human rights on the ground.
These organisations are victims of Israel’s reprisals because of their long-standing work within Palestinian society, but also because of their presence at the international scale. Many of them are trusted by the international community and by the UN mechanisms, thereby actively working with the latter denouncing Israel violations.
But words of support are not enough now.
Based on previous work by UN mechanisms and its own investigations, the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel identified "forced displacement, threats of forced displacement, demolitions, settlement construction and expansion, settler violence, and the blockade of Gaza as contributing factors to recurring cycles of violence".
The Commission emphasised that “impunity and perpetual occupation are the root causes of escalating tensions and violence”. Therefore, the cycle of violence can only be broken when impunity is no more.
GICJ calls for accountability to be the priority when coming to examine the Israel/Palestine question. We join other stakeholders in highlighting the need for an international independent investigation from the International Criminal Court, as the national judiciary clearly proved unwilling and unable to do it thoroughly.
Until then, Palestinian civil society, stakeholders and everyone seeking truth and justice will continue to fight for accountability. As recalled many times before, there can’t be peace without justice.
HRC52, Palestine, Israel, Occupation, Impunity, Accountability, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Collective Punishments
UN Human Rights Commissioner’s report on: Human Rights Situation in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and the Obligation to Ensure Accountability and Justice – Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/52/75) - Question of Palestine
Commission of Inquiry’s reports: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/co-israel/index
Administrative detentions: Administrative Detention | B'Tselem