The ongoing United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Palestine, made up of Navi Pillay (South Africa), Miloon Kothari (India), and Chris Sidoti (Australia), presented its first report to the Human Rights Council at its 50th Session on 13-14 June 2022. The report, published on 7 June, found that Israel’s ‘perpetual occupation,’ including the 15-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, and ‘longstanding discrimination’ against Palestinians inside the Green Line constitute root causes of recurrent human rights violations in Palestine, ‘are all intrinsically linked, and cannot be looked at in isolation’ (para.72).
Reflected in its unprecedented mandate and scope, the Commission’s first report signals a shift in the UN’s to-date fragmented approach to Palestine, with its refusal to address the human rights of the Palestinian people as a whole. This blog post briefly recalls the unprecedented nature of this latest UN investigatory body on Palestine before considering the strengths of the Commission’s first report and what we can expect (and hope) from its investigation moving forward.
An Unprecedented Mandate
Established by the Human Rights Council on 27 May 2021, the ongoing Commission of Inquiry on Palestine is the latest in a long line of investigatory bodies, including fact-finding missions, committees, and mandates established by the UN on Palestine for over seven decades. Despite this, the Commission’s novelty lies in its unprecedented mandate to investigate the root causes across historic Palestine (both sides of the Green Line) on an ongoing basis.
Under Human Rights Council Resolution S-30/1, the Commission is mandated to investigate ‘all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity’ (para.1). It is further mandated to ‘identify patterns of violations over time by analysing the similarities in the findings and recommendations of all United Nations fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry on the situation’ (para.2(e)). It is this latter aspect of its mandate which the Commission’s first report addresses. The Commission found that the failure to implement past recommendations ‘is at the heart of the systematic recurrence of violations’ across historic Palestine (p.1).
Addressing the ‘Full Context’
In line with the Commission’s mandate, it has sought ‘to give priority to broad questions and seek to identify overall patterns, policies, historical legacies and structural inequalities that affect the enjoyment of human rights of all individuals in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel’ (para.10).
The Commission’s report highlighted a ‘culture of impunity’ for violations by all duty bearers in Palestine (para.66), including the Palestinian Authority, which ‘frequently refers to the occupation as a justification for its own human rights violations’ (para.75). At the same time, the report stressed ‘the asymmetrical nature of the conflict’ with past recommendations ‘overwhelmingly directed towards Israel’ (para.28). The Commission listed ending the occupation (para.69) and impunity as ‘the highest priority’ (para.71) and noted that it would assess the responsibilities of third states and corporations in this regard (para.79).
At the same time, the Commission called for addressing the ‘full context’ (para.72), arguing that ending Israel’s occupation alone is not sufficient to ending discrimination throughout historic Palestine (para.77). It also recognised that ‘persistent discrimination’, displacement, and dispossession of Palestinians, as well as demolitions, settler violence, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip, have and will continue to fuel escalations of conflict. Here, the Commission’s forward-looking mandate becomes apparent as well as the importance of its ongoing nature.
Finally, the report examines violations of individual as well as collective rights, underscoring that while ending Israel’s ‘perpetual occupation’ is essential for the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination (paras.30, 69), ‘Israel has no intention of ending the occupation, has clear policies for ensuring complete control over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and is acting to alter the demography through the maintenance of a repressive environment for Palestinians and a favourable environment for Israeli settlers’ (para.70).