UN Experts Urge Israel to Halt Deportation of Human Rights Watch Official

Israel revoked the work permit of Omar Shakir over claims he endorsed BDS ■ UN experts claim the move appears to 'have nothing to do with illegal conduct'

FILE PHOTO - Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, sits at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 9, 2018.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

United Nations experts in the fields of human rights and freedom of expression criticized Israel for revoking the work permit of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch. 

A statement released by the UN human rights commissioner's office on Thursday called the decision by Israel a ruling that "threatens advocacy, research and free expression for all and reflects a troubling resistance to open debate." 

The statement, signed by Michael Lynk (UN rapporteur on the human rights situation in occupied Palestinian territories), Michael Forst (rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders) and David Kaye (rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression), further claimed that "the grounds for revoking Mr. Shakir's work permit appear to be tied directly to his human rights advocacy, and have nothing to do with any assertion of illegal conduct."

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Last week, the Jerusalem District Court denied a petition by Shakir that sought to halt his deportation. His permit was withdrawn over claims that the activist supports the boycott of Israel. 

Shakir, who is a U.S. citizen, had his residency permit revoked by Interior Minister Arye Dery last May for what the minister deemed “his activity against Israel.” Dery made the decision after the Strategic Affairs Ministry issued a directive stating that Shaker “frequently retweets and shares content on BDS against Israel,” a reference to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The district court stayed Shakir’s deportation to enable him to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.

According to Shakir, who has a J.D. in law from Stanford University in California, the action against him is part of wider effort by the Israeli government to harass Human Rights Watch and human rights activists in general. An initial decision to deport him was made about six months ago, but he has remained in Israel since then.

None of the evidence gathered includes information that suggests Shakir was active in the BDS movement.

"We urge Israel to reverse the order, to allow Mr. Shakir and Human Rights Watch to continue unimpeded with human rights advocacy, and to fully respect its human rights obligations in its relationships with Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations," the experts concluded in their statement.