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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
General Assembly
25 October 2012


General Assembly
GA/SHC/4048

          Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly
Third Committee
24th & 25th Meetings (AM & PM)

UN EXPERT CALLS FOR BOYCOTT OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSES PROFITING FROM ISRAELI

SETTLEMENTS IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, IN THIRD COMMITTEE

Also Hears from Experts on Myanmar, Rights of Migrants,
Internally Displaced Persons, Enforced Disappearances, Religious Freedom

A United Nations expert today called for boycotting businesses that were profiting from Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands until they brought their operations in line with international human rights and humanitarian law, as he presented his annual report to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).

Richard Falk, the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, also encouraged civil society to bolster efforts to hold those businesses accountable through legal and political initiatives at the national and international levels.

He drew attention to important developments in international law and related standards concerning businesses and human rights, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human rights and the United Nations Global Compact. With those in mind, he had contacted the 13 multinational companies highlighted in his report — headquartered in, among other places, France, United States, Sweden and the Netherlands — to give them an opportunity to respond.

“Businesses should not breach international humanitarian law provisions,” he said. “Nor should they be complicit in any breaches.” They might otherwise be subject to criminal or civil liability, which could extend to individual employees.

In preparing his report, he had received “a massive amount” of information from civil society and others documenting the involvement of businesses in Israeli settlements, he continued. The companies highlighted constituted a small number of the many profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise. His report also recommended that an advisory opinion be sought from the International Court of Justice regarding the responsibility of businesses in relation to the economic activities of settlements that are established in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

More broadly, he said “the scale of Israel’s settlement enterprise, especially the massive financial investment in it, appears to confirm Israel’s intention to retain control over much, if not all, of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”. Israeli settlements controlled over 40 per cent of the West Bank. Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli citizens had already been settled in Palestinian territory, 200,000 of whom had settled in East Jerusalem. In the last year alone, the settler population had increased by over 15,000 people.

He urged Israel, which had not cooperated with him in fulfilling his mandate, to implement its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations and ensure that private businesses operating in Palestine were accountable for any activities that adversely impacted Palestinians’ human rights.

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The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 29 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion on human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.

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A note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (document A/67/379) addresses Israel’s compliance with its international legal obligations in relation to its occupation of Palestinian territory. The Special Rapporteur focuses on the legal responsibility of businesses, corporations and non-State actors involved in activities relating to Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. He reiterates his request to Israel to cooperate with his efforts, noting that Israel has not cooperated with many other important initiatives of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council relating to the occupied Palestinian territory.

As such, the Special Rapporteur calls attention to the grave circumstances of the Palestinian people, living under prolonged occupation and with no realistic prospect of its termination in the near future. The United Nations has a great responsibility to do everything possible to avoid the economic, political and cultural exploitation of Palestinians and their natural resource endowment. Among other recommendations, he calls on Israel to desist from settling its population in the occupied Palestinian territory, begin dismantling its settlements and returning its citizens to its own territory, namely: the Israeli side of the Green Line, in accordance with international law, numerous Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the wall.

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Statement by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestinian Territories

RICHARD FALK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said Israel continued to refuse to cooperate with his efforts to fulfil his mandate. Such cooperation was a legal obligation incident to United Nations membership, made clear in the United Nations Charter. Israel had a long track record of non-cooperation with the Security Council, General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and he urged considering decisive and firm action to persuade Israel to fulfil its obligations as a United Nations member.

He said his report focused on the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, underlining the legal responsibility of selected Israeli and international businesses that were profiting from Israeli settlements.

Updating the Committee on Israel’s efforts to transfer its population to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said Israeli settlements controlled over 40 per cent of the West Bank. Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli citizens had already been settled in Palestinian territory. Around 200,000 of them had settled in East Jerusalem. Over the past decade, the settler population had grown at an average 5.3 per cent each year, compared with 1.8 per cent in Israel. In the last year alone, the settler population had increased by over 15,000 persons.

The scale of Israel’s settlement enterprise, especially the massive financial investment in it, appeared to confirm Israel’s intention to retain control over much, if not all, of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. As the occupying power in Palestine, Israel was obliged to implement its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations, as well as ensure that private businesses operating in Palestine were held accountable for any activities that adversely impacted on Palestinians’ human rights.

He went on to say that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human rights and the United Nations Global Compact were important developments. Principle 1 of the Global Compact stated that businesses should respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights. The Compact had stated that the Guiding Principles provided the content of Principle 1, and thus, formed part of the commitment taken by the Compact’s 8,700 corporate participants. Principle 2 of the Compact stated that businesses should ensure they were not complicit in human rights abuses. His report also made clear that international law standards also applied to businesses and referred to guidance developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in that regard.

“In short, businesses should not breach international humanitarian law provisions,” he said. “Nor should they be complicit in any breaches.” If they did, they might be subject to criminal or civil liability. The companies highlighted in his report constituted a small number of the many companies profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise. He had received “a massive amount of information” from civil society and others documenting the involvement of businesses in Israeli settlements and he would address that topic in future reports.

His main recommendation was that the businesses highlighted in his report – and the many others profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise – should be boycotted until they brought their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law. He encouraged civil society to bolster efforts to hold those businesses accountable. His other recommendation concerned a request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, in regard to the responsibility of businesses in relation to the economic activities of settlements established in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He had contacted the companies mentioned in his report to allow them an opportunity to respond, including: Caterpillar Incorporated, Veolia Environment, G4S, The Dexia Group, Ahava, the Volvo Group, Riwal Holding Group, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard, Mehadrin, Motorola, Assa Abloy and Cemex. Meaningful and helpful responses had been received from Assa Abboy, The Dexia Group, G4S and Cemex.

Question and Answer Session

When the floor was opened for questions and comments, Malaysia’s delegate asked about prospects for a two-State solution, given the increased number of illegal settlements being built and reports of increased violence by settlers.

The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine said the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to end human rights violations by Israel against Palestinians had been crucial in an appalling situation that was only growing worse. Palestinians understood their plight had not been forgotten. The Special Rapporteur should be applauded, as his work had been made more difficult by Israel’s violation of its obligations to cooperate with his mandate. She called on the United Nations to compel Israel to fulfil its obligations. Israel also had cut ties with the Human Rights Council and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and she wondered about the consequences about that decision.

Second, she asked about the crucial role of civil society against the Israeli occupation, and how civil society could be strengthened to reach an even larger audience and pressure companies that were supporting Israeli occupation. While General Assembly resolutions were important, Israel had trampled on the hundreds of resolutions passed on its illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She asked about other options to strengthen civil society in the most effective manner.

The representative of the European Union reaffirmed his commitment to a two-State solution, since heeding the aspirations of the region was a crucial element for lasting peace, as were the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative. He underlined the applicability of the First Geneva Convention, in that regard.

He said settlements, the barrier and home demolitions were illegal. They obstructed peace and threatened the two-State solution. He urged Israel to immediately end settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and deconstruct the outposts it had built since March 2001. The European Union reaffirmed its commitment to implementing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements, with regard to settlement products. The European Union did not support sanctions. It supported the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Norway’s delegate regretted Israel’s lack of cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. The expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land violated international law. The deteriorating human rights situation in East Jerusalem was further cause for concern. Israel’s expansive settlement policy threatened the two-State solution and she called on Israel to ensure that Palestinians enjoyed their full human rights. Norway encouraged businesses to respect human rights, avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address human rights impacts.

She supported his calls on businesses and States to ensure implementation of the Guiding Principles in businesses operations. Norwegian businesses were encouraged to adhere to the Guiding Principles. The Council of Ethics of the Government’s pension fund provided advice on whether companies were in line with established ethical guidelines. It had divested from companies with activities in the Palestinian territories. She asked what the United Nations could do to strengthen awareness and address the challenges presented in the report.

Senegal’s delegate asked about measures to be advocated or implemented to ensure better human rights protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Egypt’s delegate said the report referred to 8,000 companies participating in the Global Compact. Of those, how many were involved in trade agreements with Israel that involved products from settlements? He also asked about the trend of incitement to violence by Israel in the Occupied Territories, and further, about international standards being applied as regards detainees legally and illegally held by Israel. What was the impact of recent Israeli laws, as regards limiting financing to non-governmental organizations and curtailing their ability to operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

The representative of the Maldives supported the Special Rapporteur’s work, saying the occupation had lasted almost half a century. He called on Israel to cooperate with the United Nations, including the Special Rapporteur, to analyze the impact of occupation. His Government was concerned by the Special Rapporteur’s findings. While the Maldives had expressed grave concern at the dual legal systems for the prosecution of Palestinians, it was also concerned by prolonged detentions and the use of internment, which contravened international law.

He said the accounts of extrajudicial executions were shocking. The Maldives believed in the protection of human dignity and was disturbed to see the demolition of Palestinian structures. Israeli policies had been denounced by the International Criminal Court, which demonstrated Israel’s failure to meet its responsibilities towards the community of nations. Until Israel and Palestine were able to stand side by side as two independent States, there would be no movement on Middle East peace. Palestine must be recognized as an independent State.

Syria’s delegate said the Special Rapporteur’s reports referred to his difficulties in executing his mandate. Israel continued to evade its responsibilities and had decided to end all cooperation with the Human Rights Council. “This is a serious deterioration which will erode the foundations of any solution that might lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state,” she said. That showed the United Nations inability to take measures to address Israel’s flagrant violations. Stability could not be achieved in the region while Israel ignored international law. She asked how the report’s recommendations could be implemented.

Iran’s delegate asked what must be done to end the occupation and, in the short-term to alleviate Palestinian suffering, particularly of women and children.

Responding, Mr. FALK urged a focus on whether, given what was happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it was still helpful to reaffirm the two-State solution without further discussion. “It is irresponsible, in my judgement, to ignore the blatant and cumulative impact of Israeli occupation via the accelerated expansion of settlements and moves to proceed toward the legalization of 100 or so outposts that are unlawful even under Israeli law,” he said. That would be tremendous encroachment on what had been thought to be a future Palestinian state. There must be discussions on whether the two-State solution was viable and, if it was, how should it be handled given Israel’s defiance. To act as if nothing had changed seemed to endorse the ignoring of Palestinian rights, including to self-determination.

As to what more could be done by civil society or the United Nations to alleviate Palestinian suffering and call attention to the “unprecedented” occupation that had lasted more than 45 years, he said: “it is an intolerable burden on the development of life,” especially in Gaza, which had been subjected to an unalleviated blockade for more than five years and existed as a “captive society” that had lost its possibility for normal life. It was urgent that the world community find new ways to indicate its seriousness about the combination of Palestinian suffering and Israeli defiance of international law, and the minimal expectation Israel would cooperate with the United Nations and its various procedures. “The credibility of the United Nations is at stake if it merely gives lip service to these concerns and does not take concrete, tangible action,” he asserted.

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For information media • not an official record


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