Israel before UN Human Rights Committee this month

On Monday, I offered a preview of issues that the UN Human Rights Committee is likely to raise with Sri Lanka on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The session at Geneva this month will also consider Israel’s progress on implementing the Covenant, and in this post I highlight some of the important issues that are likely to be discussed.

The consideration of Israel’s fourth periodic report comes at a time when the country is already facing international scrutiny over the recent 50-day Gaza war. While the committee will in all likelihood not consider the legality of the war itself, the conduct of the Israeli Defense Forces during the conflict may be raised under Article 6 (right to life), where Israel is already expected to discuss the military blockade of the Gaza Strip and report on any investigations into allegations of excessive use of force by Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians.

An important, and continually disputed, issue is likely to be the application of the Covenant in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in the Occupied Syrian Golan. The issue of the extraterritorial application of the Covenant is addressed by Israel in the following terms in its state report (where it distinguishes the West Bank from East Jerusalem/Golan Heights):

“46. The applicability of the Convention to the West Bank has been the subject of considerable debate in recent years. In its Periodic Reports, Israel did not refer to the implementation of the Convention in these areas for several reasons, ranging from legal considerations to the practical reality.

47. The relationship between different legal spheres, primarily the Law of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Law remains a subject of serious academic and practical debate. For its part, Israel recognizes that there is a profound connection between human rights and the Law of Armed Conflict, and that there may well be a convergence between these two bodies-of-law in some respects. However, in the current state of international law and state-practice worldwide, it is Israel’s view that these two systems-of-law, which are codified in separate instruments, remain distinct and apply in different circumstances.

48. Moreover, in line with basic principles of treaty interpretation, Israel believes that the Convention, which is territorially bound, does not apply, nor was it intended to apply, to areas beyond a state’s national territory.”

The Committee, for its part, has repeatedly held that the Covenant applies equally in situations of armed conflict. In General Comment No. 31, for example, the Committee stressed:

“While, in respect of certain Covenant rights, more specific rules of international humanitarian law may be specially relevant for the purposes of the interpretation of Covenant rights, both spheres of law are complementary, not mutually exclusive.”

The Committee has also stressed—including in its previous concluding observations on Israel’s compliance with the Covenant—that states should ensure that the Covenant is applicable to “anyone within the power or effective control of that State Party, even if not situated within the territory of the State Party.” However, given Israel’s longstanding opposition to this interpretation, it can be safely assumed that it will not be coming around to the Committee’s view on the subject any time soon.

[On the general topic of the extraterritorial application of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, see Just Security‘s earlier coverage here.]

Other important issues likely to be discussed this month include:

  • The punitive demolition of houses and private property of Palestinians and Bedouins;
  • The construction of settlements in, or transferring Israel’s population to, the Occupied Palestinian Territory; and
  • The practice of administrative detention.

Stay tuned to Just Security for further coverage of the Committee’s 112th session.  Live webcasts of the public sessions this month can be viewed here. 

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).