The International Human Rights Community and Israeli Crimes of Apartheid

About the Webinar

On April 21, Arab Center Washington DC Executive Director Khalil E. Jahshan hosted Stanley Michael Lynk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Professor Lynk had on March 22, 2022, submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council that concluded that the situation in the occupied territories amounts to the crime of apartheid. The report confirmed conclusions by other organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israel’s B’Tselem, that Israeli policies toward Palestinians in the occupied territories amount to apartheid. The conversation discussed the report’s methodology and process, findings, and collected evidence.

Professor Michael Lynk began his presentation by explaining the position and responsibility of a UN special rapporteur, saying that scores of them report on global conditions and issues but some work on geographic cases such as his. But he emphasized the fact that rapporteurs are independent of pressures, autonomous, and unpaid. He said that they usually keep their regular jobs and do not get any financial compensation from the United Nations. His report, he said, is the final one to the agency because his six-year term has expired.

Lynk said that Israeli policies toward Palestinians “are disheartening and an affront to international human rights practice.” He cited many occasions of violations of rights by the Israeli military, including during the March of Return near Gaza in 2018 and the explosive war of 2021. He spoke of the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, describing them as totally illegal according to international law. He said that in 2014, when the last peace process was begun by former US Secretary of State John Kerry, there were around 370,000 Israeli settlers in the area; now they number 480,000 (an increase of 23 percent), and that is in addition to 230,000 Jewish settlers in Jerusalem alone. In fact, some 700,000 (10 percent of Israel’s population) are living in the occupied territories in settlements that the UN Security Council has deemed as illegal by international law standards. He said that the “inexorable facts of Israel’s occupation, the relentless land confiscation, the ever expanding Jewish-only settlements, the dual legal and political systems, the vast gap in living conditions between Israeli settlers and Palestinians living among them, the vast separation of political rights, torture, home demolitions, collective punishment, and the depleted Palestinian economy have amounted to, or resemble, apartheid.”

The former UN rapporteur recounted criticisms of the situation by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former Israeli Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair. The latter described the continued occupation as a “gross injustice that must be urgently rectified.” Lynk said that his findings about conditions under Israeli occupation satisfy the three essential conditions of apartheid. First, there is an institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression and discrimination. Rule in the occupied territories is based on preferences of national and ethnic identity ensuring the supremacy of the Jews. Second, a system of alien rule has been established to sustain the domination of one national and ethnic group over another. Israeli leaders have repeatedly stated their intention to maintain their rule over the area and its Palestinian inhabitants. Third, there is a system of institutionalized discrimination that assures the permanent domination through regular practice of inhumane acts: “arbitrary and extra-judicial killings, torture, violent death of children, denial of fundamental human rights, a fundamentally flawed military court system, the lack of criminal due process, arbitrary detention, collective punishment, desperate living conditions in barricaded Gaza.”

Lynk touched on the failure of the international community to do anything about current conditions, calling it “remarkable unwillingness” to stand up for international law. There have been hundreds of UN Security Council and UN General Assembly resolutions on the occupation and the Israeli practices. But thus far, Israel has escaped any punishment. He noted that the occupation of Palestinian land has practically metastasized into apartheid without the international community doing much about it. He added that “international law is not meant to be an umbrella that folds under the first sight of rain.” The international community has failed to answer the situation in the Palestinian territories while it currently is up in arms against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Referring to Gaza, Lynk said that it is still considered occupied by international law treaties, despite the Israeli withdrawal from it, because it is under an illegal siege. As for accountability, he said that it was the most painful aspect of what he experienced working as a rapporteur, citing “the inability or unwillingness” of the international community to make good on all the resolutions that have been issued on the Israel-Palestine issue.

About the Speaker

Professor S. Michael Lynk was appointed in 2016 by the United Nations Human Rights Council as the 7th Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Lynk is a Canadian legal academic and Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labor law, constitutional law, and human rights law. He also served as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Law at Western University between 2008 and 2011, and taught labor law courses at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labor law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem. Professor Lynk has written widely on labor law and human rights issues in Canada, and has published articles on the application of international law to the Middle East conflict. He has regularly acted as a labor arbitrator in Canada, he speaks frequently at labor law and industrial relations conferences and he has advised governments and international organizations on labor law and human rights issues. Professor Lynk received his B.A. (with honors) and his LL.B. from Dalhousie University, and completed his LL.M. at Queen’s University in 2001. In 2015, Professor Lynk was named to the Mayor of London’s Honours List for his work on humanitarian issues.


Featured image credit: Flickr/Erik Törner


Thursday April 21, 2022