Hundreds of Palestinian, regional, and international organizations have¬†called¬†on the previous and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to release the UN database of companies engaged in activities with Israel‚Äôs illegal settlements. Though the¬†2016 Human Rights Council resolution¬†called for the release of the database during the 34th¬†Human Rights Council session in March 2017, the then High Commissioner, Zeid Ra‚Äôad Al-Hussein, failed to do so ‚Äď and the current High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, continues to shirk this responsibility, despite repeated pledges that it will be fulfilled.¬†1
The database, when released, would serve as an important tool to deter business involvement in human rights abuses, grave breaches of international humanitarian law, and internationally recognized crimes, while allowing for increased transparency of businesses profiting from and contributing to Israel‚Äôs illegal settlement enterprise.
The UN has recently prioritized the protection of human rights and international legal standards within the context of business activities ‚Äď just not in regard to Palestine. For instance, in August 2019, the¬†report¬†of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar listed several companies, including foreign companies, linked to Myanmar‚Äôs military and ongoing¬†human rights violations. The report stemmed from the¬†UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights¬†and their ‚ÄúProtect, Respect, and Remedy‚ÄĚ framework. The UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements, which would be updated annually, would help to enforce these UN guidelines in the context of the Israeli occupation.
Political pressure from states, notably Israel and the United States, as well as¬†lobby groups, has likely been the cause for the database‚Äôs delay.¬†Some states and actors have pushed back. Twenty-seven UN member states, for example,¬†reiterated¬†during the July 2019 Council session that the High Commissioner and her office must ‚Äúoperate and execute their mandates in an independent manner and without interference.‚ÄĚ During the same session, 65 member states requested that the High Commissioner urgently fulfill the database mandate in its entirety.
At the September 2019 Council session, South Africa¬†requested an explanation¬†for the failure of the database‚Äôs release, concluding that ‚Äúit cannot be that the powerful and monied continue to abuse the human rights of Palestinians in the name of profit.‚ÄĚ¬†Most recently, in October 2019 Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk,¬†called on¬†the High Commissioner to release the database ‚Äúin a fully transparent fashion, with all businesses named.‚ÄĚ
Meanwhile, parliamentarians, including from Belgium, Chile, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK, have called for the database‚Äôs release in communications with the High Commissioner and their governments.
If the UN Human Rights Council succumbs to political pressure regarding this mandate, it would likely be a first. Such a failure would imply that human rights are indeed politicized and financialized, and that state and corporate interests override human rights. The decision whether to fulfill the database mandate is an important test for the UN‚Äôs supposed universal implementation and enforcement of the international legal framework and human rights standards, while testing the credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner and its bodies.
For more on the UN database, please see Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Valentina Azarova‚Äôs May 2018 commentary¬†here.
Al-Shabaka policy member Nada Awad holds a master‚Äôs degree in International Relations and International Security from Sciences Pro Paris. She works on human rights violations in the Arab region as the international advocacy officer at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). She was previously responsible for the Advocacy unit at Al-Quds University‚Äôs Community Action Center, where she focused on the issue of forcible transfer of Palestinians from Jerusalem. She also worked as an archival researcher at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut.
Maha Abdallah is a senior legal researcher and advocacy officer at Al-Haq, focusing on business and human rights and corporate accountability in occupied territory and conflict-affected settings.
Opinion/Analysis 11/24/19 International Law is Clear on One Point: Israel‚Äôs Settlements are Illegal¬†