UN says Israel ‘silencing civil society’ by criminalizing Palestinian rights groups

Israel is “delegitimizing and silencing civil society” by outlawing Palestinian human rights groups and labeling their members as “terrorists", a report by the United Nations’ top human rights body shows.

The findings were released in an annual report on Thursday by the Human Rights Council’s “Commission of Inquiry,” which was established after Israel’s 11-day aggression against the besieged Gaza Strip in May 2021.

The report, which examined attacks, restrictions and harassment of civil society actors, found that Palestinian journalists were particularly targeted and subjected to frequent harassment and punitive measures by Tel Aviv, seemingly as part of an effort to deter them from continuing their work.

Navi Pillay, a former UN human rights chief leading the commission, censured the Israeli violation of Palestinian rights and said the Israeli authorities were “limiting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association.”

“We were particularly alarmed by the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders, who are routinely subject to a range of punitive measures as part of the occupation regime,” Pillay said.

The former UN human rights chief added that most of the violations were committed as part of Tel Aviv’s campaign aimed at “ensuring and enshrining its permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

The report underlined that the Israeli crackdown on the Palestinian rights groups was “unjustified and violated fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression, opinion, peaceful assembly, privacy and the right to a fair trial.”

Women human rights defenders were also reported to face significant and distinct risks due to their visibility and role in fighting for societal and political change.

“We assigned significant importance to understanding the impact of the shrinking civic space on specific groups of activists, some of whom are more vulnerable to attacks and have suffered substantial personal harm as a result of being targeted,” said Commissioner Miloon Kothari.

“Women human rights advocates and protesters have been subjected to distinct gender-based stigmatization and isolation compared to their male counterparts, including sexual and gender-based violence during protests and online harassment and smear campaigns with the sole intent to discredit them and deter them from activism in public places,” Kothari added.

The report concluded that Israeli measures against civil society organizations amount to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and may constitute crimes under international law.

Over the past year, the Israeli regime forces have stormed, searched, and sealed the headquarters of seven human rights organizations in the occupied West Bank, marking a major escalation against the advocacy groups.

The organizations raided by the occupation forces include Al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center for Research & Development, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Union of Health Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women.

At least six of the organizations had been labeled as “terrorist” groups by the illegal entity for their alleged links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) umbrella group.

The NGOs have all denied any association with the PFLP. Nor have the Israeli officials provided any evidence of the alleged links.

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