Sunday, 26 June 2011, marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On 12 December 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 26 June the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CIDT) or Punishment (which entered into force on 26 June 1987). This day has become an occasion to assert the illegality of torture and CIDT and reiterate the international community's condemnation of these practices. This year, the day comes amidst an escalation in practices of torture and CIDT committed against Palestinians by Israel, but also by the Palestinian security services, prompted by the on-going state of political divide.
In October 1991, Israel ratified the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), however according to field investigations obtained by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Israel continues to practice systematic torture against Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Palestinians continue to face torture and CIDT in prisons and detention centres and through the practices of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) operating in the oPt.
According to the estimations of Mr. Abdel Nasser Ferwana, an expert on Palestinian prisoners’ affairs there are currently approximately 6,000 Palestinian prisoners and detainees held in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Of those, 245 are children, 37 are women, 180 are administrative detainees held without charge, and three are being held as ‘unlawful combatants’. Since June 1967, over 750,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. Most Palestinian prisoners and detainees report experiencing torture and/or CIDT.
The discrimination against Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons and detention centers is evident in the Israeli High Court decision to allow the internal Israeli intelligence security agency (ISA) the Shabak (otherwise referred to as Shin Bet) to practice a “reasonable amount of” psychological and physical pressure on Palestinian detainees. Israel’s General Security Service Law (of the year 2000) grants ISA personnel de jure immunity for acts in the course of service as long as they acted "reasonably and in good faith", allowing torturers to resort to what is called the "necessity defence". Israeli law also exempts the police from recording interrogation sessions with Palestinian detainees, however, police are legally obliged to record interrogations with Israeli prisoners.
The Israeli authorities do not sufficiently investigate or deal with complaints against Israeli interrogators accused of using torture on Palestinian detainees. Complaints of torture by ISA agents are investigated in-house by an ISA agent, who can be considered to be neither independent nor impartial. All complaints of torture are then either denied factually or justified as “ticking bomb” cases, and perpetrators of torture are exempted from criminal liability by the Attorney General under the “defense of necessity”. In both these cases the files are invariably closed. From hundreds of complaints submitted by victims of torture in Israel, not a single case has been criminally investigated, let alone prosecuted. Furthermore, the Israeli authorities have entered a reservation to Article 20 of CAT, thereby denying the Committee Against Torture the authority to visit Israel in order to investigate any evidence it receives about the systematic practice of torture. The Israeli authorities have refused until now to accept that CAT is authorized to receive and examine individual complaints. Neither has Israel ratified the CAT Optional Protocol, which allows for effective civil society oversight. This situation provides greater evidence that a culture of impunity is embedded in the Israeli justice system, a culture that encourages the violation of human rights and international law and leaves victims without any chance of redress or justice.
In addition to the use of torture in interrogations, Palestinian detainees are subject to inhuman living conditions in Israeli prisons. They are provided with poor quality meals, detained in places with bad lighting and poor ventilation, are not provided with adequate medical services, are subject to solitary confinement isolating them from the outside world (see our joint position paper published today with Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel on the use of solitary confinement in the Israeli prison system), and deprived of a fair trial. Gazan detainees also are deprived of their right to family visitations. The Israeli security cabinet has approved discriminatory laws, such as the ‘Shalit Law' bill and the 'Unlawful Combatant Law' both of which violate human rights standards and international humanitarian law (IHL).
The Israeli authorities have expanded their practices which humiliate and threaten the life and wellbeing of Palestinian civilians in oPt. Israel have imposed restrictions on the movement of patients who need to travel via Erez crossing to receive medical treatment in hospitals outside Gaza, including in the occupied West Bank. The ISA interview and interrogate Palestinian patients and sometimes coerce them in order to obtain information about relatives and friends in Gaza. Al Mezan has documented several cases where patients have been arrested and tortured after being given permits to cross or summoned for interviews at Erez crossing.
Moreover, the Israeli occupation forces continue to demolish Palestinian homes for punitive purposes and detain and harm fishermen off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights expresses its solidarity with victims of Israeli torture. It reiterates its condemnation of systematic Israeli torture practices in violation of international human rights standards particularly the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the CAT. The Israeli practices also constitute a gross violation of International Humanitarian Law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the use of torture against protected persons.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights calls for international support of torture victims. The international community should promptly intervene to provide protection for Palestinians, to put an end to torture of Palestinians by Israel, to exert pressure on Israel to uphold its obligations under international law, and to allow the Committee Against Torture to fulfill its mandate and conduct objective and impartial investigations into complaints submitted by torture victims and fight impunity.