21 March marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It was first proclaimed in 1966 by the United Nations (UN) in memory of the Sharpeville massacre during apartheid in South Africa and solidarity with peoples struggling against racism and racial discrimination.
Since then, the international legal framework to counter racism and racial discrimination has expanded considerably in all fields of international law, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The value attributed to the principle of non-discrimination by the international community is such as to regard the prohibition of racial discrimination and apartheid as a peremptory norm of general international law, which violations amount to crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Despite the existence of a robust framework to combat all forms of racial discrimination and apartheid around the world, the international community remains silent in the face of the decades-old apartheid system established by Israel against the Palestinian people.
Earlier this week, Al Mezan’s Director, Mr. Issam Younis, delivered a joint statement at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council during the General Debate under Agenda Item 9, which concerns racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Al Mezan’s statement drew the attention of the international community to the apartheid regime instituted by Israel and endured by the Palestinian people, a regime that undermines the Palestinian right to self-determination and amounts to a crime against humanity under the ICC’s Rome Statute:
“Since 1948, Israel has instituted a series of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices that form the foundation of its institutionalized regime of systemic oppression, domination, segregation and fragmentation of the indigenous Palestinian people. This colonial project against the entirety of the Palestinian people amounts to the crime of apartheid under the ICC’s Rome Statute.
Israel’s illegal and discriminatory closure policy and use of military force in the Gaza Strip form part of this campaign and serve as a deliberate attempt to destroy life and divide the Palestinian people. Israel’s systematic extrajudicial killing and arbitrary arrest and torture practices undermine the inherent dignity of the person and violate the right to life and liberty of person.
Israel’s water domination, selective vaccine application, and movement restrictions that limit food supply, deny adequate healthcare and destroy family life are also manifestations of the discriminatory policies employed throughout its prolonged occupation.
We emphasize that apartheid is prohibited under international law as a peremptory norm and call on the Council and UN Member States to fulfil the duty to cooperate to bring these violations to an end, and to encourage the ICC Prosecutor to investigate Israel’s apparent continuous perpetration of the crime against humanity of apartheid, amongst other apparent crimes committed against Palestinians.”
The statement was co-sponsored by the Palestinian and regional organizations Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al Haq, Law in the Service of Man, Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.