Promoting the Rule of Law and Democracy in areas under the Jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority
A crucial part of the PCHRs activity during 1997 was dedicated to encouraging respect for the rule of law and promoting the development of democracy and democratic institutions in Palestinian society. The PCHR believes that the evolution of an active civil society, within the context of democracy, is essential for the development of a democratic Palestinian society as well as for activating the potential force of Palestinian society for participation in the building of the Palestinian national project.
Over the last few years, the PCHR has developed a strategy based on constructive dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, urging it to take necessary measures and to enact laws to guarantee respect for the rule of law, human rights, and the promotion of democracy. However, during 1997, the PCHR dedicated a vital part of its work to monitoring human rights violations perpetrated by various Palestinian security forces. The PCHR also played an active role with regard to respect for the rule of law and the development of democracy within areas under Palestinian jurisdiction.
During 1997, the PCHR recognized a cosmetic improvement in the human rights record of the PA, including improvement in the rule of the police, acceptance of human rights training for security forces, and rhetoric appraising human rights groups and demonstrating respect and willingness to cooperate on matters of human rights. Nevertheless, the PA is required to incorporate qualitative changes in its policies regarding core issues in order to create a base from which to improve its human rights record in the future. The PCHR reports its deep concern over three core issues that demonstrate the most prominent violations and represent a real challenge to the PA over the following years. That challenge exists, of course, only if there truly is the will to change in order to protect human rights. These core issues are the following:
- Judicial Authority.
According to 1997 documentation, the PCHR concluded that the PA has not taken serious steps to ensure the independence of the judiciary and to promote respect for the decisions of the courts.
- 1997 witnessed grave breaches of court decisions, including decisions of the highest judicial authority, the Palestinian High Court of Justice. Such breaches, however rare, provide an essential indicator that cannot be ignored when evaluating the human rights situation in Palestine.
- The PA has not taken serious measures to strengthen the role of the Attorney Generals office. In fact, the powers of the Attorney General were undermined, thus crippling an important component of justice and damaging the principle of the rule of law and the human rights situation.
- On many occasions, the prison administrations refused to obey decisions of the court and orders of the Attorney General.
- Legislative Authority.
During 1997, the Palestinian Legislative Council failed to adopt the Basic Law for the interim period. According to article three of the Palestinian Election Law (1995), the top priority of the PLC was to adopt this Basic Law. The PCHR acknowledges the many difficulties and obstacles faced by the Council, especially the lack of cooperation from the Executive in adopting the Basic Law that passed the third reading in the Council. Nevertheless, the PCHR believes that the PLC has not done enough to ensure the promulgation of the Basic Law. At the same time, the PLC has not played an active role in terms of monitoring and holding accountable the executive authority, which is a crucial part of its mission. The PLC has also failed to take serious steps to force the Executive to work in accordance with its decisions.
- Executive Authority.
During 1997, the PCHR was not convinced that the institutions of the executive authority have carried out their activities in accordance with the law and in a way that promotes the rule of law. That was clear in terms of overturning court decisions and undermining the authority of the elected Legislative Council.
Regarding these three core issues, the PCHR is deeply concerned to report no improvement in the human rights record of the PA. The PCHR believes that serious measures should be taken on these three levels in order to strengthen the rule of law, achieve concrete and qualitative improvements in the human rights situation, and advance the development of democracy and an active civil society. No extenuating circumstances may justify the non-fulfillment of the PAs obligations towards the Palestinian society. The PCHR believes that the PA cannot achieve and maintain power and strength without committing itself to these core issues in all circumstances.
Illegal Arrests carried out by security forces
During 1997, the PCHR continued its work to end illegal detention in Palestinian prisons. Despite the fact that the number of detainees declined in 1997, more than 50 detainees remain held in Palestinian prisons in Gaza without charges. Some of these prisoners have been held for 25 months without being brought before a judge and have been denied the right to legal defense and a fair trial. The majority of these detainees were detained for their political beliefs and affiliation with Islamic groups opposing the peace process with Israel. They were detained in massive waves of arrests carried out under pressure and political blackmail exerted on the PA by the governments of the United States and Israel. The PCHR also reported a number of cases in which politicians, human rights activists, and citizens were arrested for their criticism of illegal activities carried out by the PA or members of the security forces. In pursuing the files of these detainees, the PCHR has worked through the legal procedures guaranteed by Palestinian law. In addition to press releases issued by the PCHR and formal and informal contacts with the PA, lawyers of the PCHR have represented their clients before Palestinian courts.
Intervention before courts and concerned bodies on behalf of Palestinian detainees
During 1997, lawyers from the Legal Aid Unit of the PCHR intervened on behalf of tens of detainees before Palestinian courts and concerned bodies. The unit addressed 44 files and sent 36 letters to the Palestinian Attorney General inquiring about reasons for the continued detention of PCHR clients and demanding to visit these clients. However, the PCHR did not receive a single response from the Attorney General. In 1997, lawyers from the PCHR were only allowed to visit 13 prisoners after they were transferred to the Gaza Central Prison. Two other prisoners were visited by PCHR lawyers at detention centers of the preventive security forces and the military intelligence.
Press Releases concerning illegal arrests
- On 11 March 1997, the PCHR issued a press release demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners detained without charge. The PCHR welcomed the decision of the PA to release Dr. Ibrahim El Maqadma, a prominent Islamic activist in the Gaza Strip, who had been detained without trial since 2 March 1996. Dr. El Maqadma was arrested during a massive campaign of arrests carried out by Palestinian security forces in the wake of suicide operations inside Israel during February and March 1996. At the same time, the PCHR demanded the release of all prisoners held without charges and without due process provided by Palestinian law. The press release reported that the prisoners had begun taking steps to protest their illegal detention, including a hunger strike that began on 6 March 1997 and lasted for many days. The PCHR also demanded that the PA put an end to this situation and guarantee the right of prisoners to due process, either through bringing them before a fair trial or releasing them.
- On 12 July 1997, the PCHR issued a press release after the Palestinian High Court of Justice gave the Preventive Security Forces an ultimatum of eight days to respond to an appeal presented by PCHR lawyers against the illegal arrest of Dr. Fathi Suboh. The press release reported that PalestiniaPreventative Security Forces arrested Dr. Suboh on 2 July 1997. Dr. Suboh was a lecturer of education at Al-Azhar University and a community leader. Sources of the Preventive Security reported that Dr. Suboh was arrested for security reasons. His wife, however, testified to the PCHR that her husband was arrested after asking his students to answer an examination question about administrative corruption at Al-Azhar University and in the Palestinian Authority. The day following his arrest, the PCHR contacted the Palestinian Ministry of Justice and sent a letter to the Deputy Attorney General demanding the following:
- Reasons for Dr. Subohs arrest and the charges against him.
- Reasons for not bringing him before a judge within 48 hours, as required by Palestinian law.
- Reasons for lack of due process in the arrest.
- A permit for lawyers from the PCHR to visit their client.
The PCHR received no response from the Attorney Generals office and appealed to the High Court of Justice to guarantee the release of Dr Suboh and to uncover the reasons for his illegal arrest and continued detention.
- The PCHR issued a second press release on 22 July 1997 regarding developments in the case of Dr. Suboh. A force from the Palestinian police entered his home and confiscated students responses to an examination held by Dr. Suboh. This step clearly supported the evidence that Dr. Suboh was arrested due to that examination. The press release considered this a severe attack on academic freedom. This attack threatened the well-being of tens of students, who were supposed to answer the questions objectively and to express their opinions in a private examination.
- On 10 August 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regarding the convention of the Palestinian High Court of Justice on 9 August to consider the case of Dr. Fathi Suboh. The Court postponed its decision until 6 October. During the hearing, however, the representative of the Attorney Generals office informed the court that the State Security Court had extended the detention of Dr. Suboh. He argued that the High Court of Justice had no jurisdiction to consider the case according to Palestinian law. The PCHR stated that the Palestinian Attorney General had not informed Dr. Suboh or his lawyers that his case was under consideration before the State Security Court or that his detention had been extended by this court. Lawyers of the PCHR stated that Dr. Suboh had been tortured and that he carried out a hunger strike for 36 days. They added that the continued detention of Dr. Suboh had a negative impact on the image of the judiciary and the legal system in Palestine. They insisted that their client be released for lack of due process in his arrest.
- On 18 August 1997, the PCHR issued a press release expressing its deep concern over attempts by some security forces to undermine the power and jurisdiction of the Palestinian Attorney General regarding prisoners in Palestinian jails. The press release noted that Attorney General Fayez Abu Rahma had ordered the release of eleven prisoners who had been held without trial for many months in Gaza Central Prison. Three hours after their release on 15 August, Palestinian security forces re-arrested these men. Colonel Muhammad Al-Tanani, then director of the Prisons Administration and director of the Gaza Central Prison, was arrested for his role in releasing the prisoners, as was Emad Kaloub, an assistant to the Palestinian military attorney who was believed to have signed the release orders.
- On 14 September 1997, the PCHR issued a press release expressing its deep concern over a statement by the Palestinian Attorney General regarding the arrest of Palestinians in accordance with emergency defense regulations issued in 1945. On 10 September, Mr. Fayez Abu Rahma informed journalists that he had not ordered the arrest of Islamic opposition figures and that these arrests were carried out in accordance with Emergency Regulations, which give the President absolute powers of arrest. The Attorney General added that these regulations are still in effect today. The Emergency Regulations to which Mr. Abu Rahma referred were promulgated on 22 September 1945 to confront anti-colonial resistance by the Palestinian people, to facilitate the establishment of the Zionist project in Palestine, and to serve the colonial interests of Great Britain, then the mandate power in Palestine. The press release warned against the danger that would result from activating these regulations, which represent a severe breach of human rights standards and which undermine all efforts to promote democracy and civil society in Palestine. The PCHR also sent a letter to the Palestinian Attorney General on 14 September to inquire about whether, why, and when the PA implemented these Emergency Regulations. In case the PA had implemented such regulations, the PCHR inquired about the body to be addressed by human rights groups and lawyers pursuing cases of detainees arrested in accordance with the regulations and without a permit from the Attorney General. The PCHR has yet to receive an answer from the Attorney General. The PCHR also appealed to President Yasser Arafat for intervention in order to preserve respect for the power of the Attorney General, to ensure that he carries out his function in accordance with the law, and to guarantee that the security forces respect his decisions and orders.
- On 6 October 1997, the PCHR issued a press release expressing its deep surprise over a ruling by the High Court of Justice, which dismissed an appeal presented by the PCHR demanding the release of Dr. Fathi Suboh. The Court stated that it dismissed the appeal because it had no jurisdiction to review cases that were reviewed by the State Security Court. In the press release, the PCHR stated its determination to continue demanding the immediate release of Dr. Suboh, to concentrate publicly on the issue of academic freedom and freedom of expression, and to stress the illegal nature of the continued detention of Dr. Suboh.
- On 14 October 1997, the PCHR issued a press release calling upon the PA to end the detention of prisoners from the Islamic opposition. Around 50 prisoners began an open-ended hunger strike on 12 October. In a letter sent to the PCHR, they stated that their step was in protest of their illegal arrest, and described their conditions as explosive. They also stated that they were hostages to a political situation that had no end. The press release demanded that the PA take serious measures to ensure respect for the rule of law and to put an end to their suffering. Many of the prisoners had been detained without trial since February 1996, when they were arrested under pressure exerted on the PA by the governments of the United States and Israel following suicide attacks on Israeli targets. The press release argued that the PA must maintain the rule of law, which provides the security and stability necessary for the Palestinian Authority to confront the pressure of the US and Israel, urging it to abuse human rights and defy the law through such illegal arrests. The PCHR also reiterated its demand for the immediate release of all prisoners held illegally and without charges in Palestinian prisons.
- On 26 November 1997, the PCHR issued a press release expressing its satisfaction over the decision to release Dr. Fathi Suboh. The press release considered this step as coming far too late, however, due to the deterioration of Dr. Subohs health while in detention. Dr. Suboh was transferred to Al-Shifa hospital unconscious on 6 October, where he remained unconscious for 20 hours. During the following days, his health continued to deteriorate and his doctors recommended that he be transferred outside of the country for medication. On a positive note, medical reports proved that his disease was a prior condition having nothing to do with torture during his detention. On 26 November, the State Security Court decided to release Dr. Suboh on bail of 5000 Jordanian Dinars (roughly $7000). The court demanded that he present himself everyday at a police station and that he couleave the country only with written permission from the Attorney General. The PCHR, which had adopted the case of Dr. Suboh from the beginning, expresses its deep concern over the deterioration of his health conditions, which would not enable him to make his daily appearance at the police station. The PCHR demanded that all restrictions on the movement of Dr. Suboh be lifted so that he could travel outside of the country to receive medical treatment, as recommended by his doctors.
Immediately after the release of Dr. Suboh, the PCHR intensified its efforts to obtain a permit from the PA to allow him to travel abroad for medication. On 29 December, the PCHR received a letter from Palestinian Minister of Justice Frieh Abu Medain informing the PCHR that Dr. Suboh could leave the country for medication whenever he wanted. With the assistance of the State Government of Geneva and the Government of Norway, Dr. Suboh traveled in mid-January 1998 for medical treatment in Switzerland. The surgery proved successful and he returned to Gaza. The PCHR continues its efforts to ensure that Dr. Suboh be returned to his academic position at Al-Azhar University.
Deaths as a result of torture and suspicious circumstances inside Palestinian prisons
During 1997, five persons were reported dead while in Palestinian prisons or after being transferred to hospitals from prisons in very critical conditions. Three deaths occurred in Gaza and two in the West Bank. In some of these cases, investigations proved that torture was used against the prisoner.
- Yusef Ismail Al-Baba 34, Nablus. Al-Baba died in the ICU at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus on 1 February 1997 after being transferred there the day before by Palestinian Military Intelligence. It was reported that Al-Baba was summoned on 3 January to the office of the Governor of Nablus. He was then transferred to the Military Intelligence Headquarters where he was detained and brutally tortured. The signs of torture were evident on his entire body, including gaps believed to be the result of an electric drill as well as signs that his hands and feet were bound and that his hands were tied behind his back to a wall (shabih). On 15 February, Palestinian police detained the Deputy Governor and the head of the Military Intelligence in Nablus, as well as members of the medical staff at Rafidia hospital who were involved in stealing Al-Babas file from the hospital. However, no results of the official investigation were published.
- Hakam Wajdi Kamhawi 65, Nablus. Kamhawi died on 15 June 1997 in Ramallah hospital. On 5 June 1997, he was summoned by Palestinian security forces in Nablus on suspicions of involvement in land brokering activities with Israelis. The very same day, the Governor of Nablus called his family and informed them that Kamhawi had attempted to commit suicide and that he had been transferred to Ramallah hospital. Doctors at the hospital reported that Kamhawi swallowed organic phosphate, a type of pesticide that was found in his pocket. However, despite demands from the family, his body was not made available for autopsy. It remains unclear whether Kamhawi took the poisonous material by his own will or by force.
- Sami Ali Abed Rabbo 40, Jabalia. Abed Rabbo died in Gaza Central Prison on 30 June 1997. His family was informed of the death by a phone call to the head of the family from prison officials. He was informed that the death resulted from a heart attack. Abed Rabbo was arrested on 15 February by the Palestinian General Intelligence, apparently due to suspicions of collaboration with Israel. The PCHR immediately complained to the Attorney General, demanding an investigation into the affair. However, until now no investigation has been conducted. See below for more details about this case.
- Nasser Al-Abed Radwan 28, Sheikh Radwan, Gaza. Radwan died on 30 June at Al-Shifa hospital after being transferred unconscious by members of Force 17, Presidential Security. Radwan was arrested illegally by individuals from Force 17 on 23 June. According to the medical report, there were signs of torture on his body, especially on the skull, thigh, and arm. His beard and hair had been shaved. Representing his family, the PCHR appealed to the Attorney General on 25 June, calling for an investigation into the incident and inquiring about the reasons behind the illegal detention of Radwan and his injury and transfer to the ICU at Al-Shifa hospital. Investigations carried out by the PA proved that Radwan was tortured by individuals from Force 17 and on 3 July a special military court convened and sentenced three of the perpetrators to death, while sentencing two others to five years in prison. All were from Force 17. See below for more details.
- Jihad Abdel Raziq Al-Majdalawi 40, Nuseirat. On November 18, Al-Majdalawi was murdered by another prisoner inside Gaza Central Prison. He was repeatedly stabbed in the stomach with a pointed tool. Al-Majdalawi was held by the PA on suspicion of collaboration with the Israeli authorities.
Press releases concerning the deaths in prisons
- On 6 February, the PCHR issued a press release expressing its deep concern over the repeated cases of death in Palestinian prisons as a result of torture. The press release was issued after the death of Yusef Al-Baba at Rafidia hospital in Nablus. The press release argued that these criminal practices were very insulting to the Palestinian people in their struggle and aspiration for freedom and justice. It stated that these crimes contradict the ethics and morals of the Palestinian people while insulting the PA and presenting a negative image of the Palestinian authority. The press release reiterated the PCHRs position that this phenomenon will not end unless the PA does the following:
- Guarantees that one central body maintains control of detention orders. With the absence of such a body, arrests will remain disorganized and the possibility of anarchy will arise.
- Ensures that the law applies to those who execute it and sees that they respect legal procedures for arrests, which include pressing charges, bringing the prisoner before a judge, and protecting the right to proper defense.
- Creates clear internal regulations organizing the methods of interrogation. This will exempt the PA and place responsibility firmly on individuals involved in perpetrating such illegal activities. In the absence of such regulations, the PA bears responsibility.
- Holds accountable all those involved in torture crimes inside Palestinian prisons, including not only the direct perpetrators but also their higher officers and everyone who violates Palestinian law, which prohibits torture.
- On 26 June, the PCHR issued a press release regarding the detention and injury of Nasser Radwan by individuals from Force 17. According to the medical report, Radwan was transferred to the hospital on 23 June by individuals from Force 17. He was registered under the name Prisoner 10. The clinical examination proved that Radwan had suffered severe injuries to the head, with possible internal bleeding. Radwan was unconscious with no movement in the limbs and dilated pupils. The report also proved signs of beatings on the arm and the thigh as well as signs that his arms and legs had been bound and that his beard and his hair had been forcefully shaved. The press release called on the PA to conduct an immediate investigation to uncover the entire affair. The press release also stated that there was substantial ground to believe that Radwan was subjected to torture after being illegally detained by individuals from Force 17. In contradiction with the story told to the hospital, that he fell down in his cell, or to his family, that he beat his head against the wall, the press release demanded that all perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice.
- On 30 June, the PCHR issued a press release following the death of Nasser Radwan, Prisoner 10. The press release demanded that the PA release results of the investigation into this dangerous incident and punish all perpetrators in order to ensure respect for the rule of laand human rights for Palestinians.
- On 1 July 1997, the PCHR issued a press release following the death of Sami Abed Rabbo in suspicious circumstances on 30 June in Gaza Central Prison. Abed Rabbo was arrested on 15 February by the General Intelligence. His family informed the PCHR that they were informed of the death by a phone call made to the head of the family by prison officials claiming that he died as the result of a heart attack. The press release pointed out that Abed Rabbo had been arrested twice before on suspicions of collaboration with Israel. It was reported also that during a prior arrest by the Preventive Security he suffered a blood clot in his leg. The PCHR expressed its deep concern over the secrecy surrounding his death and burial. According to Palestinian law, the director of the prison is obligated to inform an investigating judge about cases of death and the judge has to carry out an investigation immediately. This never happened. The PCHR also appealed to the Attorney General, calling for an investigation into the affair in order to:
- Ensure the observation of regulations concerning actions to be taken by the Prison Administration following the death of a person under suspicious circumstances.
- Ensure an investigation into the circumstances that led to the death of Sami Abed Rabbo and to obtain reasons for concealing his death and not conducting an autopsy.
The Attorney General did not respond to the PCHRs appeal and no investigation results were released.
- On 3 July, the PCHR issued a press release welcoming the trial and sentencing of those involved in torturing and killing Nasser Radwan. The press release reported that a special military court formed to consider this case held its first session on 1 July and on 3 July sentenced three of the perpetrators to death, two others to five years in prison, and a sixth to six months. All were from Force 17 Presidential Security. While the PCHR welcomed the holding accountable of the perpetrators, it expressed its position against the death penalty and appealed to President Arafat, who has sole jurisdiction to ratify decisions of the military court, in order to reduce the sentence to life in prison.
People killed by individuals from the Palestinian security forces
In 1997, individuals working with the Palestinian security forces killed five citizens in Gaza. In all but one case, the perpetrators were brought before the State Security Court. Following are the cases documented by the Field Work Unit:
- Ismail Saleh Hassunah 30, Deir El-Balah. On 4 March 1997, Ismail Hassunah, an officer in the Preventive Security Forces, left his home in Deir El-Balah. Accompanied by his colleague Rafat Abu Samak, Hassunah was driving to work when, fifty meters from his house, three masked men wearing military uniforms fired at the car. Hassunah was killed while his colleague was injured. The people involved in the incident were later arrested, among them a senior officer in Force 17, Presidential Security. All of the men were brought before the State Security Court, which sentenced one of them to death and the others to prison terms ranging from three years to life.
- Majid Jameel Al-Arabeed 31, Sheik Radwan, Gaza. On 20 October 1997, a member of the National Security Forces fired at Al-Arabeed, who died as a result of his wounds at Al-Shifa hospital. Field workers from the PCHR reported that Al-Arabeed was driving his car accompanied by two female dancers and the personal bodyguard of Abdel Razaq Al-Majaida, head of the National Security Forces. The car was stopped at a National Security Force checkpoint to the west of Nuseirat. An argument ensued, at which time Al-Arabeed exited the car and hit an officer in the shoulder with his pistol. The officer then fired at Al-Arabeed, hitting him in the lower body. A military court later sentenced the accused to five years in prison and demoted him.
- Sami Muhammad Hamdona 27, Beach Camp, doctor. On 27 August 1997, a member of the Preventive Security fired at Hamdona following a personal fight. Hamdona was injured in the liver and died on 4 September. On 14 September, a military court charged the man with murder in self-defense and sentenced him to 7 years in prison and dismissal from military service.
- Musa Hmaid Dheir 65, Rafah. On 21 September 1997, Dheir was injured in the upper body while sitting in the family gathering place to settle a family dispute. He died the next day at Al-Shifa hospital. The perpetrators were brought before a State Security Court, which sentenced one man, an officer in the Palestinian General Intelligence, to 15 years in prison. Two other men, also from the General Intelligence, were sentenced to five years.
- Salim Muhammad Al-Shair 22, Rafah. On 23 October 1997, Palestinian police fired at the vehicle in which Al-Shair was riding as it passed near a checkpoint in Rafah. Al-Shairs cousin, who was driving, did not obey the orders to stop before crossing the checkpoint, which was set up due to civilian clashes in Rafah after the death of Musa Dheir. According to information obtained by the PCHR, the perpetrators were not arrested and a reconciliation committee was established to settle the issue.
Press release regarding the unrest in Rafah
On 26 October 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regretting the clashes taking place in Rafah that resulted in the deaths of Musa Dheir and Salim Al-Shair, the injury of many civilians, and the torching of three homes. The press release called on the PA to bring those involved in the events to court. The press release also addressed the danger resulting from the use of an official government vehicle by the killers of Musa Dheir.
The Closure of a number of licensed civil institutions in the Gaza Strip
During 1997, the PA closed more than 20 licensed Islamic institutions in the Gaza Strip known for their charitable social, cultural, religious, and sports activities. All but two of these offices were sealed on a single day, 25 September 1997. One of the targets was a newspaper with Islamic affiliations. Following is a table of the institutions closed and the date of their closure:
Headquarters of the Union of Islamic Youth Block
General Intelligence and Police
Some of the office property was confiscated
The newspaper was suspended until 4 December 1997
The Islamic Society
Offices of Gaza, Jabalia, and Nuseirat
Kindergartens related to branches in Gaza and Nuseirat were closed, denying tens of children their right to education
Sport club of the Islamic Society
Sport activities were completely stopped
The Islamic Complex (Mujamma Islami)
Gaza and Khan Younis
Searching and confiscation of computer disks
Society for Islamic Women Youth
Gaza and Khan Younis
Holy Land Society
Food provision was stopped for needy families benefiting from the society
Gaza, Rafah, Deir El-Balah, Bureij, and Maghazi
Food provision for needy families was stopped
Gaza, Rafah, Khan Younis
Khan Younis, Beni Suheila
Free medical services were stopped for needy families and a number of doctors and nurses were stopped from their work
The school stopped its sport activities
Science and Culture Center
Press releases regarding the closure of licensed institutions
- On 10 September 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regarding its appeal to the Attorney General against the closure of Al-Risala Newspaper in contradiction to the legal procedures. Lawyers from the PCHR, representing the Islamic Salvation Party (Hizb Al-Khalas), which runs this weekly licensed newspaper, inquired about reasons for the closure of the paper and the lack of due process. The appeal also demanded the immediate reopening of the paper and the prosecution of all those who closed the paper. The PCHR expresseits deep concern over the illegal procedure undertaken to close the paper. Article 42 of the Palestinian Press Law states that the concerned court must review all breaches of the law and the Attorney General must investigate each case. The press release considered that in the absence of an order issued by the Attorney General, the closure of the paper was illegal and its continued closure threatened the freedom of expression.
- On 28 September 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regarding the closure of a number of civil society institutions in the Gaza Strip. These closures came as part of a series of measures taken by the PA against the Islamic movement. The press release warned of the dangerous consequences of these measures. The closures served neither democratic development nor the building of pluralism in Palestine. They threatened the rule of law and respect for human rights and undermined efforts to build an active civil society and a democratic environment. The press release noted that on 25 September, Palestinian security forces closed more than 20 offices of Islamic institutions and their branches without a warrant from the Attorney General. All of these institutions were licensed and well known for their charitable, social, cultural, health, religious, and sports goals. They provided vital services to thousands of needy families in Gaza. Measures against these institutions coincided with strong pressure exerted by the governments of the United States and Israel against the PA, demanding it to undermine the infrastructure of Islamic groups. The Israeli and American demands also urged the PA to conduct massive waves of arrests against Islamic activists and supporters.
The continued Existence of the State Security Court
Responding to pressure from Israel and the United States, in February 1995 President Arafat established the State Security Court to review cases involving sensitive security issues. Human rights organizations in Palestine have strongly condemned the formation of the Court and its continued functioning in contradiction to legal procedure and accepted standards of fair trial. Despite the fact that 1997 witnessed a decrease in the number of cases reviewed by the State Security Court, its continued existence threatens public freedoms and undermines the independence of the judiciary.
Disregard for Palestinian court decisions
A number of times in 1997, governmental and non-governmental bodies breached the decisions of Palestinian courts. This situation poses a threat to the status of the judiciary and undermines the independence of the courts. No legal measures were taken against those who broke the decisions. The Legal Aid Unit of the PCHR documented these cases and intervened before concerned bodies to urge the implementation of court decisions. Following are a list of the decisions:
- Palestinian High Court decision, Appeal #23/95: Anam Subhi Anshasi v. Minister of Justice and Head of the General Personnel Council. Anshasi demanded that she be allowed to return to her work in the Attorney Generals office. Anshasi was fired from her work on 15 August 1989 by the Israeli authorities. With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, she applied to return to her work but was refused. So she appealed to the court. In its session on 22 June 1995, the Court decided that Anshasi should be allowed to return to her work and cancelled her termination. Anshasi has still not been allowed to return to work and was later appointed to another post in the Ministry of Justice.
- Palestinian High Court decision in Appeal #76/95: Manal Samih Farah v.Al-Ahli Arab Hospital. On 11 March 1996, the Court decided to cancel a decision to dismiss Farah from her work and demanded that she be allowed to resume her work. Until now, this decision has not been implemented.
- Palestinian High Court decision in Appeal #75/95: Mansour Al-Jadba v. Head of the Gaza Municipal Council. On 9 April 1997, the Court decided that the municipality promotion law should be followed and that Al-Jadba should be promoted to the post of head of health administration in the municipality. This decision has still not been implemented.
- Palestinian High Court decision in Appeal #143/95: Dr. Ahmad Dahalan v. Al-Azhar University. On 29 September 1996, the Court determined that the university should promote Dr. Dahalan, a lecturer at the university, in accordance with the promotion law. The university refused to respect this decision and Dr. Dahalan approached the PCHR. Following intervention from the PCHR, the university finally implemented the decision after 12 months of delay.
- Palestinian High Court decision in Appeal #64/96: Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Samiri v. Palestinian Attorney General. Al-Samiri appealed for release from prison based on the lack of due process during his arrest. On 19 September 1996, the Court decided to release Al-Samiri, but he remains in prison.
- Palestinian High Court decision in Appeal #59/97: Nine members of Kassab family v. Head of the Gaza Municipal Council. The Kassab family appealed to obtain an order to stop the demolition of their houses by the Gaza municipality. On 4 May 1997, the Court issued an order to prevent the demolition of their houses, but the municipality refused to respect this decision and proceeded with the demolition. See below for more details.
- Palestinian High Court decision in Appeal #52/97: Rajab Hassan Al-Baba v. Head of the Preventive Security, represented by the Palestinian Attorney General. Al-Baba appealed for release from prison based on the lack of due process in his detention. On 28 December 1997, the Court ordered the release of the defendant but the decision has not been implemented.
Press releases concerning breaches of court decisions
- On 28 May 1997, the PCHR issued a press release concerning the Gaza Municipalitys violation of a High Court of Justice decision to stop the demolition of a number of houses in Gaza. Nine citizens appealed to the High Court of Justice to obtain an order preventing the demolition of their houses by the Gaza Municipality. On 4 May, the Court decided to suspend the demolition order until a final decision could be taken by the Court. Despite the Courts decision, bulldozers from the Gaza Municipality, protected by Palestinian security forces, illegally demolished the houses. The press release considered the action of the municipality a breach of the Courts decision that could undermine the independence of the judiciary. It demanded that the PA hold accountable those responsible for this breach. The PCHR also demanded that the Gaza Municipality compensate for the damages of the illegal demolition of citizens houses.
- On 1 June 1997, the PCHR issued a press release denouncing a statement by the head of the Gaza Municipal Council, published in local newspapers. In this statement, the head of Council raised doubts about the credibility of the PCHR because of its previous press release. This press release emphasized that the details of the affair between the Gaza Municipality and the families were not the core interest of the PCHR. More important was the unilateral action taken by the Gaza Municipality in breach of a decision of the High Court. Regardless of who owned the disputed land, this issue should be decided by the Court. The PCHR reiterated its demand that the PA hold accountable all those who violated the decision of the Court.
The Failure of the PA to hold elections for local councils
In early 1997, the Palestinian National Authority began preparing to hold local council elections. On 10 January 1997, President Arafat issued a decree forming the General Elections Committee headed by Dr. Saeb Erekat, Minister of Local Government. Even earlier, on 16 December 1996, the Palestinian Legislative Council promulgated the Local Council Election Law while continuing its discussion of the Local Councils Law. The PA promulgated the second law on 12 October 1997. Despite the fact that no official date was announced for the local elections, statements by Palestinian officials asserted the intention of the PA to hold suchelections during 1997, specifically during August 1997. During the first part of the year, it was not clear how such elections could be held prior to the promulgation of the Local Councils Law. The PLC conducted the first reading of this law in February and waited five months before conducting the second reading in July. During this period, the Palestinian Ministry of Local Government continued to appoint local councils to run the affairs of all municipalities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While the Ministry asserted that such appointments were temporary until elections were held, it also began to release hints that, despite the fact that the Ministry team was ready to hold elections, it would be difficult to hold these elections prior to further redeployment of Israeli troops in the West Bank. In light of the political crisis and the suspension of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations at the time, no one suspected that Israeli forces would re-deploy over the following two or three months. This meant that the PA had no intention of holding elections in August 1997 and that the appointments for local councils exceeded the definition of temporary. On 19 June 1997, Dr. Erekat stated that elections would be held three months after Israeli redeployment in the West Bank. As this redeployment did not take place during 1997, the year passed without local council elections and without any prospect that these elections would be held during 1998. The PCHR views the failure to hold local elections as a decline in the process of democratic transformation, especially after the success of the 1996 General Elections. Further steps should have been taken by the PA to sustain democratic development.
Preparations for the elections and the establishment of a special election team
During 1997, the PCHR considered the issue of local council elections as one of its top priorities for two vital reasons
- Such elections were necessary to sustain the process of democratic transformation and the building of representative local and national institutions. No progress can be reported in democratic transformation as long as appointed persons continue to occupy representative public offices at the national or local level.
- All political factions, including groups that opposed the Oslo accords and boycotted the General Elections of 1996, expressed their intention to participate in the local elections.
Beginning as early as June 1996, the PCHR had been involved in all discussions concerning the legal framework for the local councils. The PCHR issued a critical study on the draft laws for Local Councils and for Local Council Elections proposed by the PA to the Palestinian Legislative Council. The study analyzed the various relevant laws inherited by the Palestinian legal system since the Ottoman Empire as well as the proposed legislation. The study was sent to members of the PLC. In addition, the PCHR organized workshops and meetings bringing together members of the PLC, representatives of the Executive Authority, and community leaders. Such activities attempted to affect the legislative process and encourage the promulgation of laws compatible with human rights and democratic principles.
As early as May 1997, the PCHR formed a special team to work on local council elections. The team functioned until early October 1997, when the PCHR decided to sustain only minimum activities after the PA postponed elections indefinitely. The goals of the team were:
- To encourage the political participation of Palestinian men and women and to persuade them to use their right to vote in electing their local representatives.
- To raise public awareness about the election law and all phases of the electoral process.
- To provide legal aid and counseling for candidates and voters.
- To monitor the elections through well-trained monitors before and after the date of election, including the counting of votes and declaration of results.
Municipal elections bulletin
In a pioneering effort, the PCHR issued a special bulletin covering local election affairs. The bulletin provided readers with up to date information about elections and opinions from various groups, including the PA, the PLC, political parties, and the community. Only two issues were published, however, due to the indefinite postponement of the election. The information included in the bulletin was gathered by the PCHRs special election team.
A study documenting the PCHRs experience in monitoring General Elections
In September 1997, the PCHR published a booklet entitled Palestinian General Elections of 1996: Documenting the Local Monitoring Experience in the Gaza Strip. This booklet documents in particular the experience of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, in cooperation with a number of Palestinian non-governmental organizations in the Gaza Strip, in monitoring the Palestinian General Elections of 1996. The booklet pursued this experience from the crystallization of the idea of monitoring through efforts carried out by the PCHR to make that idea a reality. These efforts included coordination with NGOs, training of the monitoring team, the monitoring itself, and reports issued by the PCHR on the monitoring. It was hoped that this experience would be helpful to the PCHR and would be used to enhance the monitoring of local elections, which were postponed indefinitely.