The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza (OHCHR-Gaza), now completing its second year of operation, is a project worth supporting. The functions undertaken by OHCHR-Gaza are crucial to the development of a democratic infrastructure in areas under Palestinian Authority rule. While OHCHR-Gaza promotes the rule of law, UN Watch would ideally like the Office to further promote the monitoring of human rights compliance.
Established in 1996 for an initial period of two years (now extended to a third year), OHCHR-Gaza has three broad functions:
1. To advise on the establishment of a legal framework including the Basic Law, prison law, and the judiciary, and to encourage compliance with international human rights norms.
2. To assist in developing an official and comprehensive human rights policy that is internationally accepted.
3. To strengthen local institutions dealing with human rights on a daily basis. This function includes providing advisory services and training to local police, lawyers, prison officials, judges, and prosecutors. OHCHR-Gaza also conducts programs and advises local non-governmental and human rights organizations, particularly those dealing with the protection of women and children.
OHCHR-Gaza is funded under the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights. OHCHR-Gaza’s total budget for the mandated three year period is US$3,205,223. Currently it still requires $1,705,223 of funding.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza can have a tremendous impact, bringing dividends at a very low cost.
UN Watch encourages the Office to continue its current activities. We also encourage the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to seek an expansion of the terms of reference of OHCHR-Gaza, to allow it to take action in the following educational and human rights areas:
First, to further encourage the creation and activities of Palestinian NGOs that will monitor and react to human rights grievances within the Palestinian community. In addition, ways must be found to ensure freedom of action for international NGOs that have an interest in Palestinian human rights matters and that can bring their expertise to this region.
Second, to find creative ways of encouraging NGOs and other independent actors to monitor the local media in order to ensure balance and moderation within the context of freedom of expression.
Third, to monitor compliance with new legislation, directives, and standing orders developed by the Palestinian Authority. The promulgation of rules in the absence of an effective, regular, and impartial monitoring mechanism risks becoming an empty exercise. Perhaps as new rules are drafted, benchmarks for compliance can be integrated into the drafting process, ensuring the highest legislative standards from the outset.
By building local institutions and capacities through local engagement with universal human rights norms, OHCHR-Gaza could have a positive impact outlasting its own existence.
In addition to its current operations, we believe OHCHR-Gaza should expand its activities in education, institution-building, and monitoring in the field of human rights.
UN Watch also calls for consistent observance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ high standards for a non-political approach to its activities.
All in all, UN Watch supports OHCHR-Gaza and encourages support of the Office by the international community.