IBAHRI condemns Israel’s designation of Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organisations and calls for immediate reversal

Wednesday 10 November 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) strongly condemns the military order of Israel’s Defence Ministry designating six Palestinian civil society organisations (CSOs) as terrorist organisations and calls on the Israeli Government to reverse the order immediately. Furthermore, the IBAHRI deplores the revelations in recent reports that the mobile phones of Palestinian human rights defenders had been hacked using Israeli technology firm NSO Group's Pegasus spyware.

On 19 October 2021, Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz signed an order outlawing a group of prominent Palestinian civil society organisations accused of having links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The organisations are: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Al-Haq; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Defense for Children International – Palestine; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. These groups are well known for their monitoring, documenting and advocacy actions on human rights violations committed by Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinian Authority.

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc commented: ‘The IBAHRI calls on Israel’s Government to reverse, without delay, the decision to label six Palestinian civil society organisations as terrorist groups. The use of counter-terrorism legislation to stifle the work of Palestinian civil society organisations is a blatant attack on human rights, including freedom of association and freedom of expression. It has become common practice by many states to strengthen their crackdown on human rights defenders by adopting expansive and vague legislation. States should have in place an unambiguous definition in accordance with the United Nations Security Council’s recommendation that defines terrorism as “an act committed with the intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury or take hostages with the aim to create a state of terror, intimidate or compel a population, government or international organisation.” The classification of these CSOs as terrorist organisations is an unabashed strategic move by Israel designed to discredit and halt the legitimate and critical work of Palestinian human rights defenders. Israel must allow CSOs to perform their professional duties free from arbitrary harassment, intimidation and attacks, in accordance with international human rights standards.’

Being classified as a terrorist organisation, pursuant to Israel’s Anti-Terrorism Law 2016, means that Israeli security forces have the power to shut down the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest and imprison their employees. In addition, funding and public support for the groups’ activities are prohibited by law. As a result, staff members of the organisations affected are at imminent risk of reprisals and third parties will be deterred from working with them.

In July 2021, it was reported that computers were seized and security cameras destroyed at the offices of the Defense for Children International – Palestine. Further reports state that the headquarters of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees were raided by Israeli forces and shut down for six months.

IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said: ‘Palestinian civil society organisations have played a fundamental role in exposing, documenting and investigating human rights violations, allegedly committed by both Israeli forces and/or the Palestinian Authority. The recent alarming events by the Israeli authorities undermine the right to freedom of expression and association, protected under Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The work of human rights defenders is critical in investigating violations and holding perpetrators accountable; without them, the rule of law ceases to exist. The IBAHRI condemns Israel’s attacks against civil society actors and human rights defenders and calls for the immediate reversal of the order.’

In a joint statement condemning the decision, UN experts stressed that anti-terrorism legislation must not be unjustifiably used to undermine civil liberties or to curtail the legitimate work of human rights organisations, and instead must be designed for a specific and restricted purpose in accordance with international law. It went on to state that ‘the misuse of counter-terrorism measures in this way by the government of Israel undermines the security of all’, and that ‘the freedoms of association and expression must be fully respected in order to enable civil society to perform its indispensable work, and cannot be undermined by the manifestly egregious misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation.’

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, echoed the views of the experts, saying the attack on the organisations, which include ‘key partners of the UN Human Rights Office’, was unsubstantiated, and she reiterated the call on the Israeli authorities to revoke their classification of Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organisations as terrorist organisations, as well as their declarations against those they deem to be ‘unlawful’.

The decision to classify the six Palestinian CSOs as terrorist organisations comes just months after the former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened an investigation into the Situation in Palestine for alleged crimes committed since 13 June 2014. Not only will this decision adversely impact the vulnerable communities – including women, children, impoverished families and prisoners – that benefit from the work of the CSOs, it will also impair the ability of activists to document evidence of human rights violations and to provide testimony and expert witness statements in The Hague. Israel’s move has sparked alarm even amongst its allies, including the United States of America.


Notes to the Editor

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