EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy: False Claims, Contradictions, and Reliance on Advocacy NGOs
On October 16, 2017, the Council of the European Union adopted the EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2016. The report includes consecutive sections on the “State of Israel” (p. 64-67) and on the “Palestinian Authority (occupied Palestinian territory – oPt)” (p. 67-69), the latter covering “the PA’s responsibilities in the West Bank and of the de facto authorities in Gaza.”
In these two sections, the report makes several misleading, inconsistent, and grossly inaccurate claims, as well as disregards a number of EU norms and official stances. The publication fails to provide references or any verifiable sources, violating basic rules of evidence. A number of the claims also clearly echo those of political advocacy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the Arab-Israeli conflict (many of which are funded by the EU). The degree to which these sections copy from and rely on problematic reports by advocacy NGOs highlights the broader issue of EU outsourcing of responsibility for analysis and policy-making without oversight. While a full examination of all the chapters in this publication is beyond the scope of this analysis, the question of whether these methodological failures are unique to the Israel-related chapters or reflect broader issues should be addressed through further independent research.
Based on this analysis, NGO Monitor recommends that the EU withdraw this report pending an independent review and revision, and employing credible evidence-based research methodology.
Examples of Inaccurate Claims
Quote: “Exceptions in the Israeli Youth Law applied routinely to East Jerusalem minors accused of security offences meant that their legal treatment was de facto similar to that under Israel’s military laws and practices applied in the West Bank” (p. 65).
Analysis: Although no citation is given, this claim parrots the Palestinian NGO Defense for Children International – Palestine’s (DCI-P) 2016 report “No Way to Treat a Child” which alleges a “lax interpretation of the Youth Law and liberal use of rule-exception for Palestinian children in Jerusalem.” DCI-P’s allegation is not backed by any comparative statistics or actual data. Furthermore, the assumption also propagated by DCI-P, that there is a substantial difference between the rights afforded by Israeli courts and those by military courts in the West Bank, is demonstrably false.1
In addition, DCI-P has alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Canada, and Israel. For instance, Hashem Abu Maria, a DCI-P employee, was hailed by the PFLP as a “commander” after his death in 2014, and board member Mahmoud Jiddah, reportedly a “PFLP member,” was imprisoned by Israel for 17 years for carrying out “grenade attacks” against Israeli civilians in Jerusalem in 1968. EU reliance on DCI-P as a source of information on any issue regarding Israel is highly problematic.
Quote: “The high number of Palestinian casualties raised concerns of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces.” Casualty claims of 109 Palestinians and 17 Israelis in 2016 are listed – the only example provided is of “an IDF soldier [who] shot an already immobilised Palestinian assailant lying on the ground and subsequently went on trial in an Israeli military court” (p. 65).
Analysis: The allegation of “excessive use of force” has long been a central tactic of politicized NGOs to criminalize Israeli security measures, and is often repeated uncritically by European government agencies (see NGO Monitor’s analysis). A number of radical Palestinian NGOs regularly demonize Israel through unsupported allegations of “excessive use of force” and “extrajudicial killings,” while omitting the context of indiscriminate terror attacks against civilians. These NGOs include Al-Haq, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Addameer.2
Echoing this rhetoric, and without any systematic definition, the EU report fails to provide any additional statistics, details, or context. The only example alleging “excessive use of force” is an incident in which an individual soldier was tried and convicted (an outcome that the report omits), directly contradicting the implication of systematic misconduct.
Policies and Claims that Violate EU Norms
Quote: “The last visit by a thematic UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) was the visit by the UNSR on violence against women (12-22 September 2016). Israel has refused to cooperate with Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the oPt. In January former Special Rapporteur Wibisono resigned, complaining that Israel had never granted him access to the oPt. …The EU will continue to encourage Israel to issue a standing invitation to all United Nations Special Procedure mechanisms [under which Special Rapporteurs are appointed]” (p. 67).
Analysis: Criticism of Israel’s “refusal to cooperate with the United Nation’s (UN) Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the oPt [occupied Palestinian territories]” is a repeated strategy of Palestinian NGOs that seek to exploit UN frameworks for demonizing Israel.3
This critique also directly contradicts a longstanding official EU position. The EU, in coordination with other world democracies, has agreed on a policy of non-participation in UN Human Rights Council sessions on permanent Agenda Item 7 – the only item exclusively devoted to one country (“Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”), which is clearly discriminatory.
In March 2013, during the 22nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU condemned the Council’s bias, stating:
The European Union and its Member States reiterate the view that the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories could usefully be addressed [by the] Council under the general item on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention… In the meantime, we would like to avoid a proliferation of reports and mechanisms under item 7… The European Union believes that there is a risk in tasking thematic Special Procedures to work on specific situations (00:07:13, emphasis added).
The official mandate of the “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967” (hereafter “Special Rapporteur/s”), to “investigate Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law, international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention…” (emphasis added), stems from Agenda Item 7. As is clearly discernible, this mandate duplicates and cements discrimination by explicitly omitting the investigation of violations of any offender other than Israel. As reported by UN Watch, in a 2009 interview with then Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, the European Union directly addressed the biased mandate, stating:
We wish to ask the Special Rapporteur, whether his mandate, as currently defined, allows him to look into the situation from all angles and present a full picture thereof? We wish to note in this regard that the mandate on the Occupied Palestinian Territories is the only special procedure which has not yet been subject to the review and rationalisation exercise by the Human Rights Council and we hope that it will be possible to complete this process soon (emphasis added).
As reported by the Jerusalem Post in 2013, referring to a Special Rapporteur report, the EU stated that it “continues to regret the unbalanced mandate of the Special Rapporteur and is also concerned that parts of the report include political considerations. In the past, the EU emphasized that future reports should be based on a more factual and legal analysis, and we regret to see no genuine progress in that direction” (emphases added).
Finally, the Special Rapporteurs have been shown to be associated with anti-Israel activism and in particular, support for BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns. As NGO Monitor research demonstrates, the current Rapporteur, Michael Lynk, is no exception.
It is also important to clarify that Israel regularly cooperates with other Special Rapporteurs whose mandates do not derive from Agenda Item 7 – a fact consistently omitted by these NGOs. Similarly, while the report acknowledges visits by other Special Rapporteurs, it falsely implies an overall non-compliance on the part of Israel.
Quote: “Within the framework of the EIDHR [European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights] programme the EU supported the production of several policy reports which were disseminated through political briefings or submission by the beneficiaries to relevant UN bodies” (p. 66). As described in the report, these include shadow reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT), and two “briefings by Yesh Din” (UN bodies unspecified).
Analysis: Shadow reports and briefings of civil society to UN bodies are meant to independently complement official sources in evaluating governmental compliance with international treaties and reporting violations. It is highly unusual, to understate the case, for the EU to commission political civil society groups in a third country – in this case a democracy with a vibrant and critical civil society – to report to the UN and criticize the policies of the elected government. Beyond greatly compromising the independence and integrity of the process, such funding – for which there is no apparent parallel in other regions – perpetuates and intensifies an already disproportionate focus on Israel within the UN, as acknowledged and officially opposed by the EU (see above).
For example, the August 2017 session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) – which reviewed Burkina Faso, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Guatemala, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Monaco, Nauru, Norway, Oman, Paraguay and Singapore – amply illustrates this selectivity. With 22 submissions, Israel is the country with the most civil society contributions, by a significant margin (followed by Kenya, with 16 submissions).
Moreover, one of the organizations funded by the EU in order to provide reports to UN bodies has a history of promoting severe and unfounded allegations against Israel in UN frameworks. Yesh Din publishes statistics and findings related to what it calls “ideologically-motivated crimes” against Palestinians, as well as what it claims is a lack of Israeli law enforcement in the West Bank. On May 6, 2016, Yesh Din Legal Adviser Michael Sfard presented information on the “protection of Palestinian people” to a special meeting of the UN Security Council. According to NGO Monitor research, these oft-cited statistics are misleading and misrepresentative when taken in context. Yesh Din’s categorizations are not used by Israel or other jurisdictions around the world, thus making it impossible to properly evaluate the claims and compare the rates to other areas. The fact that this politicized activity is itself funded by the EU is significant.
Quote: “Israel was characterised by adherence to democratic governance and respect for the rule of law” (p. 64).
“Respect for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media [under the Palestinian Authority] did not improve; they came under increased pressure due to harassment, threats and sometimes arbitrary arrests of journalists” (p. 67).
“Support for HRDs was granted by the EU, in particular at local level, through a long list of measures, in the case of arrests of Palestinians by Israeli forces, be it through full arrest or by way of administrative detention, including of children aged between 12 and 18 years and also with regard to Bedouin communities. Numerous meetings took place both in Brussels and in the West Bank to support human rights CSOs [civil society organizations]. EUPOL COPPS [EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support] held many incidental meetings with a variety of human rights CSOs” (p. 69, emphasis added).
Analysis: These quotes include multiple contradictions and distort the EU’s official definition and concept of human rights defenders (HRDs).
The section on Israel opens by recognizing Israel’s commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law. However, the very next section presumes Israeli abuse and a lack of respect for the rule of law, implying arbitrary and ideologically-motivated arrests of “human rights defenders” (HRDs).
Further, despite acknowledging Palestinian “harassment, threats and sometimes arbitrary arrests of journalists,” only “arrests of Palestinians by Israeli forces” are deemed worthy of EU intervention.
Finally, the EU echoes the rhetoric of Palestinian NGOs such as Addameer and Samidoun, which consistently portray convicted criminals, including those found guilty of murder and/or terrorism, as “political prisoners” and “human rights defenders.”4 Under the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, “Human rights defenders are those individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms . . . The definition does not include those individuals or groups who commit or propagate violence.”
Similarly, Resolution 1900 (2012) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – of which all EU member states are members – affirms that “Those deprived of their personal liberty for terrorist crimes shall not be considered political prisoners if they have been prosecuted and sentenced for such crimes according to national legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5)” (emphasis added).
- See NGO Monitor analysis of DCI-P’s report, which demonstrates numerous misrepresentations of sources, misleading statistics, and other methodological flaws. For a detailed analysis of allegations regarding youth in East Jerusalem, see section on “Claims Comparing Treatment in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
- For examples, see: Al-Haq Attends 36th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (Al-Haq, September 2017); In New Excessive Use of Force, Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian Child and Wound 10 Civilians in Eastern Gaza Strip (PCHR, July 2017); Facts on Al-Aqsa Uprising: Arrest, Collective Punishment and Extrajudicial Killing (Addameer, July 2017).
- For examples, see: The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council Condemns Denial of Work Permit of Human Rights Watch Country Director (The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), February 2017); The Resignation of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation inside the occupied Palestinian territory highlights the necessity of ending Israel’s impunity for grievous rights abuses (PHROC, January 2016); in condemnation of the EU position – PHROC letter on the EU’s position on and participation in Agenda Item 7 of the United Nations Human Rights Council (September 2013).
- See for example “French-Palestinian human rights defender Salah Hamouri ordered to three more days under Israeli interrogation” (Samidoun, August 2017); “Arrest and Prosecution of Human Rights Defenders” (Addameer, July 2017).