UN rights head accuses Israel of ‘serious violations’ of international law

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein says Israeli policies in the West Bank fuel a ‘cycle of violence,’ slams laws on NGOs

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, is pictured on a TV screen during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 11, 2017. (Laurent Gillieron/ Keystone via AP)
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, is pictured on a TV screen during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 11, 2017. (Laurent Gillieron/ Keystone via AP)

The head of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday accused Israel of committing “serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights” in the West Bank, while also criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pushing for limiting foreign funding to Israeli human rights groups.

Speaking at a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Israel’s policies in the West Bank were fueling a “cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Instances of excessive use of force, forms of collective punishment, and arbitrary detention continued to be of serious concern. Accountability for violations remains rare,” Zeid said. “I remind the authorities that lack of accountability for violations further undermines confidence in the justice system, and perpetuates a cycle of violence.”

Zeid, a former Jordanian diplomat and prince, leveled similar charges against Israel in a report in June.

Illustrative: IDF soldiers arrest a Palestinian man in the Deheishe refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on December 8, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In his speech Monday, Zeid said “journalists and human rights defenders are operating under increasing pressure from the respective authorities” in Israel and the West Bank, pointing to Knesset legislation from last year requiring NGOs that receive more than half their funds from foreign governments or state agencies to disclose that fact, as well as comments by Netanyahu that the government would formulate a new bill restricting foreign government funding to Israeli organizations.

While focusing his attention on Israel, Zeid said there was a “crackdown” in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank ruled by Palestinian Authority “on human rights defenders, particularly on journalists and news websites — including legislative measures, arrests and harassment of individuals and bans on websites.”

He also expressed concern over the deterioration of public services in Gaza and said Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas “are failing to meet their obligations to protect the rights of the people of Gaza.”

“In Gaza, health, water, sanitation and other essential services are close to complete breakdown due to the electricity crisis, compounding the people’s suffering caused by the ongoing blockade,” he said.

While Israel has been widely criticized for maintaining the blockade on Gaza, Israel insists it is necessary to prevent the Hamas terror group from acquiring weapons to be used in attacks on the Jewish state.

‘Ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar

In his speech, which addressed human rights violations in a number of countries, Zeid said that the violence and injustice faced by the ethnic Rohingya minority in Myanmar, where UN rights investigators have been barred from entering, “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Zeid denounced how “another brutal security operation is underway in Rakhine state — this time, apparently on a far greater scale.” He noted the UN refugee agency says 270,000 people from Myanmar have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the last three weeks, and pointed to satellite imagery and reports of “security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages” and committing extrajudicial killings.

“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” he added. He called it a “complete denial of reality” that hurts the standing of Myanmar, a country that had until recently — by opening up politics to civilian control — enjoyed “immense good will.”

A Rohingya woman sits next to a newly built makeshift shelter in a refugee camp in the Bangladeshi locality of Ukhia on September 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Munir Uz Zaman)

“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” he said.

Zeid said he was “further appalled” by reports that Myanmar authorities planting land mines along the border.

AP contributed to this report.

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