GENEVA (18 May 2018) – UN human rights experts* have called on the Government of Israel to rescind its decision of 7 May to cancel the work permit of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch, who is based in Jerusalem.
“The decision to revoke Mr. Shakir’s work permit appears connected solely to his human rights research and advocacy,” they noted, “not to any allegation of wrongdoing”.
“Deporting Mr. Shakir sends a troubling message that Israel resists the kind of human rights fact-finding and debate that Human Rights Watch and other domestic and international non-governmental organisations conduct all of the time, in almost every part of the world.”
In March 2017, Israel initially refused to grant a work permit for Mr. Shakir. At the time, UN experts urged the Israeli Government to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of human rights defenders and organisations, and to withdraw and rescind all restrictive legislation targeting human rights defenders. They are renewing their call in this fresh appeal.”
According to public reports and statements, the Government of Israel cancelled Mr. Shakir’s work permit in light of his alleged advocacy in the past for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Human Rights Watch has stated explicitly that it does not take a position on the BDS movement, nor do its employees.
“We fear that this decision is part of a troubling trend by the Israeli Government to restrict and shrink the space of human rights defenders who are critical of its record in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” said the UN experts. “We have previously identified concerns, for example, with Israel’s restrictions on human rights NGOs.”
The UN experts, while taking no position on BDS, remind the Government that expressing support for or opposition to BDS remains firmly protected by the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
“We are concerned that Israel is denying a voice in the country to well-respected organisations and human rights advocates,” the experts said, noting as well the 14-hour detention and questioning and eventual expulsion of two human rights lawyers from the United States who were attempting to visit Israel on 29 April.
“The ability of human rights organisations to function freely in any country is a barometer of the larger enjoyment of rights for the residents of that country. The unjustified curtailing of the indispensable work of human rights defenders does not dignify the reputation of any government, and runs counter to democratic values,” they emphasised.
*The UN experts: Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967;Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.