Europe: Ban trade with illegal settlements

(Brussels, February 21, 2022) – The European Commission should ban EU trade with settlements in occupied territories globally, Human Rights Watch said today in signing a European citizens’ initiative (ICE). the citizens’ initiativeregistered with the European Commission in September 2021 and launched on February 20, 2022, calls for the adoption of legislation prohibiting the entry into the EU market of products from illegal settlements and prohibiting exports from the EU to the colonies.

The transfer of the civilian population of an occupying power to militarily occupied territory violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and, under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, is a war crime. Trade in products produced in or with colonies in occupied territory contributes to perpetuating these violations of international humanitarian law. It also enshrines the human rights abuses that often stem from settlements, including land confiscation, exploitation of natural resources, displacement and discrimination against the local population.

“Settlements illegally deprive local people of their land, resources, and livelihoods,” said Bruno Stagno, advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch. “No country should allow trade in goods produced as a result of land theft, displacement and discrimination.”

The EU should also ban trade that contributes to illegal resource extraction in occupied territories, which is also a violation of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch joins more than 100 civil society organizations, grassroots movements, trade unions, and politicians in supporting the Initiative. It uses a provision designed to allow European citizens to order the European Commission to consider a proposal for legislative action. If it collects a million signatures, the Commission will be legally obliged to consider a ban on trade in settlement goods.

The initiators of the ICE initially applied for registration in July 2019, but the Commission initially refused to register it, on the grounds that the initiative was aimed at a sanction. The European Court of Justice canceled this decision in May 2021, finding that the Commission had not considered the initiative as a general trade measure. This decision prompted the Commission to reverse courseregister the Initiative and recognize its own authority to regulate trade with the colonies.

The EU and member states should ban the settlement trade to comply with their obligation under the Geneva Conventions to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. The illegality of settlements under international humanitarian law is well established and stems in part from their close connection to discrimination and economic harm to the local population, as noted in the 1958 commentary of the International Committee of the Cross -Red on the Geneva Convention.

Human Rights Watch has documented this phenomenon in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), where Israeli authorities have for decades imposed harsh military rule on millions of Palestinians while governing hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jewish settlers under civil law. Israeli. To establish and maintain the settlement enterprise, the Israeli authorities confiscated more than two million dunums (2,000 square kilometers) of Palestinian land. Israeli authorities have confined Palestinians to live in dozens of isolated enclaves, demolished thousands of Palestinian homes, and imposed sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement and basic civil rights of millions of people, among other serious abuses.

This systematic repression is at the heart of Israel’s crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, as Human Rights Watch and many others Palestinian, Israeliand international human rights organizations have documented.

Countries have a duty under international humanitarian law not to legitimize, even inadvertently, the transfer of civilians to settlements in occupied territory. Nor should they deny the reality of the ongoing military occupations and therefore the application of international humanitarian law, whatever the claims of the occupying power.

Settlements take various forms: in some occupied territories, they are geographically distant from the local population; in other occupied territories, settlers are not formally separated from the local population. However, international humanitarian law also applies. The Initiative uses the terms “occupying entities” and “settlements” interchangeably, emphasizing its applicability to situations where settlements are not clearly demarcated or where occupation involves other violations of international humanitarian law.

The Initiative clearly applies to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where products are made for export in illegal Israeli-only settlements that operate under a separate legal system from that of the Palestinians, but it would also apply to exports of undertakings related to the illegal transfer by an occupying government of its civilians into occupied territory, even when those civilians do not live in segregated communities.

Governments also have an obligation not to contribute to the extraction of natural resources in occupied territories that violates international humanitarian law. For example, in Western Sahara, Moroccan authorities exploit natural resources, including fishing, agriculture and phosphate mining, but have not demonstrated that they have obtained explicit authorization consent of the Sahrawi people and that the resulting resources only benefit them.

Recognizing their obligations under international humanitarian law, the US-led coalition that occupied Iraq in 2003 established the Iraq Development Fund, an independently audited fund that held the proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil for the ostensible benefit of the Iraqi people. But the export of unknown quantities of oil outside this system and the billions of dollars subsequently disappeared indicate that the occupying authorities failed to fulfill their duties under international humanitarian law

The United States had previously applied the principle that the exploitation of natural resources in an occupied territory should benefit only the local population in 1977. The United States Department of State then concluded in a memorandum that the extraction of oil by Israel off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula then occupied by Israel contravened international humanitarian law.

Businesses have responsibilities under international human rights standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rightsnot to contribute to or facilitate violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.

Given the inherent illegality of settlements and their contribution to human rights abuses, all countries and companies should end all commercial relations with settlements, including the trade of goods to and from them, said Human RightsWatch.

The EU has spoken on the illegality of settlements and other work-related abuse but did not uniformly regulate the trade of the occupied territories. EU imports from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank amounted to around $300 million in 2012, according to an Israeli government estimate quoted by the world Bank. Imports from Western Sahara in 2020 exceeded 500 million euros ($567 million), according to the European Commission.

“The EU rightly views settlements as illegal and yet fails to regulate the trade in settlement goods,” Stagno said. “If the EU wants its positions to be taken seriously after decades of military occupation and illegal settlement in places like Western Sahara and the West Bank, it should put its money where its mouth is.”

Mary I. Bruner