Commission of Inquiry on Israel/Palestine - Year 1
A resolution of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in May 2021 created a new type of investigative mechanism. The newest of the 13 current HRC mandates, “The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel” (CoI), has completed one year of work and has reported twice: once to HRC in June 2022 and more-recently to the UN General Assembly (GA).
As previously reported in Land Times/أحوال الأرض, the CoI mandate is unique in five aspects: (1) as a standing commission, investigating all alleged violations leading up to and since 13 April 2021, without a beginning or end date; (2) it is tasked with identifying “underlying root causes”; (3) the scope of inquiry includes also “systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity”; (4) it covers a wide geographical scope to include in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, as well as in Israel; and (5) its findings, including evidence, testimonies and forensic material collected, should “maximize the possibility of their admissibility in legal proceedings” and make recommendations to, and cooperate with judicial and other entities, as appropriate, to Identify, where possible, those responsible, with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations are held accountable.
The fifth of these aspects culminates serial calls of previous commissions, fact-finding missions and Special Rapporteurs to end impunity for human rights violations and crimes, and to ensure accountability. In addition to this procedural dimension, the unlimited timeframe and geographical scope enable a UN human rights mechanism to consider, for the first time, foregoing events affecting the human rights situation today, and to treat the Palestinian people as a whole.
Throughout the year, the CoI has received written inputs through its confidential document-submission system, conducted visits to the region, held an expert group meeting (June 2022) and a series of in-person and online consultations, as well as a full week of public hearings (7–11 November). Within the UN System, the CoI has engaged in one interactive dialogue with the HRC at its 50th session June 2022) and a meeting with the GA in October 2022. Its reports thus far have focused on the method of approach to the investigation, in its HRC report, and on the legality of the Israeli occupation, in its GA report.
The expert meeting at Geneva in June involved 18 invitees: one Palestinian citizen from the occupied Gaza Strip, 13 Israeli citizens and five advisors of other nationalities, including HIC-HLRN’s coordinator. The advice coming from the experts included wide support for the CoI mandate and encouraged the commissioners to apply its unique mandate in its upcoming GA report to emphasize the UN’s special “permanent responsibility” for Palestine; the historic role of the GA among the underlying root causes; racial theory among the ideological bases of institutionalized, material discrimination against the indigenous Palestinians; and systematic human rights violations carried out through Israel’s public and parastatal institutions. These fundamentals, some argued, would enable the CoI to live up to its unique mandate without duplicating or overlapping the work of other mechanisms at this early stage.
The CoI’s report to the GA instead focused on the illegality of the occupation since 1967 and urged the GA to pursue an International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on the matter. That aligned with the State of Palestine’s bid for the same within the GA. In November, the GA’s 4th Committee voted 98–17 to seek an ICJ opinion on the illegality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories on the grounds that it can be considered de-facto “annexation.” (The resolution now goes up for a vote by the whole GA.)
Nonetheless, the concurrent report of Francesca Albanese, the new Special Rapporteur on human rights in the territories occupied since 1967, complemented the CoI’s GA with her own report on self-determination [AR], and critically addressing the UN member states at the GA on 27 October.
The CoI has called for inputs until 31 December on issues of its current focus:
- The targeting of human rights defenders, activists, politicians, academics, journalists, and persons participating in peaceful demonstrations;
- Specific incidents targeting women human rights defenders, demonstrators and activists;
- Specific incidents involving children.
Individuals, groups and organizations wishing to provide related information and evidence to the CoI are asked to fill and submit this form by 31 December 2022.
One of the hazards of human rights-defense work in the context of such ongoing and systemic violations as in historic Palestine is the distraction posed by the latest atrocity. It remains an indispensable-but-elusive task to document, expose and remedy the foundational wrongs that perpetuate the protracted situation. As members of the June expert-group meeting advised the commissioners, the CoI’s remains challenged to develop a body work to meet the challenge of investigating root causes.
Since its formation, the CoI has been confronting fierce denunciations from Israel and its allies in the UN, as well as from Zionist media, even charging commissioners of anti-Semitism. While some of the harm may have been self-inflicted, the world still needs a diligent and impartial CoI to fulfil its ambitious mandate. No party has reached the stage in the CoI’s process to jump to conclusions, especially while the foundational and indispensable questions unique to the CoI’s mandate have yet to be explored.
The root causes of the grave situation in Palestine, the historic fragmentation of the Palestinian people in the UN System, and other core issues are subjects discussed in the groundbreaking joint study, Israeli Apartheid: A Tool of Zionist Settler Colonialism, recently published by Al-Haq. That new publication could provide a likely roadmap for the CoI going forward.
For more information about the CoI, see the website at OHCHR.
Photo on front page: Press Briefing on United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Occupied Palestinian Territory, 14 June 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. Navanethem Pillay (center), the chair of the Commission of Inquiry between Miloon Kothari (right) and Chris Sidoti (left), members of the Commission. Source: UN Photo/Jean Mark Ferré. Photo on this page: Outcome of General Assembly 4th Committee vote on A/C.4/77/L.12.Rev.1, 10 November 2022. Source: Twitter.