By Sohaila Barghash
Activists are calling for resuming the release of the report, as companies appearing in this database could be targeted for boycotts or divestment aimed at pressuring Israel over its West Bank settlements, and the goods produced there, which are illegal according to most countries as well as the United Nations.
The initiative was agreed upon by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2016, aiming to “blacklist” companies with any sort of involvement in the settlements, which was strongly criticised by Israel.
On Tuesday, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that despite the progress achieved since the launch of the database collection, further work was to be done before the publication, due to the “novelty of the mandate and its legal, methodological and factual complexity”.
In a letter to the Human Rights Council, Bachelet’s office said it will be finalizing the report in the following months.
This delay angered activists who emphasized the fact that Bachelet’s predecessor, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, had already delayed its publication in 2017 before stepping down in August 2018, therefore, asking for a specific date for the database publication.
Bruno Stagno Ugarte of Human Rights Watch stated that “Israeli authorities’ brazen expansion of illegal settlements underscores why the UN database of businesses facilitating these settlements needs to be published. Each delay further entrenches corporate involvement in the systematic rights abuses stemming from illegal settlements.”
In a letter sent last week, Palestinian rights groups and trade unions urged Bachelet to publish the database, saying that further delays would undermine her office and encourage “existing culture of impunity for human rights abuses and internationally recognized crimes in the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territory)”.
The World Jewish Congress said its CEO, Robert Singer, had met Bachelet last month and urged the cancellation of the database.
Adding in a statement that the report should be cancelled, claiming it would financially harm thousands of employees, including Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel took control of the West Bank in a 1967 war, and its settlements in the region are therefore considered illegal internationally.
Palestinians also consider the settlements, and the Israeli military presence that protects settlements, to be hindering their process of establishing an independent state, which Israel is trying to prevent.