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Bachelet describes Israel’s decision to classify Palestinian human rights organizations as “terrorist” organizations as an unjustified attack on Palestinian civil society

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News briefing 

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice 

Geneva: October 26, 2021 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, confirmed that Israel’s decision to classify six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist organizations is an attack on human rights defenders, the freedom of association, opinion and expression, and the right to public participation, and must be immediately revoked. 

The organizations concerned are some of the most reputable human rights and humanitarian groups in the occupied Palestinian territory and for decades have worked closely with the UN,” Bachelet said in a statement published by the Human Rights Council’s media center in Geneva. 

The High Commissioner noted that the Israeli designation decisions are based on very vague or unfounded reasons, including peaceful and fully legitimate human rights activities, such as providing legal aid to Palestinian detainees, organizing activities for women in the West Bank and “promoting steps against Israel in the international arena.” 

“Claiming rights before a UN or other international body is not an act of terrorism, advocating for the rights of women in the occupied Palestinian territory is not terrorism, and providing legal aid to detained Palestinians is not terrorism,” Bachelet added. 

The High Commissioner stressed that counter-terrorism legislation should never apply to legitimate humanitarian and human rights work, saying: “The banning of organizations must not be used to suppress or deny the right to freedom of association, or to quash political dissent, silence unpopular views or limit the peaceful activities of civil society. The national authorities responsible for proscribing organizations must comply fully with the State’s international human rights obligations, including by respecting the principles of legal certainty, proportionality, equality and non-discrimination.” 

“The organizations, who include some of the key partners of the UN Human Rights Office, face far-reaching consequences as a result of this arbitrary decision, as do the people who fund them and work with them. And the crucial work they perform for thousands of Palestinians risks being halted or severely restricted,” Bachelet noted. 

The classification decisions published by the Israeli Minister of Defense state that the organizations are/or have become an “arm” of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and that they have obtained financial resources that practically amounted to the “terrorist activity of the PFLP” or supported its activities. No evidence was provided to support these accusations, nor information on the type of alleged “PFLP terrorist activity,” and no public action was taken to substantiate them. 

“The designation decisions contravene the right to freedom of association of the individuals affected and more broadly have a chilling effect on human rights defenders and civic space. Any restrictions on the right to freedom of association must meet a strict test of necessity and proportionality,” the High Commissioner said. “In addition, these latest developments highlight how problematic Israel’s counter-terrorism law is, including its overly broad definition of terrorism, problems of due process and the manner in which it allows evidence to be kept secret,” Bachelet explained. 

“Restricting the space for legitimate activities under international law is not only wrong but counter-productive, as it risks limiting the space for peaceful dialogue,” the UN High Commissioner said. 

Bachelet stressed that “Israel must ensure that human rights defenders are not detained, charged and convicted in relation to their legitimate work to protect and promote human rights. I call on the Israeli authorities to revoke their designations against Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organisations as terrorist organizations, as well as their declarations against those they deem to be ‘unlawful” 

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