Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?

The Human Sciences Research Council

The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa commissioned this study to test the hypothesis posed by Professor John Dugard in the report he presented to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2007, in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel (namely, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and
Gaza, hereafter OPT). Professor Dugard posed the question: Israel is clearly in military occupation of the OPT. At the same time, elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law. What are the legal consequences of a regime of prolonged occupation with features of colonialism and apartheid for the occupied people, the Occupying Power and third States?
In order to consider these consequences, this study set out to examine legally the premises of Professor Dugard’s question: is Israel the occupant of the OPT, and, if so, do elements of its occupation of these territories amount to colonialism or apartheid? South Africa has an obvious interest in these questions given its bitter history of apartheid, which entailed the denial of selfdetermination
to its majority population and, during its occupation of Namibia, the extension of apartheid to that territory which South Africa effectively sought to colonise. These unlawful practices must not be replicated elsewhere: other peoples must not suffer in the way the populations of South Africa and Namibia have suffered.
To explore these issues, an international team of scholars was assembled. The aim of this project was to scrutinise the situation from the nonpartisan perspective of international law, rather than engage in political discourse and rhetoric. This study is the outcome of a fifteen-month collaborative process of intensive research, consultation, writing and review. It concludes and, it is to be hoped, persuasively argues and clearly demonstrates that Israel, since 1967, has been the belligerent Occupying Power in the OPT, and that its occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid. Belligerent occupation in itself is not an unlawful situation: it is accepted as a possible consequence of armed conflict. At the same time, under the law of armed conflict (also known as international humanitarian law), occupation is intended to be only a temporary state of affairs. International law prohibits the unilateral annexation or permanent acquisition of territory as a result of the threat or use of force: should this occur, no State may recognise or support the resulting unlawful situation. In contrast to occupation, both colonialism and apartheid are always unlawful and indeed are considered to be particularly serious breaches of international law because they are fundamentally contrary to core values of the international legal order. Colonialism violates the principle of self-determination,
which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has affirmed as ‘one of the essential principles of contemporary international law’. All States have a duty to respect and promote self-determination. Apartheid is an aggravated case of racial discrimination, which is constituted according to the International Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973,
hereafter ‘Apartheid Convention’) by ‘inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them’. The practice of apartheid, moreover, is an international crime.
Professor Dugard in his report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2007 suggested that an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s conduct should be sought from the ICJ. This advisory opinion would undoubtedly complement the opinion that the ICJ delivered in 2004 on the Legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territories (hereafter ‘the Wall advisory opinion’). This course of legal action does not exhaust the options open to the international community, nor indeed the duties of third States and international organisations when they are appraised that another State is engaged in the practices of colonialism or apartheid.

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