Four UN Special Rapporteurs Address Their Concerns to Austrian Authorities About Anti-BDS Resolution and Lawsuit Against ActivistPublished on Thu Oct 13 2022 - modified on Tue Oct 18 2022
UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, SR on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, SR on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and SR on the situation of human rights defenders sent a communication to Austrian authorities, asking clarification on the City of Vienna’s anti-BDS resolution and the lawsuit the City filed against a BDS activist.
In the communication sent on 20 May 2022, the SR raised their concerns about the resolution adopted in 2018, “which includes undue restrictions to the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and of association”. They further expressed “concern that the City of Vienna’s filing of a lawsuit against a member of BDS Austria may hinder the peaceful activities of human rights defenders committed to monitor and denounce human rights violations in occupied Palestine, shrinking the civic space available to them to express legitimate grievances”.
The BDS Austria activist published a social media post showing a picture of the famous poster stating “Visit Apartheid” that was stuck on a billboard along with the official logo of the Municipality of Vienna. The post had the sarcastic caption “We are pleased that the City of Vienna also takes note of apartheid and publicly states it”. In November 2021, the City of Vienna filed a SLAPP (Strategic lawsuit against public participation) against the activist on the grounds of defamation and unlawful use of the City’s logo. It claimed that the BDS movement “incites to hatred against Israeli people” and therefore being publicly associated with BDS would amount to defamation since “the designation of the situation in Israel/Palestine as an “Apartheid” constitutes damage to our reputation”. In a highly contestable decision delivered on 6 April 2022, the Commercial Court of Vienna endorsed the City’s lawsuit and ruled against the BDS activist.
The SR are worried that “this judgement in the first instance consolidates the City of Vienna’s motion against the BDS movement”. The resolution, which falsely labels the BDS movement as “antisemitic”, was indeed invoked by the City in the lawsuit. As stated in a legal opinion commissioned by the ELSC and authored by Professors Xavier Dupré De Boulois, Eric David, Richard Falk and John Reynolds, the resolution infringes on the fundamental rights of freedoms of expression, association and assembly of Palestinian rights advocates.
Moreover, the SR recalled the legality and legitimacy of the BDS movement: “we point out that expressing support for, or opposition to, BDS, is fully guaranteed by the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and association” enshrined in articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights. They also cited the European Court of Human Rights milestone judgement Baldassi and Others v. France and positive case law confirming the right to BDS in France and Germany. The SR further added that “this is in line with the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA)” which “stipulates that ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states’.”
On 8 July 2022, the Austrian authorities replied to the communication, failing to respond to most of the requests sent by the Special Rapporteurs. Instead, they reiterated their baseless and unfounded claims targeting BDS Austria: “Their movement’s campaigns are often referred to as antisemitic”. They stood firm in a problematic position that was observed in the context of the lawsuit against BDS Austria and that contradicts the freedom of expression and protection of human rights defenders.
The reply of the Austrian authorities makes the legal battle of the activist even more necessary in order to challenge the suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy in Austria. The BDS activist appealed the Court decision and is ready, if necessary, to stand before the European Court of Human Rights to assert his fundamental right to freedom of expression, a right enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
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- Donate to help the activist covering the legal fees
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