Palestinian Authority should end torture and unfair trials
Human Rights Watch Press release, New York, November 30, 2001
People detained by the Palestinian Authority are frequently subjected to torture
and denied access to fair trials, Human Rights Watch said in a new report
The 50-page report documents how the Palestinian Authority executive branch –
including President Yasser Arafat, his ministers, police, and various security
forces – has seriously undermined the independence of the judiciary and the rule
The report estimates that as of September 2001, the Palestinian Authority (PA)
was holding about 450 people in detention without charge or trial. Most were
suspected of being informants for Israeli security forces; others were alleged to
have sold Palestinian land to Israelis.
The PA has done virtually nothing to identify the perpetrators of about
thirty vigilante-style executions, the report says.
“The Palestinian Authority wants to be treated as an equal with other
governments,” said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.
“President Arafat must ensure that the PA has a functioning judicial
system which operates to protect the human rights of all Palestinians.”
Roth urged Arafat to ratify several laws passed by the Palestinian
Legislative Council that would help to protect the rights of detainees.
The Human Rights Watch report, “Justice Undermined: Balancing Security and
Human Rights in the Palestinian Justice System,” charges the PA with failing to
bring to justice militants who have attacked Israeli civilians.
The report also says that Israeli responses to the current “intifada,”
including severe restrictions on freedom of movement and the destruction of
Palestinian law-enforcement infrastructure, have aggravated the deterioration of
the Palestinian justice system.
The report says at least ten separate Palestinian security and police forces are
operating in PA territory, all of them operating above the law. They have
systematically ignored orders from the High Court to release detainees who are
being held arbitrarily. Detainees are commonly arrested without a warrant and
are not told the reason for their arrest nor allowed access to a lawyer during
interrogation. Once arrested, they can spend months in detention without
charge or trial.
The practice of incommunicado detention exacerbates the routine use of
torture. Detainees are frequently subjected to “shabah” (prolonged sitting or
standing in painful positions); “falaqa” (beating on the soles of the feet);
punching; kicking; and suspension from the wrists.
Five Palestinians are known to have died in police or security force
custody since the current intifada began.
The State Security Court, established by presidential decree in 1995, has
displaced and undermined ordinary courts. The president convenes the court on
a case-by-case basis. Most trials last only a few hours, and most defendants
are convicted solely or principally on the basis of confessions they made while
in incommunicado detention. The accused are usually defended by
court-appointed counsel who are not practicing lawyers, but serving members
of the security forces. Defense lawyers sometimes have as little as a few
minutes to prepare their defense.
Since the current intifada began, sixteen defendants have been tried in the
Higher State Security Court or the Military Court. Fifteen have been convicted,
of whom eleven have been sentenced to death. Two executions have been
The report describes a “revolving door policy” of arresting alleged members of
militant groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, often under pressure from
Israel or the international community, holding them without charge or trial, and
then releasing them.
On October 31, the PA issued six-month-long administrative detention orders
against seven alleged members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“Issuing administrative detention orders can only further weaken the
Palestinian justice system,” said Roth. “Instead of charging and bringing
suspects to court, the PA now seems determined to by-pass such procedures
and hold suspects in detention without trial.”
The report includes detailed recommendations for measures that the PA, the
government of Israel, and major donors must take to improve the situation.