UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS have called on the international community to take immediate and effective steps to protect and sustain the six Palestinian civil society groups that were designated as ‘terrorist organisations’ by the Government of Israel in October 2021.

Speaking on 25 April the human rights experts said: “Israel’s disturbing designation of these organisations as ‘terrorist organisations’ 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 organisations that have traditionally provided funding for the indispensable work of these six organisations.”

In October 2021, the UN experts denounced Israel’s designation of six Palestinian civil society organisations CSOs) – Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Bisan Centre for Research and Development, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees – as terrorist organisations. Israel’s designation enables it to close the organisations, seize their assets, end their work and charge their leadership and staff with terrorist offences.

“Israel has had six months to substantiate its accusations and it has failed to deliver”, the experts said. “We call on the funding governments and international organisations to swiftly conclude that Israel has not established its allegations and to announce that they will continue to financially and politically support these organisations and the communities and groups they serve.”

Although Israel has not substantiated its allegations publicly or to the funding governments and international organisations, several of the funders have delayed their contributions to the Palestinian organisations while they investigate these claims. The European Union has formally suspended its funding for two of these organisations. This has undermined the work of these Palestinian organisations and has had an incalculable impact on the communities they support. There has been a lack of clarity about the duration of these steps, the experts said.

“We are deeply disturbed by Israel’s apparent misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to attack some of the leading civil society organisations in Palestine. Such misuse must be rejected and countered”, the experts said.

“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.”

Against this background, the experts welcomed the statement issued on 23 March 2022 by the Belgium Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir, who stated that: “My administration has conducted an internal investigation into the allegations. This did not reveal any evidence that would confirm the allegations. I have therefore decided not to take any action against the Palestinian organisations in question. Nor is the evidence provided by the Israeli authorities such as to reconsider my decision.”

The human rights experts emphasised that they recognise 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.

“Applying anti-terrorism laws to well-regarded human rights defenders and civil society organisations – 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”, they said.

“If the international community is serious about its support for Palestinian self-determination and an end to the 55-year-old Israeli occupation, it must become more vocal and assertive in defending the work of these organisations, and reminding Israel of its international human rights obligations.”

Accordingly, the human rights experts called upon the international community to:

  • Publicly conclude that Israel has not substantiated its allegations against the six organisations.
  • Resume, continue and even increase its financial and political support for the work of these six organisations.
  • Demand that Israel retract the designations and cease its harassment of all Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights and civil society organisations which promote human rights and accountability in Israel and Palestine.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights