Civil society achieves gains for corporate accountability in Palestine and an independent international investigation of crimes in Libya
During the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council, which opened on February 24 in Geneva, CIHRS’ advocacy focused on four countries: Palestine, Syria, Libya and Egypt.Marking International Women’s Day,the organizations also joined a call for an end to gender-based discrimination. Following heightened restrictions on meetings and assemblies in Geneva due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the session was indefinitely suspended on Friday 13 March 2020.
When the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council resumes, CIHRS will further engage on issues related to human rights in Palestine: under Agenda Item 7, CIHRS will address the release of the UN database of businesses operating in illegal Israeli settlements; under Item 9, CIHRS will follow up on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concluding observations to address Israel's implementation of an apartheid regime.
In regards to important civil society gains made at the council before its suspension, the long-awaited publication of the database of businesses operating in illegal Israeli settlements on February 28 represented a significant victory for corporate accountability.The database’s publication was a culmination of years of untiring advocacy by CIHRS and its Palestinian, regional, and international partners and allies. 112 companies are listed on the database as profiting from Israel’s unlawful settlement activity.
CIHRS and its partners commended the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for releasing the database despite intense political pressure, and upholding international law. The database represents an important preliminary step in countering corporate profiteering from human suffering and exploitation, and must be updated annually, as was underscored by member states at the HRC.
Although the database’s publication was an important achievement, ensuring accountability for violators of human rights remains the overarching challenge at the HRC. To that end, CIHRS and its Palestinian partners continued to advocate against Israeli impunity for its illegal 12-year closure of Gaza, and the persistent violations that have resulted from it.
Strengthening international mechanisms to deter potential violations while delivering justice to victims of past violations was also a central theme for CIHRS’ engagement on Syria, Libya, and Egypt before the Council.
In Syria, the international community was once again called on to take actioncountering the horrific man-made humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, including by respecting the ceasefire and ensuring access to humanitarian aid. European states were also urged to facilitate relocation for refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. In regards to Libya, CIHRS and its partners continued to advocate for a long-overdue Commission of Inquiry, an international instrument to investigate violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law. The advocacy of CIHRSand its partners was joined at the HRC by unprecedented calls for such an international investigation, and under this pressure, the UN delegation of Libya agreed to a Fact-Finding Mission. The draft resolution was tabled and member states are expected to vote on the text once the session resumes.
CIHRS’ advocacy on Egypt centered on the Egyptian government’s failure to uphold its international obligations by continuing to commit violations throughout its Universal Periodic Review(UPR) process, blatantly disregarding UN and member state recommendations, thereby undermining the UPR process as a whole.As underscored by CIHRS at the HRC, not only does the Egyptian government continue to escalate its already unprecedented levels of repression in the country, it disingenuously attempts to deceive the Council about human rights conditions in the country. CIHRS urged states to scrutinize the government’s misleading claims about human rights when following up on the recommendations they made during the UPR process.
In addition to its advocacy on Palestine, Syria, Libya and Egypt,CIHRS joined the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement delivered in the Human Rights Council on behalf of 18 organizations marking International Women’s Day. The statement reiterated the states’ obligation to “address underlying structural factors which negate [women’s] autonomy in decision-making regarding their own lives, health and bodies, to ensure that their agency and right to substantive equality are respected in all aspects of their lives.” The organizations also called on states to ensure accountability as it “is central to the realization of human rights and is a core demand of women rights defenders.”
 Center for Reproductive Rights, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Service for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Defend Defenders, Rutgers, Plan International, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Human Rights Watch, Sexual Rights Initiative, Akahata, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women (ARROW), Federation for Women and Family Planning, Action Canada, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Choice for Youth and Sexuality, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Health and International Commission of Jurists
Release of the UN database: Avictory for civil society working on corporate accountability
The release of the UN database report on 28 February 2020 marks an important victory for human rights organizations, which have worked persistently over the last three years to ensure the publication of the database of businesses operating in illegal Israeli settlements. CIHRS and Al-Haq welcomed the publication of the UN database report as an important step towards transparency of the activities of companies engaged in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
CIHRS and Al-Haqsent a letter on 17 March 2020 to the High Commissioner on behalf of more than 75 organizations, commending the High Commissioner and her office for demonstrating commitment “to upholding human rights standards and the rule of law in pursuit of justice and accountability for oppressed persons, groups and peoples around the world, while reaffirming OHCHR’s independence and impartiality in the face of undue political pressure.”
Following the publication of the database report that listed 112 Israeli and international companies, member states including Malaysia, Indonesia, Lebanon, China and Namibia welcomed the release of the database during the 43rd Council session, and reiterated the importance of its annual update.
For instance, in her address to the Human Rights Council, Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Justice, Ms. Lidwina Shapwa, affirmedher country’s continued support ofthe Palestinian people’sright to self-determination and declared “we commend the High Commissioner […] for the release of the report of the list of companies involved in illegal settlement program in the occupied Palestinian Territory and hope it will be updated on an annual basis”.Indeed, the Israeli settlement enterprise violates the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and sovereignty over their national resources.
The release of the database of businesses operating in Israeli settlements is a testimony to the vital work of civil society in the context of business and human rights. The database creates atool that can be utilized in other contexts of occupation and conflict until a binding treaty is activated to regulate the conduct of businesses. In a joint statement delivered in the council on 5 March 2020, civil society organizations urged the Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations to emphasize the relationship between international human rights and humanitarian law throughout the text of the legally binding instrument under discussion, in order to put an end to situations of conflict and occupation being exploited as business opportunities.
 Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Al-Haq - Law in the Service of Man, Al Mezan, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
Gaza: Repeated calls to address Israeli impunity and pursue international accountability
In the context of an ongoing campaign to address Israeli impunity for widespread and systematic violations committed against the Palestinian people in Gaza, CIHRS and its Palestinian partners continued to advocate for international accountability for Israeli crimes.
CIHRS and partners engaged with UN member states, reiterating Human Rights Council resolution 40/13 from March 2019 which requested the OHCHR to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the 2018 commission of inquiry on the oPt protests.
In a joint written submission to the Human Rights Council ahead of the 43rd session, 13 Palestinian, regional and international organizations called on states to address the root causes of the Great March of Return by calling for an immediate end to the Gaza closure and upholding the right of all Palestinians to life, health and freedom of assembly. The organizations also called UN member states to pursue international justice and accountability and uphold third state responsibility with regard to penal sanctions for Israeli grave breaches of international law.
During the interactive dialogue in the Human Rights Council, following the presentation of the report of the High Commissioner on the lack of implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, CIHRS delivered a joint statement on 26 February 2020 deploring the fact that “recommendations for justice and accountability remain unfulfilled while the root causes of the demonstrations, including Israel’s 12-year illegal closure, which has made Gaza uninhabitable, […] remain unaddressed, including in the High Commissioner’s report.”
Several UN members states addressed the calls of civil society, highlighting the root causes of the Great March of Return demonstrations, calling on Israel to lift its Gaza closure, which constitutes illegal collective punishment, while reaffirming the importance of accountability to fight Israel’s impunity.
The statement delivered by Namibia constitutes a strong call for action. “Namibia emphasizes the importance of ending the 12 year long blockade of Gaza which is one of the factors that triggered the Great March of Return demonstrations. […] Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry the occupying power has continued with its deliberate shooting of civilians and killing of protesters. We call on the occupying power to revise its rules of engagement. There is indeed a need for international justice and accountability to put an end to Israeli impunity for widespread and systematic human rights violations, and a clear timeframe to follow up on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry would be a good place to start.”
 This statement is delivered on behalf of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Al-Haq – Law in the Service of Man, BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).
CIHRS calls on the international community to protect civilians in Syria and on the EU to ensure protection of refugees
States must ensure the creation of a credible, international investigation on Libya once the Human Rights Council reconvenes
During the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIHRS and national and international partner organizations called on UN member states to set up a long-overdue international investigation into violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law in Libya.
In a statement before the Council, CIHRS called on UN member states to “act now to establish a multi-year investigation mandated to collect and preserve evidence on human rights and humanitarian law violations and ensure individuals and groups responsible for such violations and abuses are held to account. Failure to do so will only prolong armed conflict and entrench impunity.”
Such an investigation is required due to the severity of crimes being committed on a systematic and widespread scale throughout the country. According to NGOs in a joint letter to states “strengthening international forms of justice and accountability are currently the only effective and plausible means of addressing violations and abuses” and breaking the cycle of impunity in the country.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya have also called on states to set up such a mechanism. In response to these calls, several countries began negotiations to establish such a Commission of Inquiry (COI) during the 43rd Session of Council.
Facing unprecedented calls for such an investigation and the possibility of a resolution that would establish a full-blown COI, the UN delegation of Libya agreed to establish an international Fact Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya in order to “To establish the facts and circumstances on the situation of human rights throughout Libya, and to review, collect information, document alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties in Libya since the beginning of 2016, including possible gendered dimensions of such violations and abuses, and to preserve evidence with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law are held accountable.”
During negotiations on the resolution to establish a Fact-Finding Mission, several countries including Egyptexpressed reservations and attempted to weaken some aspects of the investigative mechanism. Before the resolution establishing the FFM could be adopted, the Council was suspended indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Director of the Geneva Office of CIHRS, Mr. Jeremie Smith, “We welcome the resolution tabled by African Group to establish a Fact Finding Mission, and urge the Libyan government to resist pressure by Egypt or any other states to weaken the mandate of this investigative mechanism between now and when the Council reconvenes to vote on the resolution.”
The Adoption of Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review
The failure of the Egyptian government to uphold its obligations according to the Egyptian constitution and international law was subject to wide criticism during the interactive dialogue on the adoption of the UPR Report of Egypt on March 12. The Egyptian government continued to commit violations throughout its UPR process, blatantly disregarding UN and member state recommendations, thereby undermining the UPR process as a whole.
As underscored by CIHRS at the Council, not only does the Egyptian government continue to escalate its already unprecedented levels of repression in the country, it disingenuously attempts to deceive the Council about human rights conditions in Egypt. CIHRS urged states to scrutinize the government’s misleading claims about human rights when following up on the recommendations they made during the UPR process.
The disparity between the Egyptian government’s claims, in contrast to the reality of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, was highlighted the five joint interventions delivered by CIHRS, the first of which was delivered by CIHRS on behalf of the Egyptian Taskforce for Human Rights, comprised of 11 independent Egyptian human rights organizations that worked together to make a joint submission to the process. The three interventions emphasized the Egyptian government’s continuing grave violations and abuses in spite of the recommendations it has received from the Council’s member states (372 recommendations) within the UPR mechanism for its two rounds in November 2019 and March 2020.
One such misleading claim by the Egyptian government, underscored in a joint statement by CIHRS and the Defend Defenders Network, is its claim that it views acts of intimidation or reprisal against those who cooperate with the HRC and its mechanisms as “wholly unacceptable.” Yet the Egyptian government commits these “wholly unacceptable” acts against its own citizens – with increasing frequency – for engaging with UN human rights mechanisms, practicing a “pattern of reprisals” identified in a report by the UN Secretary General. These reprisals include prosecution and detention, travel bans, smear campaigns, and other violations or acts of intimidation and violence.
THE THIRD ORAL INTERVENTION
CIHRS further underscored that the government’s claims that “any forms of legally unjustified deprivation of liberty are prohibited in all circumstance” are at complete odds with a reality in which hundreds of peaceful critics of the government are detained on an unjustified legal basis, including journalists, politicians and former parliamentarians, academics, lawyers and human rights and democracy activists since November 2019 alone. This is in addition to thousands of other detainees held on flimsy legal grounds or sentenced to prison terms after grossly unfair trials. Detainees are often subjected to severe violations in prison, including torture, medical negligence, and inhumane and unsanitary conditions.
The statement delivered on behalf of the Egyptian Taskforce for Human Rights discussed Egypt’s systematic use of anti-terrorism legislation to legitimize the ongoing campaign to eradicate independent civil society, silence journalists and quash political parties. Counterterrorism has been used as a pretext to justify a broad campaign to silence all voices of peaceful opposition, and for a failure to improve the deteriorating and deadly conditions of detention in Egypt.
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