Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Human Rights Sidelined during Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Human Rights Sidelined during Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations

Article excerpt


While some aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian landscape may have altered quite drastically, others have changed not at all. Neither of the two governments, for example, has shown evidence of a change of attitude toward human rights and, more specifically, toward the use of torture.

In June, on the United Nations' International Day in Support of Human Rights, the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a joint declaration calling torture "one of the vilest acts to be perpetrated by human beings upon each other," and reminded governments worldwide that it is a crime against humanity and forbidden by international law.

Why, then, have Israel and the Palestinian National Authority not taken steps to ensure that torture be made a crime under domestic law and insist that torturers be brought to justice?

To date, both governments have failed to introduce domestic legislation banning the use of torture. In May, a bill outlawing torture did not have the necessary majority to be passed in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and was turned down as a result.

"I don't have a logical explanation for that," said Husam Khader, PLC member from Nablus. "I can only say that we should be ashamed. Such a bill should be passed in the PLC immediately, without debate, without argument."

As a signatory to the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Israel is required "to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture." Yet Israel has yet to incorporate the provisions of the Convention into domestic law. In fact, a bill has been submitted to the Israeli Knesset seeking to legalize torture.

While the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed specific interrogation methods which constitute torture and ill-treatment, the Sept. 6, 1999 Court ruling left the door open for the Knesset to pass legislation on torture. Indeed, the following month a bill sponsored by the right-wing Likud Party was signed by over 40 of the 120 Knesset members. The proposed law seeks to allow interrogators to use special techniques, including "physical pressure," in cases where there is reasonable suspicion the detainee may have information that, if revealed, could prevent an immediate danger to the security of the state--what is sometimes referred to as the "ticking bomb" justification.

The proposed bill essentially reverts back to the original situation in which Israel's General Security Services (GSS) had permission to use "special interrogation methods in exceptional circumstances." During that period some 30,000 Palestinians are reported to have been tortured. The Supreme Court ruling, however, addressed neither compensation and rehabilitation of the victims, nor prosecution of the torturers.

While the systematic use of such practices as violent shaking, hooding with filthy sacks, being forced to squat for extended periods or shackled to slanted chairs for hours or being subjected to prolonged blasting of loud music has been declared illegal, detainees continue to report cases of torture or ill-treatment.

"The court ruling was welcomed initially but, once we examined it more closely, we realized how narrow it was," said Allegra Pacheco, one of the Israeli attorneys, along with the Public Committee Against Torture, to bring the issue before the Supreme Court. …

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