The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression [official profile] on Tuesday presented his report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], concluding that people in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories are severely limited in free expression, both by the official governing bodies, and de facto authorities like Hamas. Frank La Rue told the rights council at its 20th Session [materials] that his main concern in Israel is that lack of sufficient protections and restrictive laws discourage citizens from speaking freely. La Rue noted particular concern for Palestinian citizens in Israel, whom, he said, are frequently treated as "enem[ies] from within," and often face discrimination and persecution. In the Palestinian territories, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern with laws limiting free expression, including limits on free press and classifying defamation as a criminal offense. He also noted the detrimental effects of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] and urged Israel to end it immediately.
Israel's policy in the Gaza Strip has been a subject of controversy. Last week, 50 aid groups and UN offices signed a joint statement [JURIST report] urging Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling it a violation of international law. Also last week, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs said [JURIST report] that the blockade must be lifted to prevent further human rights violations. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in February urged Israel [JURIST report] to change its policies that forbid Palestinians from traveling through and living in Gaza and the West Bank. The report describes the policy that causes separation within Palestinian families since some are trapped inside Israel while their family members are forbidden from entering. Israel was also criticized by HRW for never disclosing its rationale for imposing the restrictions on travel and residency.