The United Nations human rights office has held back a database of companies involved in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights.
Barak Ravid, the diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10, reported that the UN had “indefinitely” postponed publishing the list of firms “after strong pressure” from the United States and Israel.
But the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a report published Wednesday that it still “expects to provide the names of the companies … in a future update.”
The report of the office, which is headed by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, states that UN researchers compiled a list of 206 companies that “were subject to further research and consideration” for their activities in the settlements.
It said the majority of these were “domiciled in Israel or the settlements, followed by the United States of America, Germany, the Netherlands and France.”
The UN said it has written to the governments of the 21 home countries of companies on its list and that 15 of them supported the UN contacting the companies directly about their activities.
It said it has contacted more than 60 of the companies but due to time and resource constraints had yet to write to the others in what is described as an ongoing process to determine the nature and extent of the companies’ activities.
Previously, media reports identified companies on the UN list to include such well-known international brands as Coca-Cola, HP, Motorola and Remax, as well as dozens of Israeli firms including major banks.
“Key role” in abuses
The report asserts that “Before the determinations on the companies are made public, [the UN human rights office] will notify the companies concerned.”
According to the report, “businesses play a key role in facilitating the overall settlement enterprise, contributing to Israel’s confiscation of land and the transfer of its population through commercial development.”
The human rights office says that its mandate to compile the database given to it by the UN Human Rights Council “does not extend to companies involved in supplying the Israel Defense Forces with weapons or other equipment used during military operations, nor does it encompass companies involved in controlling access to and from Gaza.”
A major argument used by companies to explain their involvement in settlements is that they “provide jobs to Palestinian families and help to support the Palestinian economy,” the report states.
But the UN human rights office refutes this, observing that “this argument does not recognize that the presence of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, which is unlawful, serves to depress the Palestinian economy and to reduce opportunities for Palestinian businesses to thrive.”
Referring to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the report offers rebuttals to other arguments companies used to justify their activities.
The report puts the onus on companies’ home states to act. “Given the direct involvement of Israel in establishing, maintaining and expanding the settlements,” the UN human rights office says it “considers that the role of homes states of transnational corporations is essential in assisting both corporations and Israel to ensure that businesses are not involved in human rights abuses.”
There is a growing consensus among human rights defenders and jurists that any activity in the settlements is incompatible with respecting human rights and violates international law.
Amnesty International has said that all states “must ban Israeli settlement products to help end half a century of violations against Palestinians.”
Human Rights Watch has called on businesses to end all activities in or with Israeli settlements.
“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources,” Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan has said.
Whether the UN decision to withhold the names of the companies is merely a technical delay or a political cave-in, there is no doubt that the human rights office has come under intense pressure not to publish the database at all.
What will happen next is uncertain; the work so far has been carried out under the leadership of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, but the current high commissioner has announced he will not seek a new mandate when his term expires in September.
That date should therefore be considered a practical deadline for the list to be published.
The database had originally been expected to be published in December, but when reports surfaced in November that it was being delayed, Human Rights Watch was worried enough that it reiterated the need for it to be made public.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the interim report Wednesday despite the lack of names, but urged that the mission needed to be carried through.
“Today’s report shows progress in identifying and communicating with companies that contribute to serious abuses in Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Sari Bashi, the group’s advocacy director for Palestine, said. “The UN should complete the work of advising companies of their human rights responsibilities and publish the names of those who continue to operate in the settlements.”
Dozens of Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations last week called on the UN to “ensure the timely publication and annual update of the database,” which they said would be “an important tool to end corporate complicity in Israel’s prolonged occupation.”
Omar Barghouti, a cofounder of the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement for Palestinian rights had previously welcomed the compilation of the database as the UN’s “first concrete, practical step to secure accountability for ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.”
- Israeli settlements
- Golan Heights
- Barak Ravid
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
- settlement business
- settlement goods
- UN database of settlement companies
- UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights
- Human Rights Watch
- Sari Bashi
- Amnesty International
- Omar Barghouti