Israel Refuses to Renew Visas of Foreign UN Human Rights Staffers

Israel has declined to renew the visas of most of the international workers of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the months after latter published a blacklist of companies doing business in the occupied Palestinian territories.

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights headquarters in Geneva

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights headquarters in Geneva (Photo: OHCHR)

OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville confirmed on Thursday, October 15, that nine out of 12 foreign staff members have left Israel since August, because their visas were not renewed. Three other workers who were to begin their positions in Israel have been denied entry to the country, while the remaining three foreign nations will continue at their posts until their visas expire in the coming months.

In February of this year, the UN published its database of 112 businesses operating in occupied East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. At the time, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced it was cutting ties with the OHCHR, and far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “whoever boycotts us will be boycotted.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, the OHCHR offices in Israel have not been closed and 26 Israeli and Palestinian workers continue to staff the bureau, while the international staff has been working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Colville said, “Operationally speaking, there has been little impact so far.” Still, over time, the absence of international staff from the West Bank “will obviously negatively impact on our ability to carry out our mandate in the best way possible.” He added, “We continue to hope that this situation will be resolved soon and we are actively engaged with various relevant and concerned parties to that end.” Colville stated, “It is important to note that our staff regularly monitor and report on all human rights violations that take place in the territory they cover, whether committed by or against Palestinians or Israelis, migrants or others.”

Joint List MK Youssef Jabareen (Hadash) called the denied visa renewals “a continuation of a policy of persecuting human rights activists that are supervising the violations of Palestinians’ human rights.” Jabareen said Israel is the one with a blacklist, in that it is trying to limit human rights workers’ movement, and that doing so violates international law.