Israel is showing disdain for the country’s international obligations, so say United Nations independent rights experts. They are reacting to Israel’s conviction of human rights defender, Issa Amro, earlier this January.
Their comments came after the January 6 conviction by an Israeli military court of the Palestinian human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group, which opposes settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance.
Also, Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
In a statement by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.
Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.
“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said.
Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States.
Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law.
Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.
In the mean time, in a statement from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, the experts said that the country must immediately stop using its array of military security tools “to obstruct the legitimate and indispensable work of human rights defenders.”
“Rather than prosecuting human rights defenders, Israel should be listening to them and correcting its own human rights conduct”, the UN Special Rapporteurs said, urging the country to obey its international obligations to provide protection to human rights defenders.
Mr. Amro was convicted of six charges related to his human rights activities between 2010 and 2016. The experts said they fear he will be imprisoned when he is sentenced on 8 February.
“This is part of a clear and systematic pattern of detention, judicial harassment and intimidation by Israel of human rights defenders, a pattern that has increased in intensity recently”, the experts continued.
They said Israeli authorities had arrested Amro numerous times, with the aim of silencing those who would defend the human rights of others.
The UN experts Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, and Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, added that convicting him for participating in demonstrations without a permit, is contrary to new developments in international human rights law.
“The failure to notify authorities of an upcoming assembly does not in itself render the act of participating in the assembly as unlawful”, they stated.
Amro was convicted of three counts relating to participation in demonstrations without a permit. Another two counts relate to obstructing security forces, which concerned alleged refusal to accompany Israeli law enforcement officers during arrest. He was also convicted of assault, for allegedly pushing a settlement guard in 2010.
“This conviction is part of a pattern where Israeli military law is used to restrict and penalise Palestinians for exercising their inviolable political and civil rights.”, the experts concluded, adding that the conviction appeared to be politically motivated.
Amro was first put on trial in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges dating back to 2010, including incitement, entering a closed military zone, and participating in a march without a permit. He had been taking part in a peaceful protest calling for the re-opening of Shuhada Street, the former commercial centre of Hebron.
The Special Rapporteurs and other human rights experts have sent several letters to Israel seeking clarifications regarding Issa Amro’s case, according to the OHCHR statement.
Special Rapporteurs and independent human rights experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and are neither UN staff nor paid for their work.