UN human rights experts yesterday slammed Israel over its "apparent misuse of anti-terrorism legislation" to attack some of the leading civil society organisations, while calling on the international community to take immediate and effective steps to protect and sustain the six Palestinian civil society groups that were designated as "terrorist organisations" by the occupation state last October.
The six Palestinian civil society groups, Addameer, Al-Haq, Defence for Children – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Busan Centre for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees, were outlawed by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz. Israel's designation enables the occupation state to close the organisations, seize their assets, end their work and charge their leadership and staff with terrorist offences.
The controversial move sparked near universal condemnation including from 100 Hollywood stars who signed a letter describing the Israeli move as "an unprecedented and blanket attack on Palestinian human rights defenders."
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"Israel's disturbing designation of these organisations as 'terrorist organisations' has not been accompanied by any public concrete and credible evidence," said the UN human rights experts in their message to international community. "We note that the information presented by Israel has also failed to convince a number of governments and international organisations that have traditionally provided funding for the indispensable work of these six organisations."
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The UN experts noted that Israel has had six months to substantiate its accusations and it has failed to provide evidence to back up its allegations. "We call on the funding governments and international organisations to swiftly conclude that Israel has not established its allegations and to announce that they will continue to financially and politically support these organisations and the communities and groups they serve," said the UN group, which includes Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian.
Despite Israel's failure to provide any evidence to back up its claim, several of the funders are said to have delayed their contributions to the Palestinian organisations while they investigate these claims. The EU has formally suspended its funding for two of these organisations. This has undermined the work of the NGOs and had an incalculable impact on the communities they support the experts said adding that there has been a lack of clarity about the duration of these steps.
"We are deeply disturbed by Israel's apparent misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to attack some of the leading civil society organisations in Palestine. Such misuse must be rejected and countered," the experts said before welcoming Belgium's stance on the matter.
"My administration has conducted an internal investigation into the allegations," Belgium Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir is reported saying. "This did not reveal any evidence that would confirm the allegations. I have therefore decided not to take any action against the Palestinian organisations in question. Nor is the evidence provided by the Israeli authorities such as to reconsider my decision."
The human rights experts applauded the indispensable work of Palestinian civil society in holding Israel accountable for its occupation and human rights violations and in promoting democratic principles and human rights within Palestinian society.
"Applying anti-terrorism laws to well-regarded human rights defenders and civil society organisations – without persuasive evidence to substantiate these claims – seems to indicate a politically-motivated attempt by Israel to silence some of its most effective critics in violation of their rights to freedom of association and of expression," they said.
"If the international community is serious about its support for Palestinian self-determination and an end to the 55-year-old Israeli occupation, it must become more vocal and assertive in defending the work of these organisations, and reminding Israel of its international human rights obligations."