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European legal scholars uphold right to BDS in struggle for Palestinian rights

Palestinians hold balloons with Arabic writing reads 'boycott', during a rally for BDS in Gaza city on June 14 2015 [Mohammed Asad/Apaimages]
Palestinians hold balloons with Arabic writing reads 'boycott', during a rally for BDS in Gaza city on June 14 2015 [Mohammed Asad/Apaimages]

Marking UN Human Rights Day, which this year falls on 10 December under the slogan “Stand up for someone’s rights today”, 200 legal scholars and practicing lawyers from 15 European states have issued a statement that stands for Palestinian rights and considers the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality as “a lawful exercise of freedom of expression.” The statement was issued in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Dutch.

The list of signatories includes world-renowned legal figures of the prominence of South African jurist John Dugard, who served at the International Court of Justice; Sir Geoffrey Bindman, honorary Queen’s Counsel in Britain; José Antonio Martín Pallín, former Supreme Court judge in Spain; Alain Pellet, Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in France; Guy Goodwin-Gill, former Legal Adviser for the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Eric David, former legal counsel for the Council of Europe and the Belgian government; Robert Kolb, former legal expert with the ICRC and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marco Sassòli, former deputy head of the ICRC’s legal division; Michael Mansfield, British Queen’s Counsel; Lauri Hannikainen, Member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI); and Géraud de la Pradelle, who led the civic inquiry into the involvement of France in the 2004 Rwanda genocide.

While not taking a position for or against BDS, the scholars’ statement defends the right to pursue Palestinian rights under international law through BDS measures against Israel. “States that outlaw BDS are undermining this basic human right,” they explained. In doing so, such states are “threatening the credibility of human rights by exempting a particular state from the advocacy of peaceful measures designed to achieve its compliance with international law.”

According to Robert Kolb, “The right of citizens to advocate for BDS is part and parcel of the fundamental freedoms protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.”

John Dugard pointed out that, “No government ever attempted to outlaw or criminalise the Anti-Apartheid Movement for advocating boycott, disinvestment or sanctions to compel South Africa to abandon its racist policies. BDS should be seen as a similar movement and treated accordingly.”

Explaining why civil society has increasingly supported BDS against Israel, the former legal counsel of the Council of Europe and the Belgian government Eric David said: “It is in response to [the] irresponsible passivity of States that civil society created the BDS movement. Repression of BDS, therefore, comes as support of Israel’s violations of international law, and of the failure of States to perform their commitment made in 2005 to ‘strictly respect the aims and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’”

Welcoming the ground-breaking statement on behalf of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society that leads the global BDS movement, Ingrid Jaradat described it as a defining moment in the struggle against Israel’s patently repressive legal war on the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.

“Leading European jurists have now confirmed that advocating and campaigning for Palestinian rights under international law is a legally-guaranteed right for Europeans and indeed all citizens of the world,” she said. “Israel’s desperate attempts to outlaw the BDS movement and to legally bully its supporters into silence threatens democratic space, the jurists said in their critical statement.”

Jaradat pointed out that by joining Israel’s anti-democratic war of repression on BDS, the governments of France and Britain have become more isolated than ever. “In addition to this definitive endorsement by European legal scholars for the right to BDS, the European Union, as well as the governments of Sweden, the Netherlands and Ireland, along with hundreds of European political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations, have unequivocally stated their support for the right of citizens to engage in boycotts against the Israeli state.”

Such support was emphasised by the BNC’s Europe Campaigns Coordinator, Riya Hassan. “The BDS movement has grown tremendously across Europe in recent years, mainly spurred by popular outrage at Israel’s impunity in entrenching its decades-long regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against the indigenous Palestinian people.” She called the jurists’ statement “momentous” and said that it not only vindicates BDS human rights defenders who have insisted that BDS is protected free speech. “It will,” she insisted, “also undoubtedly add a crucial layer of legal protection for European BDS networks and citizens in their efforts to end European complicity in Israel’s regime of oppression, especially in military trade and research, banking and corporate involvement in Israel’s violations of international law.”

Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and across the Diaspora have welcomed the scholars’ statement as another positive step on the way to achieving their full rights in the struggle for freedom from Israel’s brutal military and colonial occupation.

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