Thursday 15 October 2020 - 11:58

Israel No Longer Grants Visas to UN Human Rights Workers: Report

Story Code : 892220
Israel No Longer Grants Visas to UN Human Rights Workers: Report
In February, Israel announced it was suspending ties with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) after a report highlighted more than 100 companies that work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Since June all requests for new visas have gone unanswered, with passports sent off for renewals coming back empty, the Middle East Eye revealed.

Nine of the organization’s 12 foreign staff have now left Israel and the Palestinian territories for fear of being illegal there, the OHCHR confirmed. Among those is country director James Heenan.

The other three have visas that are due to expire in the coming months. Three staff due to travel to Israel to start their work have been unable to do so.

“The absence of international staff from the occupied territory is a highly irregular situation and will negatively impact on our ability to carry out our mandate,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the OHCHR, said.

“We continue to hope that this situation will be resolved soon, and we are actively engaged with various relevant and concerned parties to that end.”

All access to the Palestinian territories is controlled by Israel and the regime has faced multiple allegations of quashing access to human rights workers in recent years.

Last year, Israel expelled Human Rights Watch’s country director Omar Shakir, after accusing him of supporting calls for a boycott. Also last year, the Israeli regime refused to renew the mandate for an international force that monitored violations in the city of Hebron (al-Khalil) in the occupied West Bank.

Shakir said the “forcing out of UN human rights monitors marks yet another attempt by Israel to curtail documentation of its systematic repression of Palestinians”.

“Denying visas in order to punish critics has now become a central tool in Israel’s sustained assault on the human rights movement,” he said.

The OHCHR writes regular reports highlighting Israeli rights abuses in occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

In February, it published a list of 112 companies that work in Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. The report, which highlighted Tripadvisor, Airbnb and the truck and digger maker JCB, among others, was welcomed by Palestinians but sparked Israeli ire.

In retaliation, then-Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz suspended ties with the organization, which he hailed as an “exceptional and harsh measure”.