The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Israel plans to probe Israeli settler violence against Palestinians and its link to West Bank annexation, investigator Miloon Kothari told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
“We are very disturbed that violent settler activity has increased in the last months,” said Kothari. “It’s becoming a means through which annexation is ensured beyond occupation.”
He spoke after the three-member COI chaired by Navi Pillay presented its third report to the 53rd UN Human Rights Council session which is meeting this month.
Kothari said that its upcoming report due to be presented to the UN in New York is expected to focus on the “excessive use of force” by the Israeli army as well as on settler violence.
“There seems to be no comparable global situation where you have a group of people running around doing what they are doing, with full license from the state and security forces,” he said.
That report is also expected to include the COI’s investigation shooting death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last May during a firefight in Jenin.
Critics of the three-member commission created in 2001 have taken issue with its open-ended mandate, making the probe the only permanent one against any country in the UN human rights system. Concern has also been raised about allegations Kothari made that social media was largely controlled by the Jewish lobby.
Kothari has since apologized for those remarks.
US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Michelle Taylor told the UNHRC in the morning that there was still “deep concern” over Kothari’s remarks, "echoing disturbing antisemitic tropes” as well as other comments he made “questioning Israel's right to UN membership.
“We unequivocally condemn antisemitism and anti-Israel bias and call on all [UN] members to do the same,” Taylor said.
“Regrettably, we are concerned that the Commission of Inquiry will further contribute to the polarization of a situation about which so many of us are concerned."- Michelle Taylor, US Ambassador to the UN
Pillay later told reporters, “that's an old issue” that been addressed.
In the morning she spoke with the UNHRC about the COI's third report which accused Israel silencing of civil society, particularly Palestinian NGOs. it highlighted in particular Israel’s decision to designate six of them as terror entities.
The majority of Israeli human rights violations stem from Israel’s goal of Israeli consolidating its “permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people,” Pillay said.
“This includes criminalizing Palestinian civil society organizations and their members by labeling them as ‘terrorists’ and threatening institutions that give a platform for civil society discourse,” explained Pillay, who is a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
COI member Christopher Sidoti later told reporters that Israeli NGO’s operating within the country’s sovereign border have also come under attack.
"Any criticism of the policies and practices of the state of Israel and any support for the rights of the Palestinian people can attract retributive action” by Israel, he said.
Sidoti said there are strong campaigns against individuals and organizations critics of Israel, including pushes to harm their careers and defund groups.
Freedom of speech and freedom of advocacy
“Freedom of speech and freedom of advocacy is what is under attack here,” Sidoti said. Kothari said that “there is a chilling effect where groups are afraid to speak out.”
At least 27 countries called on the UN Tuesday to end the COI’s open-ended mandate, charging that it contributed to anti-Israel bias.
“We believe the nature of this COI is further demonstration of long-standing, disproportionate attention given to Israel in the Council, and must stop,” Taylor told the UNHRC in a statement she read at the meeting, which Israel boycotted.
In objecting to the COI, Taylor explained that “no one is above scrutiny and it is this Council’s responsibility to promote and protect human rights the world over.”
She cautioned that “the nature of this COI is further demonstration of long-standing, disproportionate attention given to Israel in the Council, and must stop.”
“We continue to believe that this long-standing disproportionate scrutiny should end and that the Council should address all human rights concerns, regardless of country, in an even-handed manner.
“Regrettably, we are concerned that the Commission of Inquiry will further contribute to the polarization of a situation about which so many of us are concerned," she stated.
In responding to complaints about the opened ended nature of the report Kothari told reporters that the mandate reflects the situation on the ground for Palestinians.
“There seems to be no sunset clause recommended to Israel to end the occupation," he said. “As long as the occupation continues the UN needs to investigate the occupation,” he said, emphasizing that “we would like to see the end of the occupation.”
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen tweeted after the meeting that the COI was a "stain on the UN and on the Human Rights Council. Its Commissioners were selected for their anti-Israeli positions and continued in their roles despite antisemitic statements.
"There is no place for such a body at the UN. Thank you to the US and the other 25 countries, who stood up against this body and called for an end to discrimination against Israel at the UN."
The NGO United Nations Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer that the report had not dealt with harassment of civic society groups that speak out against antisemitic incitement by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
The NGO B'nai Brith said the report failed to acknowledge any Palestinian terror groups nor does it address the issue of Palestinian denial of Israeli rights, history and identity. The COI charges only Israel with war crimes and seeks to stigmatize critics of Palestinians and the COI itself, B'nai Brith added.
Those countries that signed the statement aside from the US and Israel were: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Eswatini, Fiji, Guatemala, Hungar, Italy, Kenya, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, North Macedonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Marshall Islands, Romania, Slovakia, Togo, and the United Kingdom.