Tag Archives: humanitarian law

Prolonged Occupation or Illegal Occupant?

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

Professor Michael Lynk’s commentary was first published on May 16, 2018 on EJIL: Talk! …. the Blog of the European Journal of International Law.  He raises a novel argument — that the international legal community should consider whether or not Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine has crossed some legal line, resulting in an illegal occupation. Professor Lynk posits a 4-part test to determine the answer. His commentary is reprinted below in full.*

Michael Lynk is an associate professor at the Faculty of Law, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada. He teaches labour law, human rights law and constitutional law. In March 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed him as Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967

“An unresolved question in international humanitarian law is whether an occupying power – whose authority as occupant may have initially been lawful – can cross a bright red line into illegality because it is acting contrary to the fundamental tenets of international law dealing with the laws of occupation.  This question has become especially relevant in light of several prolonged occupations in the modern world, including the 50-year-old Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory.

The principal instruments of international humanitarian law, including the 1907 Hague Regulations, the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, are silent on this question. However, a purposive reading of these instruments, together with the foundational tenets of international humanitarian and human rights law, leads to the conclusion that an occupying power whose intent is to turn occupation into annexation and conquest becomes an illegal occupant.

In my October 2017 report to the United Nations General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, I argue that a four-part test can be derived from general principles of international law, including the laws of occupation, to determine whether the status of an occupying power has become illegal. Violating any one of these four parts of the test could establish the occupying power as an illegal occupant. This builds upon previous studies done by E. BenvenistiO. Ben-Naftali, A. Gross & K. Michaeli; and A. Gross.

Before laying out the four-part test, it is important to note that some international law commentators have advanced the proposition that a lengthy period of occupation – a prolonged occupation – should qualify as a special category under the laws of occupation. In the circumstances of a prolonged occupation, it has been said by these commentators that the laws of occupation may have to be modified to enable the occupying power to maintain an effective rule over the territory in light of evolving administrative needs and emerging social and economic developments. As such, they opine that the conservationist principle at the heart of occupation law would need to be interpreted flexibly.

While prolonged occupation may be a useful descriptive term to capture the existence of a lengthy occupation, it is not appropriate as a distinct legal category within the laws of occupation in the absence of an analysis as to why the occupation has lasted so long and whether the occupying power is still administering the occupation in good faith and with a steady determination to hand the entire occupied territory back to the sovereign – the people – in as short and as reasonable a time period as possible. Otherwise, the concept of prolonged occupation may well become a legal guise that masks a de facto colonial exercise and defeats the transient and exceptional nature which occupations are intended to be.

The four parts of the proposed test are:

(i) An Occupying Power cannot annex any of the Occupied Territory

In the modern world, an occupying power cannot, under any circumstances, acquire the right to conquer, annex or gain sovereign title over any part of the territory under its occupation. This is one of the most well-established principles of modern international law and enjoys universal endorsement. According to Oppenheim, belligerent occupation does not yield so much as an atom of sovereignty in the authority of the occupant: A. Gross: The Writing on the Wall (2017), at 8.

Beginning with UNSC resolution 242 in November 1967, the Security Council has endorsed the principle of “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory” by war or by force on at least nine occasions, most recently in December 2016. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously affirmed this principle in the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States. In the Wall Advisory Opinion in 2004, the ICJ held, at para. 87, that the: “…illegality of territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force” has acquired the status of customary international law.

Israel’s de jure annexation of East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank in 1967 (by a Cabinet decision) and 1980 (by a Knesset vote) is, ipso facto, a violation of the non-annexation principle, as reflected in the laws of occupation. Shortly after the Knesset vote, the United Nations Security Council in August 1980 censured Israel “in the strongest terms” for the Knesset vote, affirmed that Israel’s actions were in breach of international law, and that Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem was “null and void” and “must be rescinded forthwith.” Israel remains non-compliant with all of the United Nations’ resolutions on the annexation of Jerusalem, there are presently about 210,000 Israeli settlers living in East Jerusalem and Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated that Israel intends to keep all of Jerusalem permanently. Beyond Jerusalem, Israel is actively establishing the de facto annexation of parts of the West Bank through its thickening settlement enterprise, as noted by the ICJ in para. 121 of the Wall Advisory Opinion and by Professor Omar Dajani.

Israel’s predominant reply-arguments are that it has a superior title to East Jerusalem and the West Bank because they were acquired in a defensive war and because Jordan was never the true sovereign at the time of the 1967 war. In response, the absolute rule against the acquisition of territory by force makes no distinction as to whether the territory was occupied through a war of self-defence or a war of aggression; annexation is prohibited in both circumstances: S. Korman, The Right of Conquest (1996), pp. 259-60. And, as the 2016 commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross states, in para. 324, the legal status of occupation does not require the existence of a prior legitimate sovereign over the territory in question.

(ii) An Occupation is inherently temporary, and the Occupying Power must seek to end the occupation as soon as reasonably possible.

Occupation is by definition a temporary and exceptional situation where the occupying power assumes the role of a de facto administrator of the territory until conditions allow for the return of the territory to the sovereign. In the words of Jean Pictet, at p. 275, this is what distinguishes occupation from annexation. Because of the absolute prohibition against the acquisition of territory by force, the occupying power is prohibited from ruling the territory on a permanent or even an indefinite basis. While the laws of occupation do not set out a specific length of time for the lawful duration of an occupation, the purposive conclusion to be drawn is that the territory is to be returned to the sovereign power – the people of the territory – in as reasonable and expeditious a time period as possible, so as to honour the right of those people to self-determination. (As  UNSC Resolution 1483 (22 May 2003), dealing with the American-led occupation of Iraq, noted, the occupying powers committed to return the governance of Iraq to its people “as soon as possible.”) Indeed, the longer the occupation, the greater the justification that the occupying power must satisfy to defend its continuing presence in the occupied territory.

The duration of the 50-year-old Israeli occupation is without precedent or parallel in today’s world. Modern occupations that have broadly adhered to the strict principles of temporariness, non-annexation, trusteeship and good faith have not exceeded 10 years, including the American occupation of Japan, the Allied occupation of western Germany and the American-led occupation of Iraq. Every Israeli government since 1967 has pursued the continuous growth of the settlements, and the scale of the financial, military and political resources committed to the enterprise belies any intention to make the occupation temporary. As Professor Gershon Shafir has observed at pp. 155 and 161 in A Half Century of Occupation(2017): “temporariness remains an Israeli subterfuge for creating permanent facts on the ground”, with Israel able to employ a seemingly indeterminate nature of the occupation’s end-point to create a ‘permanent temporariness’ that intentionally forestalls any meaningful exercise of self-determination by the Palestinians.

(iii) During the Occupation, the Occupying Power is to act in the best interests of the people under Occupation

The occupying power, throughout the duration of an occupation, is required to govern in the best interests of the people under occupation, subject only to the legitimate security requirements of the occupying military authority. This principle has been likened to a trust or fiduciary relationship in domestic and international law, where the dominant authority is required to act in the interests of the protected person or entity above all else: A. Gross, The Writing on the Wall (2017), at pp. 26-29. The 1907 Hague Regulations, the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and modern body of international human rights instruments contain a number of provisions which protect the lives, property, natural resources, institutions, civil life, fundamental human rights and latent sovereignty of the people under occupation, while curbing the security powers of the occupying power to those genuinely required to safely administer the occupation. Accordingly, the occupying power is prohibited from administering the occupation in a self-serving or avaricious manner and it must act in a manner consistent with its trustee responsibilities.

The pervasive barriers and restrictions in the civil and commercial life of the Palestinians have created a disfigured territorial space, resulting in a highly dependent and strangled economy, mounting impoverishment and receding hope for a reversal of fortune for the foreseeable future. According to recent reports by the World Bank, the United NationsB’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Badil, the Palestinians in the West Bank endure distinctly inferior civil, legal and social conditions compared to Israeli settlers; they suffer from significant restrictions on their freedom of movement and a denial to access to water and natural resources; Israel has imposed a deeply discriminatory land planning and housing permit system to support its settlement enterprise; and a number of West Bank communities live under the threat of forcible transfer and land confiscation. Palestinians in East Jerusalemand Gaza also endure distressing living conditions occasioned by the occupation.

(iv) The Occupying Power must act in good faith

The principle of good faith is a cardinal rule of treaty interpretation in the international legal system and has become an integral part of virtually all legal relationships in modern international law. The principle requires states to carry out their duties and obligations in an honest, loyal, reasonable, diligent and fair manner, and with the aim of fulfilling the purposes of the legal responsibility, including an agreement or treaty. Conversely, the good faith principle also prohibits states from participating in acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the obligation or engaging in any abuse of rights that would mask an illegal act or the evasion of the undertaking.

Accordingly, an occupying power is required to govern the territory in good faith, which can be measured by its compliance with the following two obligations: (i) its conformity with the specific precepts of international humanitarian law and international human rights law applicable to an occupation; and (ii) its conformity with any specific directions issued by the United Nations or other authoritative bodies pertaining to the occupation.

Israel has been deemed to be in breach of many of the rules of international humanitarian and human rights law throughout the occupation. Apart from its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, its settlement enterprise has been repeatedly characterized as illegal by the United Nations Security Council. As well, the prohibited use of collective punishment has been regularly employed by Israel through the demolition of Palestinian homes of families related to those suspected of terrorism or security breaches, and by extended closures of Palestinian communities. Additionally, it is in non-compliance with more than 40 resolutions of the United Nations Security Council adopted since 1967 with respect to its occupation.

Namibia Advisory Opinion

In 1971, the International Court of Justice, in its Namibia Advisory Opinion, stated that annexation by a mandatory power is illegal, the mandatory must act as a trustee for the benefit of the peoples of the territory, it must fulfil its obligations in good faith, and the end result of the mandate must be self-determination and independence. It also held that the breach of the mandatory power’s fundamental obligations under international law can render its continuing presence in the mandate territory illegal, notwithstanding that the Covenant of the League of Nations (Article 22) was silent on this issue. The ICJ found South Africa to have become an illegal mandatory as a result of its aspirations for annexation, its prolonged stay, its failure as a trustee, and its bad faith administration.

The same reasoning would apply, mutatis mutandis, to a determination as to whether an occupying power is still the lawful occupant. Although mandates are governed by the Covenant and occupations are regulated primarily by the Fourth Geneva Convention, they are different branches of the same tree. Both South Africa (as a mandatory power) and Israel (as the occupying power) were/are prime examples of alien rule, the governing power in both cases was/is responsible for respecting the right to self-determination, annexation in both cases was/is strictly prohibited, and the international community on both cases was/is responsible for the close supervision of the alien rule and for bringing this rule to a successful conclusion.

Conclusion

A determination that Israel – or any occupying power whose administration of the occupation has breached one or more of the fundamental principles – has become an illegal occupant would elevate the duty on the international community to bring the occupation to a successful and speedy close. Among other benefits, such a determination would re-establish the framework of international law as the principled path to a just and durable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

*     I didn’t ask permission to republish this commentary, preferring to ask forgiveness later if I’ve overstepped.  The original commentary can be accessed here.

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The West Bank and International Humanitarian Law on the Eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Six-Day War

By Theodor Meron (The American Society of International Law, 2017)

Judge Meron’s 19-page article is available here to download.

Rarely does a jurist have the opportunity to render a legal opinion twice on the very same case or controversy fifty years apart.

Theodor Meron

Theodor Meron

Theodor Meron was 37 when he was appointed the Legal Adviser of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortly after the Six-Day War. He was asked to address some of the international legal implications that followed from that war.

He opined on September 14, 1967 that “the establishment of civilian settlements in the occupied West Bank and other conquered territories violates the Fourth Geneva Convention related to the protection of victims of war and, specifically, its prohibition on settlements (Article 49(6)).” This prohibition is categorical, he wrote, and “not conditioned on the motives or purposes of the transfer, and is aimed at preventing colonization of conquered territory by citizens of the conquering state.”

In March 2017, his opinion has not changed. Given the inexorable demographic change in the West Bank over the past fifty years; the adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 2334 on December 23, 2016; John Kerry’s unprecedented speech delivered on December 28, 2016; and Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of the “shameful UN resolution” — Judge Meron felt compelled to speak up again in support of international law and its requirements and application to the settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Judge Meron’s career is noteworthy and worth recounting here because his opinion carries weight, except with Israeli leaders.

Meron

Theodor Meron – President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Judge and President of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals; Judge and Past President of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; former Judge of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Charles L. Denison Professor Emeritus and Judicial Fellow, New York University School of Law; Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, since 2014; past Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal; past Honorary President of the American Society of International Law.

Settlements in the Occupied West Bank

What is the scope of the problem? The Palestinian president says there will be no negotiations until Israel ends the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli prime minister says the Palestinians must come to the bargaining table with no preconditions, but he demands that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. There have been no negotiations since 2010.

2016-mena-israel-overviewmap

Today there are nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerualem. There are 127 government-sanctioned Israeli settlements (not including East Jerusalem and Hebron), and approximately 100 “settlement outposts”. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the annual growth rate for the settler population (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2015 was more than two times higher than that of the overall population in Israel: 4.1% and 2% percent, respectively.  Translated: there are more Israelis today moving to Palestine than to the State of Israel.

Check out this segment on NPR from December 2016 about the settlements.

The Jewish settlements were illegal in 1967 and they remain illegal today.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949 to protect civilians in a war zone, is considered the “gold standard of humanitarian law.” While 196 countries have signed on, the United Nations concluded in 1993 that the Geneva Conventions had passed into customary law and therefore everyone is bound by them.

What does the Fourth Geneva Convention require of the occupying power (Israel) towards the protected persons (Palestinians) in the territories it occupies?

  1. No collective punishment (article 33) – including no pillage, intimidation, or terrorism. Collective punishment is considered a war crime.
  2. May not forcibly deport protected persons or transfer part of its own civilian population into the occupied territory (article 49).
  3. Must facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children (article 50).
  4. No destruction of property belonging to the protected persons or to public authorities (article 53).
  5. Maintain the public health and hygiene along with the medical facilities in the occupied territories (article 56).

Nakba refugees

Despite clear and strong opinions from the International Court of Justice, supported by a score of Security Council resolutions, the International Red Cross, and a rare consensus of the international community on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories, the State of Israel has built a 50-year record of parsing the Fourth Geneva Convention, applying provisions it likes while rejecting others. “This opacity is made worse,” Judge Meron writes, “by the reluctance of Israel to divulge in public the list of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s humanitarian provisions which it is prepared to apply.”

Disrespect for international law is, alas, not unusual in the affairs of states. It is rare, however, that disrespect of an international convention would have such a direct impact on the elimination of any realistice prospects for reconciliation, not to mention peace. And it is rarer still that such disrespect of internatioal law should subsist given the number of pronouncements on the matter.

Israeli leaders rejected Meron’s opinion in 1967 and, undoubtedly, reject it today. They hinge their position on the argument that the territories are not occupied because conquered territory only becomes occupied territory when it belongs to a legitimate sovereign that was ousted. This theory disputes the status of Jordan as such a sovereign of the West Bank in 1967 which, in the opinion of Israel makes the Geneva Convention inapplicable de jure. The government has simply decided, in the absence of an international obligation to do so, to act de facto in accordance with the humanitarian provisions of the Convention.

Judge Meron rejects this argument summarily, asking “what would prevent every conquering state from contesting the sovereignty of every defeated state, even where no legitimate doubts about the sovereignty arise?” In a nutshell, the status of the lands conquered in the Six Day War has no bearing on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israel, as the conquering power.

While the Fourth Geneva Convention bestows rights on the “protected persons” (Palestinians in this case), the Hague Convention No. IV establishes responsibilities on the occupying power, and Israel’s Supreme Court has recognized the applicability of the Hague Convention No. IV as customary law to the West Bank.

There is the requirement to respect private property (Article 46), and the property of municipalities, and that of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, and arts and sciences. (Article 56). The occupying power must also safeguard and administer the real estate in accordance with the rules of usufruct.

With the construction of the “security wall” encroaching on Palestinian lands, and a record number of housing demolitions in the West Bank in 2016, the reasonable question Palestinians and the rest of the world might ask is “Who is going to hold the State of Israel accountable for its violations of international law?”

12794787_10208838393703043_5184863994902971158_o Judge Meron concludes his 2017 opinion:

Those of us who are committed to international law, and particularly to respect for international humanitarian law and the principles embodied therein, cannot remain silent when faced with such denials or self-serving interpretations.

But if the continuation of the settlement project on the West Bank has met with practically universal rejection by the international community, it is not just because of its illegality under the Fourth Geneva Convention or under international humanitarian law more generally. Nor is it only because, by preventing the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian territory, the settlement project frustrates any prospect of serious negotiations aimed at a two-state solution, and thus of reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is also because of the growing perception that individual Palestinians’ human rights, as well as their rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention, are being violated and that the colonization of territories populated by other people can no longer be accepted in our time.

 

 

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“Gaza Strip is not occupied,” says Israel’s Supreme Court, as Gaza is thrown into darkness

I just read the Ahmed decision by the Supreme Court of Israel. This case involves a petition filed in 2007 by the Palestinians against the State of Israel regarding the reduction of fuel supplies and electricity to the Gaza Strip.  Recently, the American Friends Service Committee prepared a short description of the problem here.

In 2005, Israel removed its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip. The Supreme Court concluded that “Israel no longer has effective control over what happens in the Gaza Strip” and so “Israel does not have a general duty to ensure the welfare of the residents of the Gaza Strip or to maintain public order in the Gaza Strip according to the laws of belligerent occupation in international law.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Israel, in part because

(1) Israel asserts it is monitoring the fuel supplies and electricity delivery to the Gaza Strip to meet the humanitarian needs of the people in Gaza;

(2) Israel says that the Palestinian officials have the capability to manage the load reduction;

(3) it’s better that the parties negotiate between themselves regarding the issue of fuel delivery and electricity; and

(4) there is a big distinction between the parties — one is fighting in the name of the law (Israel) and the other is fighting against the law (terrorists = Hamas).

Quick Facts • Less than half–only 45 percent—of Gaza’s power needs are now being met. Rolling blackouts leave residents with only six to eight hours of power each day. • Since 2013, the Gaza power plant has operated at less than half capacity. The plant regularly has to shut down, due to fuel shortages caused by Israeli restrictions on importing fuel. • Since 2010, at least 29 people—24 of them children— have died in Gaza from fires or suffocation directly linked to power outages. • Over 70 percent of Gaza households have access to piped water for only six to eight hours once every two to four days, because of the limited power supply.

I find the Ahmed decision troubling for several reasons:

(1) The Supreme Court’s rather cursory conclusion that Israel does not occupy the Gaza Strip. No occupation = no duty under the international laws of belligerent occupation. This conclusion appears to have been reached without arguments proffered by the parties on this very important issue, and almost as a side note to the court’s decision.

(2) The Supreme Court’s characterization of the parties in the case — one is law-abiding and fighting to preserve the law, while the other is a terrorist organization fighting against the law — demonstrates the inherent bias and lack of judicial neutrality that permeates the decision. The Supreme Court also demonstrates its lack of objectivity when it cites with approval Israel’s statement that the Palestinians are capable of managing the load reduction so as not to harm hospitals, etc., while dismissing without discussion the contrary arguments made by the Palestinians.

(3) While the Supreme Court acknowledges that Israel has a responsibility to meet the “essential humanitarian needs of the civilian population” in Gaza, it doesn’t provide any guidance about what constitutes “essential humanitarian needs” and appears to defer to Israel’s assertion that the State recognizes its responsibility and will monitor the delivery of electricity and fuel so as to meet its responsibility. (That must be cold comfort to the civilians sitting in the dark on a cold winter night in Gaza, or to the children who have died in house fires due to the candles.)

(4) The issue of the nexus between Israel’s rationale for reducing the electricity and fuel to Gaza seems to be accepted carte blanche by the Court without any critical examination. Israel says its “decision to limit the supply of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip was made in the framework of the State’s operations against the ongoing terrorism.” Doesn’t Israel have a duty to show the Court a nexus —- that the reduction of electricity and fuel has some measurable impact on reducing the terrorism (rockets)? If there is no nexus, then isn’t it fair to say that Israel’s actions, in fact, constitute collective punishment against the civilian population?

• Hospitals provide only limited services because they rely on generators, which produce insufficient and unstable electrical supplies that can damage sensitive equipment. • Up to 90 million liters of untreated sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea each day in part due to electrical and fuel shortages. • Schools often function without electricity, leaving students in the dark, making many educational activities impossible, and negatively affecting students’ learning environments. • Businesses and industry can’t function without reliable electrical supplies, increasing unemployment and further destabilizing the Gaza economy.

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