UNHRC delays release of West Bank black list, Israel says it must be nixed

It had been expected that it would be published during the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council that began on February 25 and is scheduled to run through March 22.

Houses are seen in the Israeli community of Givat Zeev (bottom) with the Palestinian Authority city of Ramallah in the background, December 29, 2016 (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Houses are seen in the Israeli community of Givat Zeev (bottom) with the Palestinian Authority city of Ramallah in the background, December 29, 2016
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The United Nations has delayed publication of its much-anticipated blacklist of companies doing business with Israel over the pre-1967 lines, but Jerusalem has called on it to eliminate the database altogether.
The list is seen as an initial step in the process of criminalizing economic activity with Israeli entities in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Israel worked diplomatically behind the scenes to prevent its scheduled publication during the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which began on February 22 and is expected to end March 22.
The delay, however, is seen as only a partial victory because UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she still plans to publish the list even though she did not set a date for its release.
The Foreign Ministry said in response that the “council must shelve any activity in the economic sphere that threatens to harm the area’s residents.”
“We acknowledge the commissioner’s statement,” the Foreign Ministry said, adding that its position on the matter has not changed and that the UNHRC had no authority to compile the database. It agreed to do so out of “political and anti-Israeli bias,” the ministry said.
In 2016, the UNHRC initially instructed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to compile and complete the list within the next year.
The United States pressured the UNHRC not to publish the list, and threatened to leave the council if it did so. Initially, the UNHRC delayed the project with an eye to swaying the United States to remain in the council.
Once the US left the council, it was presumed that the publication of the list would be forthcoming. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ed Al-Hussein promised and failed to complete it before he left office in August 2018.
Bachelet had initially hoped to complete the list by February 25, but in a letter to the UNHRC president published Tuesday, she said that it had not been possible to do so.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (Reuters)
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (Reuters)
“Since my assumption of functions as High Commissioner in September 2018, I have been engaged in a process of consideration and assessment of the steps undertaken to date," Bachelet wrote. “The steps taken pursuant to Resolution 31/36 have led to important and welcome engagement with Member States, business entities, civil society and other stakeholder which is ongoing. I am committed to discharging the mandate of the Human Rights Council set out in its resolution 31/36, and intend to report to the council accordingly."
“Given the novelty of the mandate and its legal, methodological and factual complexity, further consideration is necessary to fully respond to the council’s request,” Bachelet added.
World Jewish Congress CEO and executive vice president, Robert Singer, met with Bachelet last month in Geneva and asked her to reject the UNHRC request for such a database.
“The publication of such a database falls well beyond the mandate of the council and is a politically motivated exercise which would financially hurt thousands of employees of the targeted companies, both Israeli and Palestinian, whose livelihood and personal security would be compromised,” Singer said. “The champions of this report often promote an agenda venturing on discourse that is antisemitic and hurtful to the Jewish people. Should the database be published, we fear that the actions of the council may inadvertently lead to the targeting of Jewish communities and fuel antisemitism around the world and, consequently, run counter to the council’s noble goals of protecting and promoting human rights for all,."
NGO Monitor said it had also been in touch with the commissioner’s office on the matter through its legal adviser, Anne Herzberg.
“For more than two years, NGO Monitor has repeatedly warned that there are significant moral, legal and due process concerns with the creation of a UN blacklist of companies. The High Commissioner’s letter as well as past UN reports acknowledge the centrality of these issues,” Herzberg said.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy executive director for advocacy, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, urged the commissioner to publish the list.
“Israeli authorities’ brazen expansion of illegal settlements underscores why the UN database of businesses facilitating these settlements needs to be published. Each delay further entrenches corporate involvement in the systematic rights abuses stemming from illegal settlements,” he said. “The High Commissioner for Human Rights has a responsibility to fulfill the mandate entrusted to her by the Human Rights Council, and commit to a clear date for publishing this vital report as a matter of urgency."