EU duty to act on violations of human rights law as main obstacle to peace
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network launches its latest report
By EMHRN, Brusselsa
The Israeli occupation of the OPT since 1967 and the violations of international law connected to it are the primary obstacles to a just and viable solution between Israelis and Palestinians, the long term stability and security for both people and the economic development so needed by the Palestinians.
While Israel, as the Occupying Power, is the primary duty bearer of international humanitarian and human rights obligations vis-à-vis the Occupied Population, states which are not party to the conflict, such as EU Member States, also have obligations under international law. As High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, they have the obligation to respect and ensure respect for these Conventions in all circumstances. Furthermore, according to the international legal principles of “Third State responsibility”, states have the obligation not to aid, assist or not to recognise as legal (hereinafter duty of non-recognition) and to cooperate to put an end to serious violations of IHRL and IHL, even if they do not directly affect them.
The EU has defined the promotion of human rights and international law as a significant objective in its external policy. The European Security Strategy, adopted in 2003 and reviewed in 2008, states that:
“(t)he development of a stronger international society, well functioning international institutions and a rule-based international order is our objective. We are committed to upholding and developing international law.” [Emphasis added.]
According to its written pledges, the EU has committed itself to building relations with its partners based on the respect for human rights through the inclusion of “human rights clauses” in all its partnership, association and cooperation agreements with third countries. In addition, the human rights dimension of the ENP is established on the principle that the achievement of reforms and progress in the field of human rights and democracy should be conditions for the enhancement of cooperation and the extension of the privileges granted by the EU. The EU has developed a set of positive measures with its partners in order to uphold its commitment to promote human rights, such as dialogue, financial incentives to governments and financial support to CSOs. The EU Guidelines on promoting compliance with IHL also clearly indicate the EU’s willingness to contribute to the promotion of and the compliance with IHL.
Since the 1980s, the EU’s diplomatic declarations have highlighted respect for international law as a crucial step towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Respect for international law and the call for a two-State solution have become the two pillars of the EU’s position.
In its 2003 communication on “Reinvigorating Human Rights in the Mediterranean Area”, the Commission stated that “(t)here is an urgent need to place compliance with universal human rights standards and humanitarian law by all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a central factor in the efforts to put the Middle-East peace process back on track”.
The EU’s declarations and prioritisation of issues may not always have been consistent with international law. 13 However, the EU’s declared approach, combined with the general objectives of its external policy and its obligations, have created an expectation that the EU will respect and promote respect for international law in implementing its policy and agreements towards Israel and the Palestinians.
The EMHRN and APRODEV have consistently highlighted a growing gap between the EU’s legal commitments and stated objectives in the region and the actual implementation of its policy vis-à-vis its bilateral relations with Israel and the Palestinians. While the EU has been actively pursuing a two-State solution, it has increasingly acquiesced to the IHRL and IHL violations committed by the parties. The bulk of the EU’s activity has been directed at supporting diplomatic negotiations between the PA and Israel, as well as providing financial assistance to the former without taking any measures against the occupation. Meanwhile, the IHRL and IHL violations committed in the OPT are actually detrimental to the EU’s stated objectives.
They constitute key threats to development in the OPT and the viability of a future Palestinian State. They also prevent the fulfilment of the EU’s aid objectives and the implementation of its contractual relations with the Palestinians, notably through the EU-Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Interim Association Agreement.
The revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), following the Arab revolutions, and the stagnation of the Middle-East peace process provide the EU with an opportunity to revise its policy so that its declared principles and legal commitments are reconciled with its practice on the ground. This new policy requires proper mainstreaming of international law in EU-Israel relations in order for the EU to live up to its commitment to promote and its obligation to ensure respect for the law in all its external and bilateral relations.
This report highlights two key areas where the EU should ensure a proper mainstreaming of international law in its bilateral relations with Israel. The first part of the report analyses Israel’s progressive integration into the EU’s Internal Market and participation in Community Programmes and agencies, despite its ongoing violations of IHRL and IHL in the OPT. The report pays particular attention to the EU’s decision in 2008 to establish a connection between its bilateral relations with Israel and the latter’s conduct in the OPT in accordance with its obligations and objectives in the region. The report states that this connection is not firmly founded on the respect for IHRL and IHL. Based on the new ENP, the report offers ways for the EU to effectively promote respect by Israel of its international law obligations through its bilateral relations with Israel.
The second part of the report examines the irregularities in the implementation of EU-Israel cooperation mechanisms that have allowed Israel’s illegal settlements to benefit from agreements. The report challenges the adequacy of the measures adopted by the EU to address these irregularities and provides specific recommendations to ensure EU respect for international law i
Principle Author: Bertrand-Sanz, Agnès
Main Contributors: Bell, William; Fischer Smidt, Signe; Nissen, Søs; Rocha, Mariana; Stanus, Nathalie; Zorob, Maysa.