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A general view shows the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, on February 28, 2011. © 2011 Reuters

We welcome the long-awaited release this session of the database of businesses contributing to illegal Israeli settlements. Settlements are at the root of serious, systematic violations of Palestinian rights, undermining their livelihoods and economy. Transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population to an occupied territory violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime. Business activities in the settlements contribute to entrenching them--and the serious rights abuses and the severe discriminatory system that they embody.

The database helps to bring transparency to business activities and encourages companies to comply with their human rights responsibilities, by ending their contribution to rights abuses. It has already had impact on the ground: several companies contacted by the High Commissioner’s Office responded by ceasing their settlement activities, thereby ending complicity in rights abuse in compliance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Companies listed that now similarly cease contributing to rights abuse are entitled to be removed from the database.  The Human Rights Council has already decided that the database is to be updated annually and should act to ensure appropriate resourcing and clear timeframes for further reporting. We look forward to further updates by the High Commissioner on the database as mandated by resolution 31/36.

Recent moves to expand settlements underscore the urgency of ensuring that this important work continues. In February 2020, PM Netanyahu said he had issued a “directive to deposit plans to build 3,500 housing units in E1,” a vital corridor connecting the north and south West Bank, days after announcing approval of construction of a new neighborhood in the settlement of Givat Hamatos, between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and advancing plans to expand the settlement of Har Homa and build a new settlement in Atarot, in East Jerusalem. 

These developments also highlight the need for ongoing scrutiny by human rights groups and the International Criminal Court (ICC) . The Israeli government, which deported Human Rights Watch’s country director six months ago, has now also banned an Amnesty International campaigner from leaving the West Bank. In addition, the ICC has come under attack following the Prosecutor’s determination in December that “all statutory criteria” to proceed with a formal investigation in Palestine have been met. We encourage states to speak out in defense of the independent oversight provided by rights groups and the ICC.

The lead sponsors of the accountability resolution have shown flexibility by moving it to item 2. Failure now to support the resolution would suggest that some capitals are less concerned with the item number than with shielding Israel from accountability.

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