UN human rights office says over 200 companies have ties to illegal Israeli settlements


UNITED NATIONS Feb 06 (TNS): The United Nations human rights office says it has identified 206 companies, mostly Israeli and American, so far doing business linked to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and it urged them to avoid any complicity in pervasive violations against Palestinians.

But in its long-awaited report, the rights office does not cite companies by name, saying it still has work to do.

The report is politically sensitive because companies in the UN database could be targeted for boycotts or divestment aimed at stepping up pressure on Israel over its illegal settlements.

Officials said the companies names were not mentioned under immense pressure exerted by both the United States and Israel, especially by American Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and her Israeli counterpart Danny Danon.

“The majority of these companies are domiciled in Israel or the settlements (143), with the second largest group located in the United States (22). The remainders are domiciled in 19 other countries,” the UN human rights office said in a statement.

Supporters of the move to blacklist such companies insist that they must be held accountable for their activities in the settlements, arguing that those actions can contribute to injustices against Palestinians.

Ultimately, the rights office’s review could lead to a public naming and shaming of companies for their activities linked to the settlements and give an U.N. imprimatur to efforts championed by the “BDS” movement (boycott, divest and sanction), which has been primarily a grassroots campaign to pressure Israel through action against companies.

“The violations of human rights associated with the settlements are pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian life,” the report said, citing the repressive restrictions on movement, freedom of religion, education and land ownership faced by Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. “Businesses play a central role in furthering the establishment, maintenance and expansion of Israeli settlements.”

“Business enterprises may need to consider whether it is possible to engage in such an environment in a manner that respects human rights,” it said.

Some 115 other companies were eliminated after an initial review. Israel and the United States have been sharply critical of a resolution passed by the 47-member Human Rights Council in March 2016 that paved the way for the review ” the first of its kind. The resolution called on the rights office to create “database” of companies found to engage in any of 10 activities, either explicitly linked to the settlements or supportive of them.

“I urge all sides to avoid misrepresenting the contents of this report, which has been produced in good faith on the basis of the mandate laid down by the Human Rights Council,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. He said he hopes the database “will assist states and businesses in complying with their obligations and responsibilities under international law.”

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said an Israeli and U.S. pressure campaign to block publication of the company names violates international law.

“We call upon the secretary-general of the U.N. to publish the names of the companies that are doing business with the settlements,” he said. “Settlements are illegal according to international law and thus companies doing business with it should be known because what they are doing is illegal.”