European Commission lifts its suspension of funding for Al-Haq human rights organization

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The European Commission last week lifted its suspension of funding to the Ramallah-based Al-Haq human rights organization, according to a press release by Al-Haq.

“On 28 June 2022, more than 13 months after it had imposed an arbitrary suspension of funding on Al-Haq’s EU-funded project, the European Commission finally lifted this disgraceful suspension, which was unlawful from the start and based on Israeli propaganda and disinformation,” said the rights organization. “The suspension has been lifted unconditionally and with immediate effect.”

In its official letter to Al-Haq, the European Commission (EC) clarified: “This decision is based on several elements including OLAF’s (European Anti-Fraud Office) assessment, which did not find sufficient ground to open an investigation. Specifically, OLAF concluded that there are no suspicions of irregularities and/or fraud affecting EU funds in the implementation of [Al-Haq’s] EU funded project.”

Al-Haq explained that it has made it clear on 21 January that the EC has confirmed since July 2021 the absence of indications of fraud or other irregularities following a financial audit of Al-Haq’s project, which promotes the implementation of international rights instruments Palestine has acceded to.

“Since its imposition in May 2021, it was clear that the suspension was not prompted by any genuine concerns about the possible misuse of funding. Under the direct responsibility of the Hungarian EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, the suspension became a political initiative aimed at giving the Israeli government a tailwind in its attempts to disrupt and defame Palestinian civil society and to oppress the voices of Palestinian human rights organizations and defenders. Based on what we have experienced with this suspension in the past 13 months, no other conclusion can be drawn,” said Al-Haq.

“Due to our human rights work to hold Israel accountable for its grave and systematic violations against the Palestinian people, Al-Haq has been a long-time target of smear campaigns, intimidation, and reprisals, including death threats. These tactics have been deployed to distract Al-Haq and to divert its resources from its core mission to promote human rights and accountability – in order to enable Israel to entrench its settler-colonial and apartheid regime in Palestine and against the Palestinian people as a whole.”

It added: “We have no illusions about Israel’s escalating campaign to shrink civic space for human rights organizations and its attempt to silence human rights defenders in Palestine, the culmination of which was Israel’s decision in October 2021 to designate Al-Haq alongside five other leading Palestinian NGOs.

“However, when a rule-based actor like the EU effectively aligns itself with such a toxic campaign, a red line is crossed. This is what happened when the Commission suspended Al-Haq’s funding without any grounds, transparency and accountability and in violation of our rights. Instead of defending us, the Commission abandoned us, thereby worsening our vulnerability.”

Al-Haq said that it has challenged “the Commission’s bad faith performance from the start of the suspension, contesting its necessity and proportionality and demanding clarifications of the grounds and information on which the suspension was based. Until today, the Commission has failed to provide these clarifications.”

Throughout 2021, the Commission consistently ignored Al-Haq’s questions and requests. In early 2022, it appointed a Belgian lawyer to defend its rights vis-à-vis the Commission. On 1 April 2022, the lawyer launched a procedure for “amicable settlement” on Al-Haq’s behalf, including its proposal on how the dispute between the parties should be resolved.

“In violation of its contractual obligations and despite our repeated requests, the Commission has failed to respond to our proposal. In fact, it failed to present its own proposal based on a timetable it had suggested. This only confirms the Commission has been acting in bad faith, including through endless delaying tactics,” said Al-Haq.

“At that point, we drew a line and decided to legally challenge the suspension by taking the Commission to court for its ongoing violations of Al-Haq’s rights and the harm resulting from that, which has been exploited by the Israeli government and groups affiliated with it. On 16 June 2022, our lawyer handed the subpoena to a bailiff, who submitted it to the Commission. The first court session at a Brussels Court of First Instance has been scheduled for 4 July 2022,” it explained.

“Since then, the Commission has lifted the suspension of our project, rendering that claim irrelevant to the lawsuit. However, the unlawfulness and harmful impact during the past year of the suspension on Al-Haq does remain relevant to the lawsuit, which Al-Haq intends to continue pending further discussions between the parties.”

It added: “For decades, Al-Haq has been working on protecting the rights of the Palestinian people against international law violations committed by Israel and other perpetrators. The suspension amounts to another violation. We will continue promoting accountability and upholding the rule of law.”

Al-Haq requested in its interaction with the Commission assurances regarding the Commission’s commitment to execute the remainder of the project in good faith, ruling out any further politically-motivated disruptions based on slanderous allegations against Al-Haq.

“We are glad to see the suspension of our funding being lifted and value our partnership with the EU, which we want to continue in good faith, despite the Commission’s mistakes and misconduct. In that regard, it is essential that this disgraceful episode will not be repeated,” it said.

In between these turbulences, Al-Haq recently received the prestigious Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services to Human Rights.

On 19 October 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Defense designated six Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations as “terror organizations” under Israel’s domestic Anti-Terrorism Law, 2016. The targeted organizations are Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man (Al-Haq), Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC).

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