The United Nations Roundtable on Legal Aspects of the Question of Palestine was organized under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP). As a capacity-building initiative by the Committee, the event aimed at developing the expertise of Palestinian Government staff in the field of international treaty law including provisions, mechanisms for implementation, reporting obligations and other practices.
During sessions facilitated by leading international scholars as well as experienced UN human rights practitioners, and conducted in the form of interactive discussions, 25 participants representing various Ministries and entities of the State of Palestine and the Independent Commission on Human Rights reviewed the fundamentals of international treaty law theory and its institutional framework. They also discussed the current status of the State of Palestine in relation to international legal instruments particularly in light of the recent accession of the State of Palestine to a number of such instruments.
In his opening remarks, the Chair of the Committee, who moderated the Roundtable, referred to previous Legal Roundtables organized and held under the auspices of CEIRPP in Geneva in 2014, and in The Hague in 2015; the Amman meeting represented an additional step in the Committee’s contribution to the building of vital capacities within the State of Palestine.
The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine welcomed the Committee’s efforts to help young Palestinian lawyers and practitioners acquire a deeper understanding of the reporting obligations and the practical tools to fulfil these obligations effectively, meeting high international standards.
During the Roundtable sessions, participants reviewed the opportunities and strategies for the State of Palestine to engage with various international legal instruments on the international arena, learning from relevant best practices in the application of these instruments and the fulfilment of related reporting obligations. To complement the material presented, at the end of each thematic session, participants undertook practical exercises through group work moderated by the experts.
In the sessions on “International treaty law and institutions – challenges for emerging States”, and “Obligations of the State of Palestine after its accession to international legal instruments”, the discussion revolved around the relation of treaties and customary law, dispute resolution, arbitration, promotion and protection of human rights in acute crises, as well as procedures to lodge and respond to human rights complaints. Participants were particularly keen on understanding the technical aspects of the issues at hand, as well as learning about relevant international precedents.
Looking further into the implementation of human rights treaties by the State of Palestine, participants were invited to consider long-term national institutional architecture for sustained implementation of human rights treaties based on provisions of GA Resolution 68/268 “Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system”, and to juxtapose relevant international standards and norms to the provisions of the national legislation in Palestine.
Having received a broad overview on the set of human rights treaties such as, inter alia, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, participants spent a separate session discussing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the context of the State of Palestine.
While reviewing the role of the national and international institutions in the implementation of- and in fulfilling the reporting obligations under the human rights treaties, participants discussed the role of nascent human rights reporting mechanisms created in Palestine at national level, the work of the protection cluster of the UN Country Team, as well as the function and achievements of the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights and civil society.
Reflecting on the complexity and diversity of the issues covered by international treaty law a session on environmental law, its enforceability and related remedial actions, as well as a session on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) gave participants a structural overview of recent developments in both fields. In those sessions, experts outlined and discussed key principles, legal provisions, existing mechanisms for imposing liability and their potency. Of particular interest for participants were themes such as the rights and obligations of State Parties under UNCLOS, on the nature of maritime zones and their delimitation, and existing dispute resolution mechanisms; these themes were also reviewed in connection to the examples of some of the most relevant precedents in the history of international environmental and maritime regulation.
To further promote the efforts of the State of Palestine in protecting and promoting the role of women in society, a special session of the Roundtable was dedicated to incorporating gender perspectives in treaty implementation and reporting. An interactive discussion and a practical exercise drew participants’ attention to the importance of data disaggregation and of collecting and reporting complete and comprehensive quality information during their daily work. The need for data triangulation and the necessity for collaboration among various national Ministries and entities possessing thematic data were repeatedly mentioned, and the complementarity of reporting by international and national NGOs underscored.
The substantive programme of the Roundtable concluded with an introduction to the web-based United Nations Audio-visual Library of International Law of the Office of Legal Affairs, and a hand over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of a DVD compilation with the library’s most relevant lectures related to the topics addressed during the Roundtable.
In the feedback regarding the Roundtable’s programme that participants could give through anonymous surveys at the end of the Roundtable, many participants said the Programme covered a wide range of relevant issues relating to Palestine’s obligations under international treaty law, stressing the timeliness of the subject for the State of Palestine.
Participants believed the material was relevant, informative and therefore useful for the implementation of their current professional duties, for proactively ensuring respect for human rights under national law, and for better fulfilling Palestine’s international human rights obligations. Participants said that following the training they would put more emphasis on the study of the legal structure of the State of Palestine and on how treaties are reflected in domestic law, while also looking for relevant international precedents. Finally, participants underscored how the interaction and discussions with the experts at the Roundtable shed light on the importance of the data collected by various national Ministries and entities, and how crucial data exchange and complementarity is for a good quality reporting and planning.
In the closing session, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations expressed his hope that enhancing the capacity of the Palestinian Government through this kind of semi-academic capacity-building events would enable the nascent State of Palestine to take up its rightful place among the nations of the world, and participate in the international arena as an equal and sovereign nation fully capable of fulfilling its obligations under international treaties and conventions to which it is a party.
The Chair of the Committee highlighted the invaluable hands-on expertise shared by the distinguished experts, as well as a rich set of educational and information materials prepared for participants to take home. He encouraged participants to share these materials with colleagues and counterparts in Palestine through placing them in the libraries and resource centres of the relevant Ministries and entities of the State of Palestine. The Committee, he concluded, would continue to assist the legal endeavours of the State of Palestine, and support the follow-up to this Roundtable.