United Nations: Israel attempts to silence growing condemnation of its apartheid policies

On 1 October 2020, the Government of Israel attempted to silence civil society groups at the UN Human Rights Council (the Council) for condemning its imposition of apartheid on the Palestinian people. The move by Israel comes in the wake of growing international recognition by dozens of UN human rights experts [1], governments and global civil society [2]that Israel’s systematic discrimination and exploitation of the Palestinian people constitutes the crime of apartheid [3]. Taking the floor through a Point of Order to interrupt a joint statement by human rights groups, Israel accused NGOs of inappropriate language that contradicts UN standards.

 “The legal term ‘apartheid’ is enshrined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” said Issam Younis, Director General of Al Mezan “Condemnation of an apartheid regime, as a crime against humanity, is certainly well within the bounds of acceptable language for the forum of the Human Rights Council.” 

South Africa and Namibia responded during the debate.  South Africa countered that their country “is of the view, along with numerous Special Rapporteurs …that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is one akin to apartheid imposed by the occupying power... The characterization is therefore correct.”  Namibia further asserted that, “[t]he international community, particularly this Council, has a responsibility to address the apartheid practices being perpetuated against the Palestinian people by Israel...practices which are in flagrant violation of international law.”[4]

In its national statement under item 9, the State of Palestine reiterated the moral and legal obligation to fight systemic racism and legacies of colonialism and apartheid.  It warned that “Israel continues to pursue an illegal policy of population transfer aimed at altering the demographic composition of Palestine through settler colonialism and institutionalized racial oppression and domination thereby… imposing apartheid over the Palestinian people.”[5]

According to Nada Awad, International Advocacy Officer of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, “Israel’s attempt to stifle freedom of expression on this issue will not change the facts – Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people clearly meet the legal definition of apartheid and should be treated as such by the United Nations and its member states.

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[3]Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, article 7.2(h) "The crime of apartheid" means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime;