Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Israel stops renewing visas for UN human rights workers

By The Palestine Monitor - October 21, 2020
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [UN]

Work visas for UN human rights workers in Palestine have been discontinued by the Israeli government, effectively forcing the top body of staff to leave the country. 


Nine of 12 foreign staff from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – including country director James Heenan – had to leave Israel and the Palestinian territories for fear of being undocumented after Israeli authorities refused to renew their visas.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the OHCHR, told Middle East Eye the lack of UN staff will have a huge impact on their humanitarian work in the region.

“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,” Colville 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.”

The OHCHR writes regular reports highlighting alleged Israeli rights abuses in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip. United Nations employees across the world are supposed to be automatically granted access to visas to carry out their work.

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.

The report, which highlighted Tripadvisor, Airbnb and the truck and digger maker JCB, among others, was welcomed by Palestinians but sparked Israeli ire.

Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and Palestine, who is currently based in Amman after being expelled from Israel after claims he supported calls for a boycott, told Al Jazeera this move is part of a wider trend in which other human rights activists are being denied entry due to their criticism of Israel’s human rights record.

“Forcing [out] human right monitoring groups is part of a clear strategy that aims to muzzle documentations of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians,” Shakir said. 

“The reality is that silencing human rights activists …  often only brings more attention to those issues,” he said, suggesting that if Israel’s goal was to silence criticism it had failed, as human rights activists continue to do their work as “strongly” as before.

“In an era with COVID-19, where people are finding alternative ways to engage with local partners and to understand the reality on the ground, we just continue our work,” Shakir added.





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