of the Council
- Press Office -
Brussels, 28 June 1999
EU HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT
(1 SEPTEMBER 1998 - 31 JANUARY 1999)
The EU Member States' Consuls general in Jerusalem and Heads of Mission in Tel Aviv regularly draw up reports on the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories ("EU Human Rights Watch").
Following is a summary of their latest watch report, covering the period 1 September 1998 - 31 January 1999.
During the period under review, Israel's position and practice on torture has remained the same: that is to say that what is described as "moderate physical pressure" is allowed by law in certain situations. This can involve hooding, shackling, sleep deprivation and the placing of detainees in painful positions for several hours at a time. Towards the end of the period under review, there were indications that some changes would be made in the hooding procedure, such as the use of a properly ventilated sack. There have been no deaths of Palestinians in custody reported during this period, except for the death of a Yemeni of Palestinian origin: the Israeli prison authorities said he committed suicide, although a Palestinian human rights group attributed his death to maltreatment (this could not be confirmed by Israeli human rights groups).
Israeli security forces continue to use lethal firepower with impunity. Nine unarmed civilians were killed by gunfire from IDF soldiers, and a 13-year old boy shot and critically wounded, in the course of protests and demonstrations. The use of lethal force by Israeli soldiers in non-life threatening situations raises the question of what efforts the Israeli government is making to minimize the loss of life in such encounters. Three people died in what were alleged by Palestinians to be extra-judicial killings. In addition, the death of a Palestinian woman in childbirth appeared to be at least partly caused by rigid Israeli security measures preventing movement in the sector of the city under their control. A boy was seriously wounded by an abandoned land mine in an area said to have been used by the IDF for training purposes.
At least two Palestinians are believed to have been killed during this period by Jewish extremists. A light sentence (of two years' imprisonment plus one year's probation and obligation to pay damages to the victim's family) passed on an Israeli who killed an elderly and unarmed Palestinian in June sharply contrasted with sentences passed on Palestinians guilty of the killing of Israelis who often are sentenced to life imprisonment.
House demolitions have continued, initially at a reduced rate which then began to increase in January: an estimated 48 structures demolished and 187 people made homeless between September and December compared with 250 structures between January and August 1998. In January demolitions began once more to increase in number, with a high-profile demolition leading to riots and the death of a protester.
According to figures released by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, during 1998 788 Jerusalem identity cards were withdrawn, 441 of them during the last five months of 1998. This is an increase on the 606 withdrawn in 1997. The withdrawal of an identity card has implications not only for the bearer but also for his or her dependants.
A prolonged closure on the West Bank and Gaza in September and the beginning of October harmed the Palestinian economy as well as preventing Palestinians outside East Jerusalem from reaching the city. The closure was imposed, according to the Israeli government, because of intelligence information of possible terrorist attacks during the high Jewish holidays. On the other hand, the Israeli authorities took a lenient approach towards access to Jerusalem during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, allowing hundreds of thousands to pray at al-Aqsa mosque each Friday. The city of Hebron was sealed off from the rest of the West Bank for two weeks of October 1998 and a week in January 1999, and at the same time Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled area of the city were forbidden to leave their homes: two Palestinians died during these curfews.
The number of administrative detainees in Israeli prisons has continued to fall, which is a welcome development. 250 Palestinian prisoners convicted of security/political and criminal offenses (mainly the latter) were released as part of the Wye River memorandum.
Israelis have during this period been the targets and victims of terrorist attacks: a bomb went off at the Hebrew University on 24 September, wounding one person; on 30 September a grenade attack in Hebron wounded several soldiers; on 9 October an IDF soldier near the settlement of Tomer was killed, although the attacker may have been acting alone; on 19 October 64 people were injured in a grenade attack in Be'er Sheva; on 26 October a settler was killed in Hebron; on 29 October a car bomb in Gaza killed an IDF soldier; on 6 November two suicide bombers were killed in West Jerusalem when they device they were transporting exploded prematurely, and 20 others were slightly injured.
II. PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
The Palestinians cannot ratify international human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the Convention Against Torture, as Palestine is not an independent state, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is forbidden by the terms of the Oslo Agreement from doing so. But we recall that:
- President Arafat has publicly stated on several occasions that the PA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights standards and to incorporating them fully into Palestinian Law. For example he spoke to this effect at the Palestinian Legislative Council on 7 March 1998.
- The PA/PLO is a signatory to the Barcelona Declaration, whose basic principles include respect for the democratic process and for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The situation in the areas under full control of the PA continues to fall short of required human rights standards.
There have been many substantiated accusations of torture against Palestinian security organizations, and there are still hundreds of people detained without charge in Palestinian prisons and detention centers. There has been at least one death of a civilian at the hands of the security forces during this period, that of Wasim al-Tarifi. Conditions in the Palestinian prisons have reportedly improved to some degree.
Serious concerns emerged during this period with regard to the freedom of the press. Some journalists and writers who had criticized the Palestinian Authority or filmed protest rallies were detained, for example in December 1998 during the Iraq crisis. The Palestinian Authority contacted international news agencies in October suggesting that non-Palestinian journalists wanting to visit the Gaza strip would need in future to inform the PA whom they intended to meet there. No action, however, was taken to enforce this threat.
Judgments of the High Court have not been implemented and even the jurisdiction of the High Court does not apply to sentences handed down by State Security Courts. The State Security Courts, whose procedures fall short of standard judicial norms, were used in January 1999 for the first time to try a defendant accused of tax evasion.
Democratic municipal elections remain overdue, although there are indications that they may take place in 1999. The Basic Law, which would enshrine democratic norms and human rights standards in law, has not yet been ratified by Yasser Arafat.