The Minerva Center for Human Rights: Internalizing International Law in Israel

The Minerva Center for Human Rights: Internalizing International Law in Israel


The Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University has initiated numerous academic projects and strives to enhance the students’ understanding of human rights issues * We decided to focus on one of the Center’s programs that aims to enhance the internalization of international human rights laws in Israel * The program, funded by the European Union, includes tri-partite encounters between government, civil society and academia, as well as a research group and the preparation of research resources for human rights law 


Meetings between Government, Civil Society and Academia

The State of Israel has signed seven international treaties addressing the full range of human rights: civil rights, social rights, prevention of torture, elimination of racial discrimination, and the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities. The state is committed to reporting once every few years to the expert monitoring committees the UN establishes for each treaty, detailing its progress on the various issues and answering specific questions. The state is required to prepare a report relating to each treaty describing the state of human rights in each field and to answer questions from the international monitoring committees. After submitting the report, representatives of the state visit the UN in Geneva for a discussion with the relevant professional committee. Like all signatory countries, Israel presents its position, and at the end of the process the committee prepares a concluding report, including recommendations for improvements.  



Professor Tomer Broude



Professor Tomer Broude, an expert on international law, is responsible for the program, together with Faculty Dean Professor Yuval Shany, who is himself a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, monitoring the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Professor Broude explains the process: “The monitoring committees cannot oblige the state to take any particular course of action, but their work highlights areas where there are gaps between the international undertaking the state has assumed and the reality on the ground. The committees in Geneva also turn to civil society organizations from across the political spectrum in order to obtain ‘shadow reports’ by way of an alternative source of information to the state’s report. This can create an unnecessarily constructive situation, but this process also offers an opportunity to improve the internalization of human rights laws.”


In some countries, the government itself invites civil society organizations to consult and engage in discussions on the human rights situation before submitting its reports to the monitoring committees. In Israel, cooperation between the government and civil society organizations is limited in most fields. As part of the project, the Minerva Center has taken on the goal of redressing this situation by organizing tri-partite meetings between government, civil society and academia. The meetings, which are coordinated by Attorney Shlomi Balaban, aim to enhance the cooperation between the state and civil society organizations in the reporting process. “The idea of cooperation is unprecedented in Israel,” Broude emphasizes. “These are organizations that usually encounter the representatives of the state in court in the context of conflicts and confrontation. But we have managed to launch an experimental process whereby, before the reports are submitted to the UN, the state presents a draft of the main points to the organizations and a discussion is held in Israel.” About a month ago, a meeting of this kind was held to discuss Israel’s report to the Human Rights Committee. Some twenty organizations participated in the meeting, which yielded some positive outcomes: “The participants listened very carefully to each other. In some cases the government representatives heard facts or figures from the organizations that they had not been aware of. They continued to sit together for a long time after the meeting in order to share information and write down further details,” Broude reports enthusiastically. For their part, the organizations heard explanations about problems in implementation in various fields that they had not previously recognized.


“We will hold several further meetings in this framework,” Broude notes. “After the committee prepares its report, we hold a concluding event to see how we can move things forward. For example, we held an event to promote the establishment of a national human rights commission and the enactment of a Basic Law defining social rights after the Social and Economic Rights Committee recommended that Israel should take these steps.” Broude acknowledges that these processes take time, but the hope is that the work will eventually bear fruit and will continue without the need for academic intervention.


A Research Group and a Groundbreaking Research Aid

The Minerva Center is working on several fronts to promote the internalization of the human rights laws to which Israel is committed and to improve the way these are reflected in Israel’s domestic legal system. All the treaties Israel has signed require various levels of induction into Israeli law. The Knesset is responsible for the legislative process, but in many cases there is no positive induction and a gap results. In order to meet this goal, and in addition to the meetings described above, a research group has been established. Led by Professor David Kretzmer and funded by the European Union, the group aims to produce several articles analyzing weak points in Israel’s absorption of the treaties. “The research group will analyze various junctions at which Israeli law has still failed to internalize its international undertakings,” Professor Broude explains.


As part of the effort to improve the way the human rights treaties are reflected in domestic law, the Minerva Center is preparing a pioneering research aid that will make international human rights law accessible to Israeli attorneys and jurists. Attorney Danny Levitan is coordinating this project.




Attorney Danny Levitan

“We are establishing an online information system using a ‘Wiki’ format. This is an index that aims to collate information in a single place. This means that anyone will be able to search for a particular concept in human rights, such as social rights, family rights, equality, and so forth. The system has a ‘tree’ structure – it is divided into sections and detailed sub-sections including links to the official sources in international law. In addition to the references, users will also have access to Hebrew translations of much of the material that has not previously been able in this language,” Levitan explains.


The proposed index aims to simply access to international material and to provide a research aid cross-referencing Israeli law and the international law to which Israel is committed. This is an innovative project and the first pilot open to the public will be launched shortly.



At present, much of the material is not available in Hebrew. The government has translated the treaties and the reports of the monitoring committees, but the “General Comments,” which form an important legal source, are not available in Hebrew, and the same is true of the conclusions of the various committees. Some of the conclusions of the committees are currently being translated by the Ministry of Justice and the site will include links to these translations. The commentaries have been translated for the first time as part of the project. The translated sources aim to overcome the language barrier and the difficulty in locating material dispersed around different international websites.