Letter to the FCO: project funding should not be conditional on working with perpetrators of human rights violation

4 June 2018 - 1:45pm

Dear Minister Burt,

We are a coalition of Palestinian and UK-based charities and human rights organisations working directly with Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, and with Palestinians, including minors, held in Israeli military detention.

We write to express alarm over the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s call for project proposals to “work with the Israeli authorities” addressing the “socio-economic situation in Gaza” and “the treatment of Palestinian minors in detention”. Such a call ignores the reality on the ground, of which the FCO is certainly aware: of the Israeli authorities’ flagrant defiance of international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly in relation to these issues, as well as the shrinking space for the Palestinian human rights defenders who have the expertise to do this work.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living in extreme poverty and deprivation due to the Israeli enforced blockade on the area, now in its twelfth year.  The FCO itself has rightly expressed concern over the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, in particular the strain of health and other vital infrastructure. The FCO has also rightly expressed concern over the human rights abuses committed in the context of Israeli detention procedures of Palestinians, including minors. The FCO has, on numerous occasions, recognised that these are not incidental cases, but rather a set of practices which are not compliant with international law and obligations.

The UK Government has a moral imperative to alleviate the conditions of Palestinians suffering from human rights abuse and extreme imposed poverty, and a legal obligation to refrain from facilitating or otherwise participating in, whether directly or indirectly, violations of international human rights law. We are concerned that projects designed primarily around direct work with the Israeli authorities will implicate the UK Government in the very human rights violations that it purportedly aims to address.

After so many years of involvement in talks and work with the Israeli authorities, as well as with human rights organisations in the UK and in Israel/OPT, it must be clear to the FCO that the systematic violations committed by Israeli authorities are not due to a lack of expertise, just as the frequent announcements of new illegal settlement units are not due to a lack of knowledge of international law amongst Israeli political decision-makers. These violations are part and parcel of Israel’s military occupation, now in its 51st year, and they cannot be addressed in isolation from that larger context of illegality.

We agree that access to and from Gaza and the situation of Palestinian minors in detention must be human rights priority areas for the UK. We hope that the UK Government will work together with the many civil society organisations that have expertise in these issues, and that have been working on monitoring the human rights situation as well as proactively advocating for human rights for decades. However, conditioning this work on direct work with the Israeli authorities simply undermines it.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders has noted with alarm an Israeli state-led crackdown on human rights defenders in Israel and the OPT. In an atmosphere in which the work of human rights defenders, the very people working on these issues, has become more and more dangerous, the UK Government should be using its power to protect and to promote their work, rather than shifting resources to the perpetrators of the abuse to work on “practical, pragmatic improvements to process and policy”.

We would be remiss if we did not point this out and raise our concerns with the FCO. We urge the FCO to adjust the terms of reference for the project funding so that it is not conditional on working with perpetrators of human rights violation, and rather continue to support and promote real human rights expertise and defence in the OPT and Israel.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter, and we look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Asad Rehman, Director
War on Want

Tareq Shrourou, Director
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights

Sahar Francis, Director
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

Khaled Quzmar, Director
Defense for Children International – Palestine

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