UN Human Rights Council begins ahead of key Palestine votes

The 37th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council began this week. In his opening remarks, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned of the global failure to address many situations of widespread human rights violations, saying:

“Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action.”

He also lent his support to the initiative to create a “code of conduct” for the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) to end “pernicious” use of their veto against resolutions mandating action to reduce suffering around the world. The United States has used its power of veto 43 times against UNSC resolutions critical of Israel, including one in December 2017 criticising President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In the last week of this 37th session, the Council will once again discuss the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in a session named Agenda Item 7. There, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Professor Michael Lynk, will release his new report, on health, and states will again vote on a series of resolutions on human rights and accountability in the oPt.

Resolutions adopted by states last year under Item 7 were on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; the issue of Israeli settlements in the oPt; the general human rights situation in the oPt; and ensuring accountability for violations of international law in the oPt.

Last year, following a lead from the United States, the UK stated its opposition to this standing item, Agenda Item 7, and abstained on the accountability resolution despite having supported in 2015 and on the resolution on the issue of settlements which it had supported at the UN Security Council in 2016. The UK also issued a statement condemning the  perceived “bias” and “disproportionate” focus on Israel at the HRC, and threatened to “adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct” in the oPt.

Given that this continues to be the longest ongoing military occupation globally, that it has been accompanied by such systemic and widespread breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law and that these breaches continue to be committed with impunity, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and many others consider these resolutions to be essential to reiterate established legal positions and to help keep the possibility of accountability alive.

In March last year, MAP expressed our deep concern about the UK’s stated change in policy, and committed to “continue to advocate for the rights to health and dignity” for Palestinians, with the belief that “accountability for attacks on healthcare in particular will support the realisation of those rights”. We believe that, should the UK carry out this stated intention to vote against resolutions grounded in international human rights and humanitarian law, it would set a dangerous precedent.

Ahead of the Council session on the oPt, MAP has issued a written statement detailing violations against the right to health over the past year, including barriers to accessibility of healthcare, violations against medical safe spaces, and continuing de-development of healthcare and infrastructure, particularly in Gaza. The statement, which you can read here makes the following four recommendations to states:

  1. Place pressure on the Government of Israel to remove the obstacles to the right to movement which undermine access to treatment
  2. Work towards ending the blockade and closure of Gaza and the separation between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and Gaza
  3. Pursue accountability for all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including attacks on medical personnel and infrastructure, in order to ensure justice for victims and deter repetition of such violations
  4. Take steps to reverse the harmful effects on Palestinian health and healthcare caused by the severe fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory due to settlements, the separation wall and other barriers to movement

MAP will be at the Human Rights Council this month, where we will deliver an oral statement to the chamber concerning barriers to Palestinians’ right to health. We will also chair a side-event there on the impact of the occupation on health, on women and on the economy, and speak with states and others about how coordinated international action can prevent further deterioration.

We will keep supporters updated with this work, and how they can get involved in our campaigns, soon.

Image by Ludovic Courtès (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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