Badil/COHRE Joint Statement on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2008

Accountability Must Replace Impunity for Acts of Forced Displacement in Israel/Palestine

On this World Refugee Day, BADIL and COHRE announce here the results of proceedings before the UN Human Rights Council Complaints Procedure, in which international justice has failed petitioners seeking due restitution of land, housing and property. In so doing, BADIL and COHRE reaffirm that accountability must replace impunity - also in the case of Israel and the Palestinian people, in particular Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

 In 2007, after extensive efforts to secure justice in Israel, persons representing dispossessed Palestinian persons and communities filed a petition under the confidential “1503” mechanism, providing a complaint procedure to the Human Rights Council. The petition concerned members of the Palestinian communities of (i) Kafr Bir'im, a village near the Lebanese border, forcibly removed from their land in 1948, and (ii) Arab as-Subeih, a Bedouin community in the Naqab/Negev whose land had been progressively seized by Israeli authorities over a number of decades. These acts of dispossession continue to today. At issue in the petition are circa 5000 persons. The petitioners were represented by a team of lawyers, BADIL and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE).

 On the eve of World Refugee Day, the petitioners learned that their appeal was no longer under consideration by the responsible working group of the UN human rights office (OHCHR). They were also informed that no reasons would be given for why their case was dropped, or why the very evident fundamental rights matters at issue would not be considered by the UN's premiere human rights body.

 Palestinians forcibly removed from their land in 1948 are barred from return and restitution under Israeli law. They lack access to effective and adequate remedies via courts in Israel or elsewhere. On World Refugee Day, and while the UN celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the message conveyed to displaced and dispossessed Palestinians is that no one is accountable for the systematic violations their fundamental human rights by Israel.

 In the case of Israel, the international community has failed for sixty years to recognize and respond to Israel's policy of forcibly transferring Palestinians from their land, barring return and restitution, and then developing such land for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish population. The consequences are ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians in Israel and the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), more Jewish colonization of Palestinian land and the entrenchment of an apartheid-like regime over the Palestinian people, the lack of durable solutions and effective remedies for refugees and IDPs, and a growing population of displaced and stateless Palestinians.

 On this World Refugee Day, approximately 70 percent of the Palestinian people are refugees and/or IDPs, including an estimated 115,000 IDPs generated since 1967 by Israel's colonization of the OPT. All of them commemorate in 2008 the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), i.e. the ongoing forced displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their society and communities.

 BADIL and COHRE deplore the failure of the UN human rights machinery to facilitate justice in the case of the petition concerning the dispossession of the inhabitants of Kafr Bir'im and Arab as-Subeih. BADIL and COHRE call upon civil society, governments and the United Nations to undertake any and all effective, legal measures to ensure that Palestinians finally enjoy effective restitution of property, housing and land, as is their right under international law.

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Further information on the “1503” procedure, which since 18 June 2007 is now the “Human Rights Council Complaints Procedure” is available at:http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/complaints.htm.

Further information on the BADIL/COHRE Council Complaint is available at: http://www.cohre.org/Israel