(Seoul, March 16, 2023) Hyundai Construction Equipment (Hyundai CE) must take immediate action to prevent its products' involvement in demolitions in Masafer Yatta, Amnesty International and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) said today. The organizations have documented five instances where Israeli forces used excavators manufactured by Hyundai CEto raze Palestinian property in Masafer Yatta, an area of the occupied West Bank where some 1,150 Palestinians are at imminent risk of forcible transfer. The demolitions in question displaced at least 15 Palestinians, including six children, and constitute war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Amnesty International wrote to Hyundai CE with its findings, and asked it to explain what human rights due diligence procedures it had undertaken to prevent its products being used by Israeli forces to commit violations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Hyundai CE stated that it was not "engaged in Israeli settlement activiti
es", but did not provide details on due diligence. Nor did the company address Amnesty International's concerns about the Israeli military's use of Hyundai CE products to carry out demolitions in Masafer Yatta. Amnesty International also wrote to EFCO Ltd (EFCO), Hyundai CE's sole distributor in Israel, but at time of publication had received no response.
"Palestinians in Masafer Yatta are living in a state of constant dread – watching the horizon for the arrival of Israeli forces, and the excavators which mean the end of life as they know it. Some residents have already seen the Israeli military use excavators to demolish the homes of their neighbours and rip out essential village
infrastructure- excavators which bore Hyundai's logo," said Mark Dummett, Head of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
"Hyundai CE must act urgently to end its products' involvement in forcible transfer and unlawful home demolitions. These violations help maintain Israel's apartheid system and are crimes under international law – no business should be linked to or benefiting from them. We are calling on Hyundai CE to cut ties with its Israeli distributor EFCO, until EFCO has taken concrete steps to ensure Hyundai CE products are not being used to commit human rights violations."
Amnesty International considers that Hyundai CE failed to conduct proper human rights due diligence on its business operations in Israel. An adequate risk assessment should have indicated that there was a likelihood of Hyundai CE's products ultimately being used by Israeli forces to commit violations in Israel and the OPT. Hyundai CE now has a responsibility to mitigate the harm it has been linked to. It should do this by taking steps such as reviewing its human rights guidelines, and publishing a plan outlining the steps it will take to end its products' involvement in human rights violations.
Amnesty International and DAWN are calling on Hyundai CE to suspend distribution of its products in Israel through EFCO, until the latter commits to conducting human rights due diligence, and until it ensures that end users do not employ Hyundai CE machinery for unlawful activities.
Israeli forces demolish homes with Hyundai CE excavators
In May 2022, Israel's High Court rejected a petition from Masafer Yatta residents, and ruled that the demolition of nine hamlets and villages could go ahead – greenlighting one of the biggest acts of forcible transfer in the OPT since 1967. Dozens of demolitions have been carried out already. In January 2023, Israeli authorities informed residents that their forcible transfer would be imminent.
Amnesty International and DAWN verified the use of Hyundai CE excavators in five demolitions that took place in Masafer Yatta in 2022. For example, on 15 February 2022, Israeli forces used a Hyundai HX330AL crawler excavator to demolish a home and a water cistern in Khallet al-Mayah village, forcibly displacing a family of six. In July 2022, a Hyundai HW210 wheeled excavator and a HX330AL crawler excavator were used on separate occasions by Israeli forces to demolish two homes in the village of Umm Qussa, forcibly displacing at least nine people. In all these cases, Hyundai's logo was visible on excavators, alongside EFCO's brand sticker.
"This is a crucial moment for the Palestinian residents of Masafer Yatta as they face ramped up demolitions of their homes and community by the Israeli government to cleanse this area of the indigenous population," said Adam Shapiro, Director of Advocacy, Israel/Palestine, at DAWN.
"Businesses like Hyundai need to take action now to ensure that they are not accomplices in war crimes and send an unambiguous message to the Israeli government and businesses that human rights standards are not just words on a page, but have practical consequences. Hyundai CE is being forewarned of a crime – it can take decisive action that can have wide ranging impact."
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate. This means they must take steps to prevent, address, mitigate and remedy any human rights harms linked to their operations, products or services – even if they are not directly involved in the commission of violations. Businesses also have a duty to ensure their distributors only sell to human rights compliant customers. This duty applies in this case regardless of the precise contracts that link Hyundai CE, EFCO, and the Israeli military.
In situations of armed conflict, including military occupation, businesses must also respect international humanitarian law. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, forcible transfer is a war crime, as is the unlawful destruction of property without military necessity. Forcible transfers carried out as part of a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population are crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Corporate actors who knowingly provide practical assistance that substantially contributes to the commission of crimes against humanity may be held criminally responsible for aiding and abetting such crimes.
The demolitions in Masafer Yatta are also violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to housing. As the occupying power in the OPT, Israel is obligated to respect and protect these rights.
On 20 July 2022, Hyundai CE published a set of Guiding Principles for Human Rights Management. In this document, Hyundai CE claims to reject any form of violation linked to its business operations, and also commits to "[taking] heed of infringement upon the rights of local residents."
Amnesty International wrote to Hyundai CE on 27 January 2023, outlining its concerns that the company has breached its international obligations and its own guidelines. Inits response of 2 February, Hyundai CE emphasized that the company upholds its responsibilities to respect human rights, and stressed its commitment to "promoting" the UN Guiding Principles, as well as stating that it is not involved in Israeli settlements. However, Hyundai CE did not address Amnesty International's findings regarding the use of itsequipment in Masafer Yatta demolitions.
In a follow-up letter sent on 6 February, Amnesty International reiterated its research findings and queries. As of publication time, no response has been received.
On 21 February, Amnesty International wrote to EFCO, sharing its findings and requesting details about EFCO's human rights due diligence procedures. As of publication time, EFCO has not responded.
"Hyundai CE needs to translate its human rights pledges into effective action. Our research shows that so far, its due diligence processes have failed to prevent its products being linked to human rights violations. Hyundai CE needs to improve its human rights processes, and suspend relations with its Israeli distributor until compliance with international standards is guaranteed," said Mark Dummett.
"If it goes ahead, the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta would constitute one of the largest acts of forcible transfer in the OPT since 1967. Hyundai CE must play no role in this appalling crime. We reiterate our call on states, businesses and other actors with influence over Israeli policy to use all the political and diplomatic tools at their disposalto stop demolitions in Masafer Yatta and end the forcible transfer of Palestinians."
In the 1980s, Israeli authorities declared a large area of Masafer Yatta as a "closed military zone", claiming they needed the land to conduct training exercises. Since then, Palestinian families who have lived in the area for generations have faced the constant threat of demolition and displacement, as well as attacks by Israeli settler groups and harassment by the Israeli military.