GENEVA (8 November 2019) – UN human rights experts* today criticised a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court upholding the government’s decision to revoke the work visa of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch.
The decision means Mr. Shakir will be required to leave the country by 25 November if the government stands by its decision to deport him.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is a body blow to the protection of human rights defenders, and to the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” said the experts. “All countries must defend and encourage the work of human rights organisations as part of their solemn duty to respect human rights, even when – and indeed especially when – those organisations are critical of the human rights practices of that country.
“We call on the Government of Israel to reverse its decision, and allow Mr. Shakir to remain and to continue with his research work for Human Rights Watch.” The three UN Special Rapporteurs said the government ruling was part of a disturbing trend of restrictions on the work of human rights organisations.
The experts further point out that the freedom of expression and association protects expressing support for, or opposition to, movements such as the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which do not incite discrimination, violence or hostility.
The revocation of Mr. Shakir’s work visa is based on a 2017 amendment to the Entry to Israel Law, which allows the denial of entry to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) to anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel as defined in the Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott Law of 2011. Israel annulled Mr. Shakir’s visa on the grounds that he had supported the BDS in the past, and over allegations that he continued to do so through his work with Human Rights Watch.
The Supreme Court ruling on 5 November stated that the activities covered by the law included “a call to boycott Israel (…) even if its reasoning is founded on the protection of human rights or on the norms of international law”.
“This Supreme Court ruling is incompatible with the principles guaranteed in the International Bill of Rights, and it marks a significant departure from the protection of democratic liberties,” the experts said.
“We note that this is the first time that the 2017 amendment has been used to expel someone from Israel, although it has been applied to ban people – including two United States congresswomen and several human rights defenders – from visiting Israel and the OPT.
“We urge the Government of Israel to withdraw the 2017 amendment to the Entry to Israel Law, and to allow peaceful critics of its policies to enter the country on the same basis as anyone else.”
(*) The UN experts: Mr. Michael Lynk (Canada), 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 of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.