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11 Foreign Ministers Condemn "Illegal Occupation" and Forcible Transfer of Detainees

[27 February 2019] - The Guardian recently published an opinion piece by 11 foreign ministers including Britain’s, condemning Russia’s 5-year “illegal occupation” of Crimea. (The west must not abandon Crimea and Ukraine to Russian aggression (27 February 2019)). The foreign ministers argue persuasively that Russia’s annexation of Crimea “has jeopardized the rules-based system” established in the aftermath of the Second World War thereby imperiling our collective security.

In their opinion piece the foreign ministers note that, as is the case with many military occupations, human rights abuses frequently follow. And so it is with Crimea with reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as ill-treatment and torture. The ministers also note that “a large number of political prisoners and detainees awaiting trial have been transferred from Crimea to the Russian Federation, despite the fact that this practice is strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law.”
According to the ministers “[T]he events that unfolded in Crimea five years ago have once again taught us that we cannot take our security and freedom for granted. The international rules-based system that is fundamental for our shared global security has been undermined, and we must stand ready to uphold international law and our individual and collective security.” The ministers then conclude by stating that “[T]he policy of coordinated international sanctions sends a clear message to Russia that disregard for international law has consequences.”
These principles should be applauded not least because of the sacrifice that led to their establishment. But for a rules-based system to be credible and durable, it needs to be applied objectively, without fear or favour. And so it is reasonable to ask ourselves why these principles appear not to apply in the case of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?
As with Crimea, the international consensus supported by nearly 40 UN Security Council resolutions is that the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is occupied territory – but in this case occupied for over 50 years, not five. Like Russia, Israel has also purported to annex territory, in this case East Jerusalem, a step repeatedly declared null and void by the Security Council. And as with Crimea, reports of ill-treatment and torture abound (UNICEF: Children in Israeli Military Detention) as does the practice of transferring detainees out of the territory in violation of international humanitarian law (Children in Military Custody: A report written by a delegation of British lawyers).
But while the Western response to Russian violations has been “coordinated international sanctions”, the approach to similar Israeli violations has been preferential trade deals, increased arms sales, and closer scientific and cultural ties.  While this disparity is understandable in terms of strategic partnerships, it has little to do with a credible “rules-based order” and only serves to undermine confidence in the legitimacy of a system applied selectively.