HRW: UN Settlement Business Data on Israel Can Stem Abuse

More than 200 Jewish-only settlements have been built illegally on Palestinian land. (Photo: via Mondoweiss, file)

Ongoing illegal Israeli settlement activity highlights the urgency of the publication of a United Nations database of businesses that have enabled or profited from settlements, Human Rights Watch said today.

The database will publicly identify businesses that contribute to rights abuses by operating in or with settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In so doing, it will build pressure on businesses to stop doing business in and with settlements in order to meet their human rights responsibilities and for countries to respond to the Security Council’s call in its Resolution 2334 to distinguish between Israeli territory and settlements in their dealings.

“Israel’s brazen disregard of the 2016 Security Council resolution, passed without opposition, reaffirming the illegality of settlements makes it all the more urgent for corporations to avoid entanglement in rights abuses inherent in settlement activity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. “The database can contribute toward establishing an authoritative list of corporations currently engaged in such activity.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been compiling the database after the UN Human Rights Council voted in March 2016 to establish it in March 2017. The Human Rights Council accepted the high commissioner’s request to defer its publication “for one time only” until “no later than the end of December 2017.”

Countries also have obligations with regard to businesses in their territory or under their jurisdiction. The Fourth Geneva Convention requires states parties to ensure respect for the convention, barring them from providing aid or assistance to unlawful activities in occupied territories. The UN Guiding Principles call on countries to develop guidelines to ensure that businesses operating in conflict-affected areas, including in situations of military occupation such as the occupied Palestinian territories, respect human rights.

In March 2016, the UN Human Rights Council passed Resolution 31/36, which called for the Office of the High Commissioner to “produce a database of all business enterprises” that “directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.” It further called on states to take “appropriate measures to help to ensure that businesses domiciled in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction, including those owned or controlled by them, refrain from committing or contributing to gross human rights abuses of Palestinians.”

The resolution called for the report to be submitted during the March 2017 session of the UN Human Rights Council. In February, the Human Rights Council accepted High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid al-Hussein’s recommendation to defer the report “for one time only” and submit it “as soon as possible, but no later than the end of December 2017.”

In November 2016, Human Rights Watch wrote to the high commissioner’s office with recommendations for the kinds of business activities and institutions to be included in the database. Earlier in November, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and a coalition of other groups working on corporate social responsibility wrote to the high commissioner’s office calling for “prompt release of the database.”

“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources,” Whitson said. “The database will build pressure on businesses to cease carrying out these activities and comply with their human rights responsibilities.”

(HRW, PC, Social Media)

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