Palestine Solidarity Campaign takes Government to court over restrictions on divestment from companies involved in Israel’s human rights violations 

  • The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is taking the Government to court to challenge restrictions on pension scheme divestment from companies involved in Israel’s human rights violations
  • War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade are supporting the legal challenge.
  • Campaigning groups are concerned about threats to freedom of expression, government overreach in local democracy, and the right of pension holders to invest / divest funds.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) announces today that it is seeking judicial review of the changes to the rules governing Local Government Pensions Schemes (LGPS) that will prevent ethical decision making with regard to human rights abuses and the arms trade.  PSC is concerned that these new measures: threaten the civic right to boycott and divest from companies involved in human rights abuses and the arms trade; limit fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience; amount to Westminster overreach into local government affairs; and undermine public sector employees and pension holders’ freedom to make collective decisions to invest and divest funds as they wish provided there is no financial detriment.

In October 2015, the Government announced it would amend LGPS rules to make clear that it considered using pensions and procurement to pursue boycotts, divestments and sanctions against foreign nations and the UK defence industry are inappropriate. This was announced specifically with the aim of curtailing divestment campaigns against UK defence and international or Israeli firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law. This week, the PSC applied to take the Government to judicial review over these changes. Other organisations, including War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade have provided witness statements to support the case.

PSC believe that public sector employees and pension holders should have the right to make decisions about their finances and invest and divest funds as they wish, in accordance with the LGPS legal, ethical and fiduciary obligations. While this right is protected in part by the new regulations (ethical decision making is accepted as a relevant investment consideration), ethical decision making is not allowed in particular areas relating to UK foreign policy or the UK defence industry, although the exact scope of these areas remains uncertain.

PSC believes that this is governmental attempt to undermine the peaceful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality, which is modelled after the South African anti-apartheid boycott movement. PSC are part of this global movement of people who have answered the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions measures until Israel adheres to international law. Boycott and divestment campaigns are a traditional and effective form of non-violent protest used throughout history by human and civil rights defenders.

PSC and its allies are mindful that not all sections of society agree with the BDS movement. However, these government measures threaten the right of all civil society groups to pursue agendas contrary to UK foreign policy and the defence industry. Moreover, the protected areas could also be extended to cover the environment or health. With this legal action, the PSC aims to uphold the civic right to boycott and the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and conscience. To mark UN Human Rights Day on 10 December, over 200 legal scholars from the UK and other European countries signed an open letter declaring that it was a lawful exercise of freedom of expression to advocate for Palestinian human rights (as set out in international law) through BDS measures against Israel’s regime of occupation and oppression.

 

Hugh Lanning, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said:

“The right to call for and practice BDS in all arenas is guaranteed by the right to freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. Local democracy is undermined when central government clamps down on people’s abilities to diverge from or disagree with UK foreign policy and the defence industry. There is no legitimate reason why the government should prevent people with local government pensions from being able to divest and invest exactly as they wish.

These regulations are part of a larger pattern of attempts by the government to delegitimise BDS. We are concerned that these new measures limit our fundamental freedoms.”

 

Ryvka Barnard, Senior Militarism and Security Campaigns Officer of War on Want said:

“The government has a serious case to answer when it blocks local communities from taking ethical stances against the likes of G4S whose complicity in the abuse of Palestinians’ human rights is proven. War on Want’s members and allies ran local divestment campaigns to hold G4S to account for its deplorable record. Local people should be applauded for caring about human rights but the new regulations make this kind of action impossible. The government’s contempt for the public and their views is shocking and makes a mockery of any commitment it claims to have to democracy and human rights.”

 

Ann Feltham, Parliamentary Coordinator of Campaign Against Arms Trade said:

“To allow local decision-making on investment only when this results in policies backed by the central government of the day is a serious attack on local democracy. Many local authorities in the 1980s chose to divest from South African companies – the new guidance means their successors will not be given a chance to follow their conscience in a similar situation.”

 

Jamie Potter, Partner in the Public Law and Human Rights team at Bindmans LLP, who are representing PSC said:

The Government is seeking to use powers in respect of pensions to stifle debate and disagreement regarding the role of foreign countries and the arms trade in violations of human rights around the world.  This is not only unlawful, but is also an erosion of democracy and freedom of speech.  The Government cannot be permitted to impose its views on individuals and the organisations that represent them.  If this is permissible, there will be nothing to stop the targeting of campaigns in other areas where there is disagreement over the Government’s approach, such as the environment and health.

 

Jackie Lewis, co-claimant, LGPS and PSC Executive Committee member, said:

I have worked for the Borough of Lambeth since 1978 and have been a member of the LGPS since then. I personally campaign for disinvestment from companies with involvement in Israel’s human rights abuses and occupation of Palestinian territory. I do not want to profit from the occupation of Palestine.” 

 

ENDS

 

About the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is the largest UK civil society organisation dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights established in 1982. With more than sixty branches across the country, we campaign against Israel’s flouting of international law, the continued military occupation of Palestine, and systematic discrimination against Palestinians. We work to build awareness amongst politicians and the public of the continual injustices and advocate for peaceful and just solutions that respect the rights and dignity of Palestinians and Israelis.

 

For further information, please contact:

Amy Franck, Media and Communications Officer, or Tricia Rich, Deputy Director

Amy.franck@palestinecampaign.org / 07590 862268

Tricia.rich@palestinecampaign.org / 020 7700 6313

Notes to Editors:

  • On 10 December 2016, about 200 legal scholars and practicing lawyers from 15 European states have issued a statement that stands for Palestinian rights and considers the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality as “a lawful exercise of freedom of expression.” More information here.
  • On 2 November 2016, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the EU firmly protected the freedom of expression, including with regard to BDS actions carried out on EU territory. More information here.