A United Nations human rights expert has called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for fundamental violations of international law during 50 years of occupation.
“This is the longest-lasting military occupation in the modern world, and shows no signs of ending,” said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“Israel’s role as occupier in the Palestinian Territory – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza – has crossed a red line into illegality,” the Special Rapporteur said, presenting a report on Israel’s conduct to the UN General Assembly in New York.
In a series of recommendations, Mr. Lynk proposed a UN study to assess the legality of Israel’s role as occupying power, paving the way for international legal processes to be triggered and the occupation to be ended.
“The laws of occupation are very clear that the occupying power cannot treat the territory as its own, nor can it make claims of sovereignty. Yet this has been Israel’s pattern of governing the occupied Palestinian territory for most of its 50 years of rule,” said the Special Rapporteur.
“International law is the promise that states make to one another, and to their people, that rights will be respected, protections will be honoured, agreements and obligations will be satisfied, and peace with justice will be pursued,” the Rapporteur emphasized.
Israel, he said, had failed to comply with any of the four main requirements in international law that he set out for an occupation to be considered lawful – that no territory should be annexed, that occupations should be temporary, and that the occupying power had to act in good faith and in the best interests of the protected population.
“The international community has recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide. International law, along with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, have all suffered in the process,” Mr. Lynk said.
Israel was also in non-compliance with more than 40 resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, and with more than 100 resolutions of the General Assembly, he added.
“In recent months, the Prime Minister of Israel has stated on various occasions that East Jerusalem will be part of Israel forever, no more Jewish settlements will be uprooted, and Israel will stay permanently in the Jordan Valley in any peace agreement,” said Mr. Lynk. “Should we not take him at his word?”
The Special Rapporteur pointed out that pleas for the international community to act had also come from within Israel.
“Prominent Israelis of conscience have called upon the international community to exert effective pressure on the occupying power to bring the occupation to an end,” said Mr. Lynk. “As Amos Schocken, the publisher of Ha’aretz, has written about his own country’s leadership: ‘International pressure is precisely the force that will drive them to do the right thing’.”
The Special Rapporteur said it was possible to compel Israel to end the occupation and give Palestinians the right to self-determination if the international community determined that Israel’s role as the occupying power was now illegal, triggering the relevant international legal processes.
Alongside the proposed UN study on legality, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the UN General Assembly should request an opinion from the International Court of Justice regarding the legality of the occupation. A previous opinion from the Court in 2004 said Israel’s wall on and through the occupied Palestinian territory was contrary to international law.
Mr. Lynk also recommended that the UN should commission a study to determine how States should fulfil their obligations and duties to ensure respect for international law.
“I call upon the international community to assess my analysis and, if accepted, to employ the appropriate diplomatic and legal strategies that would completely and finally end the occupation,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Mr. Michael Lynk (Canada) was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law.
Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.