Of particular concern, and the reason for this letter, is the IDF’s use of Caterpillar D9 bulldozers for these mass demolitions of private property in Rafah and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
I am writing to present Human Rights Watch’s newest report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which you will find enclosed. The report, Razing Rafah, documents a pattern of illegal mass home demolitions by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip. It focuses on the southern town of Rafah, on the border of Egypt, where ten percent of the population has had their homes destroyed.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) claims the destruction is required to block smuggling tunnels and for force protection. Based on extensive research in Gaza, however, Human Rights Watch determined that the IDF has destroyed many homes regardless of whether they posed a military threat, in contravention of international humanitarian law and human rights law. In Rafah alone, more than 16,000 people have lost their homes.
Of particular concern, and the reason for this letter, is the IDF’s use of Caterpillar D9 bulldozers for these mass demolitions of private property in Rafah and other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). As you may know, the IDF purchases D9s through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales Program. They are then armored by Israel Military Industries in Israel. In Gaza and the West Bank, they are the main tool and vehicle the IDF uses to destroy homes, raze agricultural land and demolish infrastructure used by the civilian population.
Razing Rafah documents this destruction in detail, as well as the deleterious impact it is having on the civilian population. As recently as May 2004, the IDF extensively used D9s to destroy large swaths of greenhouses without military justification. The “ripper” blade on the D9’s back tore up over 50% of Rafah’s roads and water pipes, causing sewage and drinking water to mix. More than 298 homes were destroyed.
We note Caterpillar’s stated commitment to social responsibility, as described in the company’s code of conduct, including the company’s willingness to “take into account social, economic, political, and environmental priorities.” We welcome that verbal commitment and call on you to implement it with regard to Israel and the OPT.
Since 2003, the United Nations has begun to develop standards for corporations in the form of the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights. That document states that companies should not “engage in or benefit from” violations of international human rights or humanitarian law and that companies “shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights.” Human Rights Watch is concerned that Caterpillar’s continued sales of the D9 bulldozer to Israel indicates that Caterpillar has not taken meaningful steps to ensure its products are not used in the commission of human rights violations.
In response to complaints from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace about the D9’s use in illegal home demolitions, you wrote in August 2003 that Caterpillar has “neither the legal right nor the ability to monitor and police individual use of that equipment.” The claim was repeated in a Caterpillar statement on the Middle East available on the company website. “We believe any comments on political conflict in the region are best left to our governmental leaders who have the ability to impact action and advance the peace process,” the statement said.
Human Rights Watch believes that Caterpillar does indeed have an obligation to prevent its equipment from being used to commit violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, particularly when such abuses are brought to its attention. Specifically, we urge the company to abide by standards such as the U.N. Norms by rejecting sales to governments or other parties where there is reliable information that the company’s product is being used in the perpetuation of human rights violations. More concretely, we call on Caterpillar to do the following:
• Suspend sales of D9 bulldozers and parts to Israel, so long as the product is used to destroy homes and property in violation of international law.
• Take public steps to ensure that Caterpillar’s goods and services will not be used to abuse human rights, in accordance with the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights.
I urge you and the board to review this report, particularly the section in Chapter VII on the D9 bulldozer. We would appreciate learning of the steps Caterpillar intends to take to address the issues raised in the report. Towards that end, we kindly request a meeting at a time and place of your convenience. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to a fruitful exchange. Please be advised that we are making this letter available to the press.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa Division
cc: Caterpillar Board of Directors