The security firm failed to avoid censure over its role in Israel’s occupation despite a legal smokescreen, writes AMENA SALEEM
Thursday’s annual general meeting of G4S, the global security company which provides services to Israeli prisons where Palestinians are held illegally and often tortured, revealed its underlying attitude to international law.
The AGM was attended by campaigners, including executive and staff members of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who bought shares in order to interrogate the board about G4S’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and its involvement in wider human rights abuses around the world.
Following harsh questioning on its contracts with the Israeli Prison Service at last year’s AGM, G4S published a 16-page summary the day before this year’s meeting of a report entitled Human Rights Review of G4S Israel: Human Rights Report and Legal Opinion. The report unsurprisingly concluded that G4S “has no causal or contributory role in human rights violations.”
If the report was intended to fend off criticism of G4S’s role in the Israeli occupation, it failed spectacularly. Instead, it laid bare G4S’s contempt for the Palestinians and for international law.
In one extraordinary exchange during the AGM, G4S chair John Connolly appeared to claim that the legal opinion contained in the report carries more weight than rulings by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
During questioning by one campaigner, the board was told: “According to the ICJ, the wall is illegal and therefore the provision of services to it is a breach of international law, so how do you reconcile that with the values you set out in your corporate social responsibility report?”
Referring to the company’s own report, Connolly replied: “We have taken professional legal advice which is contained in our report, and that contradicts your analysis. The report hasn’t found G4S involvement in any breaches of human rights.”
Connolly’s dismissal of the ICJ advisory opinion on the wall, made in 2004, was all the more astonishing because the “professional legal advice” taken by G4S was highly selective and sought from two academics with a strong pro-Israel stance.
The G4S report was co-authored by Dr Hugo Slim, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, and Professor Guglielmo Verdirame, professor of international law at Kings College London.
In November 2012, near the end of Israel’s eight-day assault on Gaza, Verdirame wrote an article for BBC Online in which he defended Israel’s vicious attack on a refugee population in legal terms.
A month earlier, he had presented the same arguments, justifying Israel’s right to “self-defence” against the stateless Palestinians to a Zionist Federation “knowledge seminar for Israel advocates” in London.
Slim, at the end of Israel’s three-week massacre in Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, wrote an opinion piece for Open Democracy in which he questioned the “disproportionate degree of outrage” the suffering of the Palestinians “seems to provoke.”
Despite these seemingly zionist credentials, both Slim and Verdirame were referred to throughout the G4S AGM by Connolly and G4S chief executive Ashley Almanza as “independent,” “credible” and “respectable.”
In their report for G4S, Slim and Verdirame blame the Palestinians for their own occupation and oppression. In a section headlined Palestinian Responsibility for Human Rights Risks, these “experts” write: “Many of G4S’s critics overlook the high level of Palestinian responsibility for the conflict and its security dynamics.”
Meanwhile, Slim and Verdirame produce the zionist accusation of delegitimisation in an attempt to remove credibility from pro-Palestinian campaigners, writing: “Campaigns against companies form a key part of a wider strategy by the Palestinian solidarity movement to delegitimize the state of Israel.”
Slim and Verdirame appear to have been carefully chosen by G4S to write this report, and Connolly’s dismissal of the ICJ in favour of his company’s “respectable” and “independent” experts is indicative of G4S’s callous attitude towards the human rights of Palestinians.
G4S refused to categorically confirm or deny whether or not it would be pulling out of all its contracts in Israel and the West Bank on Thursday. However, the pressure on the company over its involvement in Israel’s illegal occupation is now immense.
At the beginning of this week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development announced that it would be investigating G4S over whether it has breached the human rights of Palestinians as a result of its Israeli prison contracts. And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said last week that it would be significantly divesting from the firm.
G4S’s AGM, which was dominated by the issue of Palestine and Israel, will only have added to this pressure.
Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist working with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.