Frustrated Falk calls for boycott of settlement producers
A report from Reuters is followed by the media release from the UN.
By Michelle Nichols, Reuters
October 25, 2012
A frustrated U.N. investigator on Palestinian human rights urged a boycott of companies tied to Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian Territories on Thursday, but the United States criticized the call as “irresponsible and unacceptable.”
Richard Falk, the independent special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories, said the companies – which include Hewlett Packard, Motorola, Volvo and Caterpillar – should be boycotted until they adhered to international rights standards and practices.
Settlements built on territory Israel captured in a 1967 war remain a key obstacle to a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks stalled since late 2010. About 311,000 Israeli settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.
“The focus on business activities is partly an expression of frustration about the inability to obtain compliance with these fundamental legal obligations of Israel and the ineffectiveness of the U.N. efforts to condemn settlement expansion,” Falk, a U.S. academic who is himself Jewish, told a news conference.
“There have been calls on Israel for literally decades to stop building the settlements,” he said. “The effort to reach out beyond the traditional way that the U.N. condemns things is an effort to take our role seriously enough to feel that we should try to use what influence we have to change behaviour.”
The United Nations deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. Israel disputes this and distinguishes between about 120 settlements it has sanctioned and about 100 outposts erected by settlers without authorization.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, rejected Falk’s report, while the Israeli U.N. mission described it as “grossly biased” and “completely divorced from reality.”
“His call for a boycott of private companies is irresponsible and unacceptable,” Rice said in a statement.
“Mr. Falk’s recommendations do nothing to further a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed poison the environment for peace.”
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and say settlements deny them a contiguous, viable entity. There have been more than two decades of efforts to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state.
“The whole issue of Palestinian self-determination is at risk here,” Falk said. “I would connect closely this effort to give concreteness to our concern by holding businesses that do profitable activities (in the West Bank) responsible with these fundamental issues of self-determination.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also pushing for an upgrade of its U.N. status to a sovereign country, which would allow it to join bodies such as the International Criminal Court and file complaints against Israel for its continued occupation.
Falk lists 13 companies in his report to the U.N. General Assembly, but notes that this is a small portion of the businesses operating or dealing in the Jewish settlements.
Aside from the boycott, Falk also urged civil society to pursue legal and political redress against companies “especially where allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity can be substantiated in relation to settlement activities.”
Caterpillar said in a statement that Falk’s report was inaccurate and misleading and “reflects his personal and negative opinions toward Israel.” The company said it sells products to the U.S. government, which are then sent to Israel.
Hewlett Packard said Falk was “far from an independent and unbiased expert in this matter” and that the company has a strong human rights policy and complies with the highest standards in every market in which they operate.
Motorola and Volvo were not immediately available for comment.
Falk has long been a controversial figure. In 2011 he wrote on his blog that there had been an “apparent cover-up” by U.S. authorities over the September 11, 2001 attacks and he also posted an anti-Semitic cartoon, which was later removed.
He was appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to his position in 2008, but Israel has barred him from entering the country or occupied territories under its control.
“Boycott businesses that profit from Israeli settlements” – UN Special Rapporteur
By UN Media Centre
October 25 2012
NEW YORK – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, today called on the UN General Assembly and civil society to take action against Israeli and international businesses that are profiting from Israeli settlements.
Highlighting the activities of Caterpillar Incorporated (USA); Veolia Environment (France); G4S (United Kingdom); The Dexia Group (Belgium); Ahava (Israel); the Volvo Group (Sweden); the Riwal Holding Group (the Netherlands); Elbit Systems (Israel); Hewlett Packard (USA); Mehadrin (Israel); Motorola (USA); Assa Abloy (Sweden); and Cemex (Mexico), Mr. Falk noted that a wide range of Israeli and international businesses are involved in the establishment and maintenance of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“All Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been established in clear violation of international law,” recalled the Special Rapporteur. “Yet today Israeli settlements control over 40 percent of the West Bank and between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli citizens are living in Palestinian territory. In the last 12 months alone, the settler population has increased by over 15,000 persons.”
The Special Rapporteur drew the General Assembly’s attention to developing international law and standards concerning businesses and human rights, including the UN Global Compact and the UN Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights.
“The principles outlined in the Global Compact are clear,” stated Mr. Falk. “Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.”
Mr. Falk also noted guidance developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross that points to the prospect of corporate and individual criminal responsibility for violations committed during a situation of armed conflict.
“In short, businesses should not breach international humanitarian law provisions. Nor should they be complicit in any breaches. If they do, they may be subject to criminal or civil liability. And this liability can be extended to individual employees of such businesses,” asserted the Special Rapporteur while presenting his report.*
“My main recommendation is that the businesses highlighted in the report – as well as the many other businesses that are profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise – should be boycotted, until they bring their operations into line with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards,” Mr. Falk informed the General Assembly.
The Special Rapporteur further noted that he had written to all the businesses mentioned in his report, and that positive responses were received from Assa Abloy, The Dexia Group, G4S, and Cemex.
“It is encouraging to be informed that Assa Abloy has moved its Mul-T-Locks factory from the West Bank to Israel, and that The Dexia Group, G4S, and Cemex are looking for ways to bring their operations into line with their commitments under the UN Global Compact.”