Israel’s detention of UN expert ‘unprecedented’ – rights chief

16 December 2008

Israel’s refusal to allow a United Nations expert to transit to carry out his officially mandated functions in the occupied Palestinian territory, his detention and subsequent expulsion is “unprecedented and deeply regrettable,” the world body’s top human rights official said today.

“It is the responsibility of States to cooperate with the independent United Nations experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added of the treatment accorded the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk. “That is an important principle.”

She said she was taking the matter up directly with the Israeli authorities, including possible breaches of UN privileges and immunities in the treatment and detention of Mr. Falk at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, where he was stopped at immigration shortly after arriving on Sunday on a mission at the invitation of the Palestinian Authority.

He was denied entry to Israel and was subsequently separated from the UN staff accompanying him, she added in a statement. His UN-issued mobile phone was confiscated, making further contact with the Organization impossible until after his deportation to the United States on Monday.

He was kept in a detention facility at the airport, where he spent the night in a small room with several other people who were being denied entry into Israel, Ms. Pillay said. In all, Mr. Falk spent more than 20 hours in the airport, before being deposited on a plane to Los Angeles.

Special Rapporteurs, who are independent, unpaid experts reporting to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, do not require a formal invitation by Israel to carry out official missions to the occupied Palestinian territory. The Israeli Government did not prevent Mr. Falk’s predecessors or other Special Rapporteurs from transiting on their way to the occupied Palestinian territory, which cannot be reached directly from overseas, she added.

The Israeli authorities were informed in writing on two occasions, on14 October and 3 December, that Mr. Falk intended to make his first official visit to the occupied Palestinian territory, but no written reply was received indicating that they would break with previous practice of permitting Special Rapporteurs to transit until an e-mail that was sent Saturday night to a staff member of the High Commissioner’s office in Geneva.

The staff member was not in a position to read this e-mail before leaving with Mr. Falk for the airport the following morning.


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