On 3 October 2023, Israel underwent the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights file during the 54th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the session, Israel rejected criticism of its human rights record in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whether from member states or civil society. Israel further rejected all recommendations related to putting an end to its apartheid regime or ending its obstruction of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Many of the UPR recommendations, Israel claimed, were of a political nature and could not be complied with for political or legal reasons.
Responding to Israel’s claims in an oral statement before the Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) reviewed the primary conclusions of human rights organizations monitoring and reporting on Israeli violations. CIHRS stressed that the system of racial discrimination and Israeli domination over the Palestinian people amounts to the crime of apartheid. The Israeli government’s increasingly systematic persecution of human rights organizations and individuals opposed to apartheid, CIHRS further emphasized, violates the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. In a demand for Israel to be held accountable for its violations of international law, CIHRS called for the reconstitution of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and the United Nations Center against Apartheid.
Numerous human rights organizations gave interventions during the review session, including Al-Haq Human Rights Organization, Human Rights Watch, and Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. The organizations addressed the most prominent manifestations of the crime of apartheid in Israel, and the absence of any political will to end discriminatory practices against the Palestinian people.Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and CIHRS sent their report to the United Nations in preparation for the UPR process, reviewing Israel’s violations of international law in the West Bank and Gaza, including its closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip, its restrictions on freedom of movement for Palestinians, and its assaults on civilians and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The organizations unequivocally condemned Israel’s systematic failure to conduct serious criminal investigations into violations and crimes against the Palestinian people, including those committed during Operation Protective Edge, the Great March of Return, Operation Guardian of the Walls, and Operation Breaking Dawn. Israel continues to maintain a criminal investigation system that does not adhere to international standards, which require comprehensive, effective, independent and impartial investigations into suspected perpetrators, including persons in leadership positions, military commanders and government officials.
CIHRS further contributed to another joint report ahead of the UPR, wherein it addressed emerging concerns on Israeli policies and practices between 2018 and 2022, focusing on Israel’s use of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and inhumane conditions of detention, including medical negligence, denial of the right to fair trials, and administrative detention. The report recommended guaranteeing and supporting the rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and respecting the principle of the absolute prohibition of torture in accordance with Article 2 (2) of the Convention against Torture, removing necessity as a possible justification for torture, prohibiting the use as evidence in any proceedings of testimonies extracted as a result of torture, and publicly warning that perpetrators of torture will be subject to criminal prosecution and accountability.
During the review session, Israel rejected all member state recommendations related to putting an end to crimes and violations against the Palestinians, accepting only very limited and general recommendations that do not require specific steps or action. Israel further ignored all recommendations related to ending retaliation against, and lifting the siege on, Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations. CIHRS submitted a report to the United Nations that reviewed the concerns about Israel’s escalating assaults against Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations, since Israel’s last Universal Periodic Review in 2018. The report addressed how organizations and persons that oppose apartheid are targeted by Israel through systematic persecution and deprivation of their fundamental rights ,” in clear violation of Article 2, Paragraph (f) of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (Apartheid Convention).
While failing to implement t vast majority of the human rights recommendations it accepted in its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Israel has further solidified its opposition to international human rights standards and law in its recent 2023 UPR by rejecting all recommendations directly related to its grave violations against the Palestinian people, which include torture and extrajudicial killing, and amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. As long as Israel remains immune from accountability and punishment, it has demonstrated that it will only bolster its apartheid system and the ever-escalating crimes and violations required to maintain it.
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