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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

UN fact finding mission demands member states, private companies end support for settlements

A United Nations fact finding mission on illegal Israeli settlements has called for Israel to end all settlement activity “without preconditions” and for tough measures against Israel, as well as companies involved in settlements.

The mission’s final conclusions [PDF] were released last week and contain some of the strongest condemnations of Israel’s illegal settlements ever made by a UN body.

Reaffirming that settlements are illegal under international law, the mission concludes that:

The existence of the settlements has had a heavy toll on the rights of the Palestinians. Their rights to freedom of self-determination, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, equality, due process, fair trial, not to be arbitrarily detained, liberty and security of person, freedom of expression, freedom  of access to places of worship, education, water, housing, adequate standard of living, property, access to natural resources and effective remedy are being violated consistently and on a daily basis.

It is the mission’s recommendations that are the most groundbreaking. The legal and moral responsibilities of governments and businesses to take action are discussed in such strong terms as to amount to a call for boycotts and sanctions against Israel and corporations involved in illegal settlement activity.

The final two recommendations state:

116. The mission calls upon all Member States to comply with their obligations under international law and to assume their responsibilities in their relations with a State breaching peremptory norms of international law, and specifically not to recognize an unlawful situation resulting from Israel’s violations.
117. Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps – including by terminating their business interests in the settlements – to ensure that they do not have an adverse impact on the human rights of the Palestinian people, in conformity with international law… The mission calls upon all Member States to take appropriate measures to ensure that business enterprises domiciled in their territory… that conduct activities in or related to the settlements respect human rights throughout their operations.

The commissioning of this investigation in March last year led Israel to cut working relations with the Human Rights Council. Last month Israel boycotted the regular human rights review the council obligates all states to undergo — a global first.

Boycott committee welcomes conclusions

In a statement, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (the broad coalition of Palestinian unions, mass organizations and non-governmental organizations that leads and supports the BDS movement) welcomed the report and analyzed its significance:

The BNC appreciates in particular the Mission’s conclusion that the serious violations caused by Israel’s settlement enterprise engage third-state responsibility, as well as legal obligations for private (business) entities. The BNC welcomes the Mission’s recommendation to all UN Member States to accord Israel the treatment reserved for states responsible for such serious violations — meaning a ban on trade with the settlements, and boycotts and sanctions against the State of Israel and its institutions, as well as against private entities assisting or profiting from the illegal and criminal settlement enterprise.
Equally important is the Mission’s recommendation to private companies to assess the human rights impact of their activities and terminate their business interests in the settlements. In this context, the Mission calls upon states to adopt appropriate measures to ensure that businesses respect this obligation.

The BNC and other civil society organizations were invited to present evidence [PDF] to the Mission, which will now report to the UN Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session on 18 March.

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Richard Falk was vehmently attacked in October by Israel and its supporters when he called for a boycott of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlements. A full independent UN fact finding mission has now made very similar recommendations.

Increasingly, states and international bodies such as the UN are agreeing with Palestinian organizations that states and businesses have legal and moral obligations to end their support for Israel’s crimes.