UN rights chief accuses Israel of ‘trying to hide’ by blocking monitors’ access

Outgoing head Bachelet blasts Jerusalem for denial of visas to staffers; Israel pans her for ‘once again attacking’ in final hours in office

Illustrative: Palestinians hold a rally in front of the United Nations headquarters in Ramallah, August 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Illustrative: Palestinians hold a rally in front of the United Nations headquarters in Ramallah, August 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Outgoing UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet blasted Israel on Tuesday for failing to issue or renew visas for her staff to monitor the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said it raised questions as to what Israel was “trying to hide” and vowed that her office would continue to report on the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“In 2020, the 15 international staff of my office in Palestine — which has been operating in the country for 26 years — had no choice but to leave,” Bachelet said in a statement. “Subsequent requests for visas and visa renewals have gone unanswered for two years. During this time, I have tried to find a solution to this situation, but Israel continues to refuse to engage.”

She said that as a member state, Israel had to cooperate with the UN in good faith and allow its officials to carry out their duties.

“Israel’s failure to process visa applications that are necessary for my staff’s access is inconsistent with these standards,” Bachelet said.

The former Chilean president — who leaves office on Wednesday after four years as the UN rights chief — said Israel’s treatment of her staff was part of a “wider and worrying trend to block human rights access” to the Palestinian territories.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addresses a news conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on December 1, 2021. (Sophie Garcia/AP)

“This raises the question of what exactly the Israeli authorities are trying to hide,” she said.

Her statement claimed that in 2021, Israeli forces killed 320 Palestinians — “a 10-fold increase on the number killed in 2020” — and injured 17,042 people, six times the 2020 figure. Israel and Gaza fought a deadly 11-day war in May 2021.

Despite the visa situation for international staff, Bachelet’s office said it was still monitoring compliance with human rights obligations.

“We publicly report on violations by Israel, but also on violations by the State of Palestine, by Hamas in Gaza and Palestinian armed groups,” said Bachelet. “We will continue to deliver on our mandate. And we will continue to demand access to the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Israel’s mission in Geneva said it was “little surprise” that Bachelet was using her last hours in office “to once again attack Israel.” It said she had spent years “refusing to condemn violations of human rights by the Palestinians.”

“The prevalence of bias against Israel in her office is well known, and her office’s reports on Israel are unbalanced and prejudiced,” it said. “We hope that the next high commissioner will right the wrongs of Michelle Bachelet’s time in office and finally commits to eliminating the bias against Israel at the Human Rights Council.”

Bachelet’s successor has yet to be appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The next human rights council session begins on September 12.

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