The International Criminal Court could hold Israel culpable for West Bank
settlement activity if the Palestinians become party to the Rome Statute, a UN
Human Rights Council probe concluded on Thursday.
fact-finding mission released a draft copy of its report in Geneva in advance of
a March 18 council debate on the matter.
Israel cut its ties with the
council when the probe was announced last March, in anticipation that it would
add fuel to the Palestinian drive to bring Israel to the ICC on the settlement
In its conclusions, the mission’s report stated that Israel had an
obligation under international law not to transfer its population into the
Palestinian territories, as it had done by constructing West Bank
“The Rome Statute establishes the ICC’s jurisdiction over
the deportation or transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of
parts of its own population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation
or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within
or outside this territory,” the report stated.
“Ratification of the
statute by Palestine may lead to accountability for gross violations of human
rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law and justice
for victims,” it added.
Still, the report stopped short of advocating
that the issue be brought to the ICC.
It did, however, call on Israel to
stop settlement activity and withdraw from the West Bank and east
The report stated a long-held UN belief, that settlements
violate international human rights laws and international humanitarian
Private companies that do business with the settlements also bear
responsibility not to violate those laws, the report said. It asked them to take
“all necessary steps” to ensure that they were respecting human rights,
“including by terminating their business interests in the
Israeli settlement activity should be seen as a subtle form of annexation, the report added.
“The establishment of the
settlements in the West Bank including east Jerusalem is a mesh of construction
and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the
establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the
rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” it read.
press conference in Geneva, mission head Christine Chanet of France explained
that Israel had refused to cooperate with the mission and had barred its entry
into Area C of the West Bank, where the settlements are located.
the two other mission members, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of
Botswana, held hearings in Jordan on settlement activity, in which they heard
from members of Palestinian and Israeli civil society.
Ministry in Jerusalem rejected the report, warning that it made it more
difficult to restart the frozen negotiations with the
Israel has consistently warned that the Palestinians are
trying to resolve the issue of settlements outside the context of negotiations,
and that reports such as this encouraged such efforts.
“The only way to
resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the
settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without preconditions,” the
Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. “Counterproductive measures, such as the
report published today, will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution
to the Israel- Palestinian conflict.”
The ministry added that “the Human
Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematical, one-sided and
biased approach toward Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate
reminder of [that] approach.”
In Geneva on Thursday, the judicial mission
responded directly to that statement by saying a report was needed precisely
because settlements were a core issue in the conflict.
The Human Rights
Council settlement probe is the sixth council investigation into Israeli
activity in the Palestinian territories or on its borders, including in Lebanon
and the Gaza Strip.
But the report is the first one issued since the UN
General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian status to that of a non-member
observer nation in November, a move that could allow it state rights before the
Chanet said the report was careful to state what the mission
considered judicial facts, rather than drawing concrete conclusions,
particularly given that the question of Palestinian status visà- vis the Rome
Statute had yet to be determined.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva
Convention prohibits the transfer of civilian populations into an occupied
territory, as does Article 8 of the Rome Statute, she said.
“Article 8 is
the chapter of war crimes,” Chanet said. “We can say that to put people directly
or indirectly [into occupied territory] is a war crime. But that does not mean
that this war crime can be prosecuted.”
Only a court could conclusively
determine whether Israel’s transfer of population in this situation is a war
crime, she said.
It was also impossible to know if the Palestinians could
legally sign on to the Rome Statute, Chanet said.
“We are a fact-finding
mission,” she stated. “We have found facts. The facts are linked to law and to
prohibition of law.
That is all we can say.”
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi of
the PLO Executive Committee welcomed the report, which she said was a “clear and
unequivocal indictment of the illegal Israeli settlement policies and
The report’s conclusions, she said, meant that “Israel is
liable to prosecution. The report reaffirms that Israel must end its illegal
practices, including withdrawing their settlers from the State of Palestine
immediately and without any conditions.”
The office of UN Secretary-
General Ban Ki-moon said in response to the report that the Human Rights Council
was an independent body.
But the office added that Ban had long stated
that “all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including
east Jerusalem, is illegal under international law. It also runs contrary to
Israel’s obligations under the road map.”
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