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Protecting Palestinian human rights: Supreme Court confirms investment decisions can be used to promote peace

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In a blow to the government, the Supreme Court overturned regulations that banned local government pension schemes (LGPSs) from making investment decisions that differ from government foreign and defence policy – in April this year.

This is a landmark decision. Now members of local government pension schemes can choose to invest ethically or divest, as long as those decisions don’t undermine the pension fund.

The regulations, brought in by the government in 2016, banned pension funds from divesting from companies or countries on ethical grounds. This meant that divestment from companies complicit in violating Palestinian human rights, or the rights of others, was not allowed.

In a campaigning victory - a judicial review brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and allies raised concerns about threats to freedom of expression, government overreach in local democracy, and the right of pension holders to have a say in the investment and divestment of funds. They won their case in the High Court, lost in the Court of Appeal, but now have won in the Supreme Court.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was said to have “exceeded his powers” when issuing the guidance.

The TUC supports the use of disinvestment by pension schemes from companies that are profiting from the illegal Israeli settlements and the occupation of Palestinian land. As Amnesty International have pointed out, the settlements are illegal and a war crime because they violate international law. So any business activity there will unavoidably contribute to an illegal situation, and to a situation of systematic human rights abuses of the Palestinian people.

Plans for annexing parts of the West Bank, in violation of international law, are underway as part of the coalition agreement signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz. President Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan gave the greenlight to these violations and effectively sanctioned violating Palestinian human rights. Any companies that choose to operate in annexed territories will be unavoidably complicit in human rights violations.

The TUC and the ITUC have condemned the Middle East Peace Plan for promoting the violation of international law and human rights. And in recent weeks, over one hundred UK parliamentarians have signed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urging them to make clear publicly to Israel that annexation of Occupied Palestinian Territory will have severe consequences including sanctions.

The UK government should be focussing its efforts on calling on the Israeli government to halt any annexation plans, and ban UK trade with the settlements and arms sales that are used to violate Palestinian human rights. The Prime Minister should call on President Netanyahu to respect Palestinian rights and international law, and to enter into peace talks to find a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

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