In advance of the 37th Council session (February 26 – March 23, 2018), the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has released a report on the “BDS blacklist” of companies that do business with Israelis over the 1949 Armistice Line. Pursuant to UNHRC Resolution 31/36, promoted by the dictatorships that dominate the Council, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is tasked with preparing a database of business enterprises that are allegedly committing human rights violations against Palestinians by operating in Israeli settlements.

The report, submitted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, provides important details on the flawed process and the difficulties inherent in creating a list of companies to be targeted by this form of BDS. Most importantly, the database will only be published “in a future update”; a specific date or time frame is not provided.

Concerns about due process for the companies involved, which resulted in an initial delay of one-year when raised by NGO Monitor in January 2017, are highlighted in the report.

Furthermore, the question of whether the UNHRC has sufficient funds to assess the credibility of allegations related to such a database is also raised.

The key points in the High Commissioner’s report:

Influence of Highly Political and Biased NGOs

  • The report emphasizes the strong NGO influence on the database process, stating that “OHCHR …was in regular contact with Israeli, Palestinian and international civil society, think tanks, academics, employer organizations, and other interested parties” (para. 24-25).
  • The report specifically recognizes “a petition by over 400 members of Israeli civil society” and a “joint statement by 56 NGOs,” both in support of the blacklist. NGO signatories of this statement include leading BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) organizations Al-Haq, FIDH, Addameer, Defense for Children International – Palestine, BADIL, AFPS, Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Norwegian Peoples Aid, and Association Belgo-Palestinienne.
  • The report cites Israeli NGO Who Profits four times as evidence that various industries “contribute to and benefit from the establishment, maintenance, and growth of settlements.” Who Profits – which is funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Trocaire (Ireland), DanChurchAid (Denmark,) and Diakonia (Sweden) – initiates international BDS campaigns, targeting Israeli and foreign banks, security companies, civil infrastructure facilities, and private companies. It supports BDS campaigns around the world in finding target companies. The website provides the option to “Report a Company,” and calls on the public “to identify companies that should be included in their database.” Its self-styled database targets more than 500 Israeli and international businesses.
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) and its report “Occupation, Inc. How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights” are cited three times. The report, which lacks methodology and credibility, effectively lays the foundations for BDS campaigns against Israel. The case studies featured in the report correspond to some of the more visible anti-Israel BDS campaigns. (HRW was involved in the initiation of BDS at the NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban conference, and has been actively promoting this agenda since then.)
  • Cites Ma’an News Agency once. Acts as a platform for tendentious anti-Israel statements, regularly presenting an entirely biased and distorted view of the conflict based on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and sole Israeli aggression, while also publicizing material from radical NGOs.

NGO Monitor Impact in Demanding Due Process

The OHCHR report notes that “a number of Member States, civil society organizations and other entities have repeatedly voiced strong opposition, both publicly and privately, against Council resolution 31/36 mandating the High Commissioner to produce a database” (para 25).

In December 2016, NGO Monitor contacted the UN officials responsible for compiling the list, inquiring about what due process and legal safeguards were being instituted before blacklisting corporations for legal business activity in the West Bank and Israel. In addition, at the beginning of January, NGO Monitor sent a position paper to the UN urging the UNHRC to drop the planned blacklist as it violates international law, ignores due process rights, and promotes antisemitism.

In the position paper, NGO Monitor highlighted the legal and moral requirement for due process, stating that “The blacklist is being created by anonymous UN bureaucrats in conjunction with BDS activists utilizing vague and secret criteria. There is no oversight of their work, no notice of inclusion, and no right to challenge these arbitrary determinations.”

The High Commissioner’s report demonstrates that these concerns were taken seriously, although serious problems remain in OHCHR’s methodology. Specifically, the OHCHR says it worked to “offer a procedural safeguard designed to provide fairness, consistency, reasonableness and absence of arbitrariness of potential decisions that may affect the interests of business enterprises” (para 16). Details of this supposed “procedural safeguard,” apart from short accusatory letters sent by OHCHR to targeted companies, remain hidden.

Reinforcing OHCHR’s sole methodology consisted of simply sending letters and consulting BDS publications, the report notes that it will not release the database until all 206 companies have been contacted and allowed to respond. Crucially, “Before the determinations on the companies are made public, OHCHR will notify the companies concerned” (para. 26).

Insufficient Resources?

In order to create the blacklist, the UN authorized a special 8-month allocation. On December 23, 2016, the UN General Assembly approved $138,700 to cover the costs.

According to the High Commissioner’s report, “More resources are required … to continue its dialogue with and issue communications to relevant business enterprises, adding information to the database and updating existing information in the database as required by resolution 31/36…” (para.26).

However, the High Commissioner’s office has only contacted 64 out of 206 companies that ostensibly meet the UN’s criteria for inclusion (see “Summary of screening exercise and communication with companies at the time of submission”). Given the due process limitations mentioned above and the continuing problems, it appears that significant further resources will be necessary to complete the process. (Social media responses from Sari Bashi of HRW and Kristyan Benedict of Amnesty International UK indicate that they want the UN to continue wasting resources on creating the blacklist.)

It is now clear that the funding was not to engage in a serious process– “OHCHR was given limited resources to carry out the mandate within the anticipated time frame, which required it to calibrate its research and engagement with companies accordingly…” (para.19) – reflecting the political objectives behind the campaign.