Relations with the local Palestinian community
A crucial element of the PCHR strategy involves strengthening its relations with the local community and building bridges and channels of cooperation. Keeping in mind that this strategy will serve its overall goals, the PCHR dedicates its energy to:
- Strengthening relations with the local community, expanding the number of people who benefit from the free services provided by the PCHR, and contributing to public awareness through community education campaigns.
- Strengthening relations with Palestinian NGOs and civil society and maintaining an active role in related social activities, including conferences, workshops, and meetings.
- Strengthening the positive and constructive dialogue with the Palestinian National Authority and building formal and non-formal channels of communication with Palestinian legislative, judicial, and executive institutions.
- Organizing conferences, meetings, and workshops about topics relating to the work of the PCHR.
- Participating in conferences, meetings, and workshops on human rights held in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Despite the challenges, the PCHR achieved quality results in these areas during 1997.
Strengthening relations with the Local Community, Expanding the level of Free Services, and Contributing to Public Awareness
Offering its free services to all Gazans, the PCHR works towards building strong relations with the Palestinian public. In this regard, the work of the PCHR has been concentrated on legal aid and counseling for victims of human rights violations as well as a public awareness campaign carried out through the distribution of publications and press releases. During 1997, the PCHR continued these activities, with increased attention focused on civil education and training regarding human rights and democracy for specific sectors of the population. The PCHR considers that public awareness of the principles of democracy and the rights guaranteed by local and international law are fundamental safeguards for the protection of human rights and the development of democracy in Palestine.
Legal Aid and Counseling
During 1997, the PCHR Legal Aid Unit provided aid and counseling to hundreds of citizens who approached the PCHR. Many of these cases required legal counseling or intervention before concerned Israeli authorities regarding: Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the freedom of movement, and the confiscation of land by soldiers and settlers. Many other cases required legal counseling and intervention before concerned Palestinian authorities regarding: prisoners in Palestinian jails, damages resulting from the misuse of power or breaches of the law, and complaints against the Ministry of Health.
Public awareness campaigns
In 1997, the PCHR devoted a great deal of time to the dissemination of information about human rights and democratic culture. Realizing that knowledge of rights is the best safeguard for protecting them, the PCHR works toward the evolution of a Palestinian culture that includes concepts of human rights and democratic principles. This program began modestly with hopes that it could be evaluated and further developed in the future. During 1997, the PCHR organized and held one training course for a select group of youth as well as three workshops with youth groups in different areas of the Gaza Strip. In addition, the PCHR team was involved in lectures and workshops organized by other Palestinian organizations working in the field. The activities of the PCHR were as follows:
- In April 1997, in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme-United Nations Volunteers (UNDP-UNV), the PCHR conducted a training course in human rights. In the first phase, the course trained 17 Palestinian male and female youth volunteering through the UNDP at Gaza community centers and clubs. The course concentrated on disseminating the principles of human rights and democracy. The second phase of the project included the organization of public meetings held at community centers in order to educate youth groups about human rights and democracy.
- During the second half of 1997, Isam Younis, head of the Social and Economic Rights Unit, and Hamdi Shaqqura, head of the Democratic Development Unit, provided a series of lectures on human rights and democracy as part of a training program for trade unionists organized by the Center for Democracy and Workers Rights.
- During November and December 1997, Hamdi Shaqqura participated in a series of workshops on democracy as part of a program called Pluralism in Action organized by the Palestinian Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development PANORAMA. This series targeted youth throughout the Gaza Strip.
Strengthening relations with NGOs and Civil Society
During the years of direct occupation, Palestinian NGOs played a crucial role in directing Palestinian affairs. During the current interim phase, these NGOs have a unique and special role to play in serving the Palestinian people and building civil society in Palestine. Bearing in mind that NGOs and civil society are basic requirements for the development of democracy, in which social pluralism is a basic component, the PCHR devotes its efforts towards empowering NGOs and strengthening coordination and cooperation between them. During 1997, the PCHR strengthened its relations with NGOs, helped to build channels and bridges between them, and contributed to joint projects and activities with them.
The role of the PCHR within the Palestinian network of NGOs (PNGO)
The Palestinian network of NGOs (PNGO) is an independent, non-governmental body with the membership of 38 leading organizations in a variety of fields in the Gaza Strip. Established in 1994, PNGO does not define itself as a representative body, but as a body to facilitate coordination between the members. Since the very beginning, the PCHR has played a role in establishing and building PNGO in order to realize the vital role of coordination between members bodies. The PCHR was an elected member in the first and second administrative committees and, as such, participated with others in the struggle to sustain the network and preserve its role. The PCHR participated in forming the programs and policies of the network and representing it locally and internationally. The PCHR also served as a legal counsel for the network. Many PNGO meetings were held at the PCHR, especially those between the network and international delegations.
On 23 June 1997, the PCHR hosted a special meeting to discuss the narrative and financial reports of PNGO and to elect a new administrative board. The narrative report discussed attempts to hold elections for PNGO and the interference of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior required that PNGO obtain a license from the PA and a permit to hold elections. In a letter sent to the Ministry, PNGO emphasized that all member organizations are legal, licensed organizations and that PNGO is not a new representative organization but rather a coordinating body that does not require a license. The Palestinian Ministry of Interior had previously refused to allow elections for the coordinating body of PNGO, which had been scheduled for 27 December. Accompanied by a police officer, a representative from the Ministry arrived at the voting site on 27 December and informed the members of the network that they could not hold elections. Accordingly, an urgent meeting was organized to renew the mandate of the old coordinating committee. Extended for six-months, the new mandate lasted until 23 June 1997, when new elections were held.
The role of the PCHR in the Palestinian Forum for Education for Development
The PCHR is a founding member of the Palestinian Forum for Education for Development, which was registered in Gaza in 1997. The Forum consists of partnership between a number of Palestinian and international NGOs, as well as the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports. The Forum is involved in providing continuous education for the Palestinian community. One of iearly achievements was the foundation of Canaan Institute of New Pedagogy, which provides professional training for community activists. The PCHR views this joint venture as a promising step and attempts to contribute to Canaan through providing human rights training. The founding members of the Forum are: YMCA Gaza, the Center for Culture and Free Thoughts-Khan Younis, Womens Affairs Centre-Gaza, PCHR, Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the Children of World Refugees-France. Save the Children and UNICEF maintain observer status.
The role of the PCHR in the Palestinian Model Parliament on Women and Legislation
This project was initiated by the Womens Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling, Jerusalem. The objectives of the project include, inter alia:
- Helping the womens movement identify its priorities in terms of legislative development.
- Influencing public authorities to be more gender sensitive in their various policy matters.
The PCHR was a member of the preparatory committee formed to supervise the implementation of the project in late 1996. The work of the preparatory committee continued throughout 1997.
The role of the PCHR in the National Committee for the Release of Prisoners (Aseer)
Aseer is a coalition of political forces, human rights groups, and other NGOs supporting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and urging for their release. The Committee was formed in early 1997 through an initiative of the PCHR and a number of political forces, community activists, and members of the PLC. Meetings of the Committee were held at PCHR throughout 1997. Since its foundation, the Committee has been involved in various activities to support prisoners. The Committee organized sit-ins in solidarity with prisoners and regularly sent lawyers to visit prisoners. On 24 March 1997, the Committee organized a notable solidarity sit-in at the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza. After the sit-in, participants marched through the main streets of Gaza City to draw public and official attention to their cause. On 19 April 1997, in commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners Day on 17 April, the Committee organized a festival at the YMCA. In solidarity with the prisoners, the festival participants demanded their release. A memorandum was sent to all international representative offices in the PA areas urging the international community to exert pressure on the Government of Israel to fulfill its international obligations.
Joint study concerning the right to housing
In April 1997, the PCHR and Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, published a joint study titled Housing in the Gaza Strip. It was the first study to tackle and analyze housing conditions in the Gaza Strip from the perspective of the right to housing. The study attempted to expose economic, social, and cultural rights and to give them the same attention and interest given to other rights, particularly political and civil rights.
The study included an analysis of the housing conditions in Gaza, exposing Israeli policies and measures taken throughout the years of occupation in clear violation of the right to housing. The study also exposed the Israeli policies of land confiscation, settlement construction, restrictions on the use of land, and controls of city planning and building permits. Other measures taken by the Israeli occupation forces, such as house demolition, expulsion, and registration of the population were also analyzed.
Further, the study exposed the Interim Agreement signed between the PLO and the Government of Israel and analyzed the implications of its transfer of control over housing to the PA. The study examined the problems that have arisen since the establishment of the PA with regard to the right to housing, such as the construction of multiple story towers and the laws organizing such construction; the building of the Rafah international airport after the consolidation of lands by the government; and the transfer of Palestinian refugees from the Egyptian part of Canada camp, near Rafah, to the Palestinian part.
A special section of the study was devoted to discussing international standards relevant to the right to housing and the duties born by states and governments in protecting and respecting this right. The study concentrated on legal duties and obligations of Israel as an occupying power, the PA as a national authority, and the international community, particularly the donor countries. The study provided a number of recommendations relevant to housing to be implemented by Palestinian policy makers, including, inter alia:
- To review and amend current national and local legislation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank relevant to housing rights in order to incorporate international standards.
- To undertake efforts to facilitate housing opportunities for all. In this context, the PA should take appropriate and immediate measures to ensure that the financial cost of housing should not reach a level that jeopardizes the enjoyment of other rights and basic needs.
- To maximize the exploitation of its resources in order to fulfill the duties resulting from the right to housing, like any other government. This means maximizing the use and allocation of these resources to support the right to housing and increasing these efforts gradually with the goal of realizing this right for each individual.
Joint press release issued by human rights organizations following the visit to the region by US Secretary of State Madeline Albright
On 8 September 1997, the PCHR, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights (PICCR), the Palestinian Society for Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), and the Jerusalem Centre for Legal Aid issued a joint press release following the visit made to the region by US Secretary of State Madeline Albright. In this press release, the organizations expressed their deep concern over the deterioration of the situation in the region. The organizations warned of dangerous consequences that might result from the punitive measures taken by the governments of the United States and Israel to coerce the PA to undermine the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and to violate standards of human rights. Both the US and Israel had pressured the PA to carry out massive waves of illegal political arrests against members and supporters of the Islamic opposition and to destroy civil society organizations with Islamic affiliations. The Israeli government had also tightened its imposed closure on the West Bank and Gaza in the aftermath of suicide operations in West Jerusalem, for which no organization claimed responsibility. The Government of the United States uncritically adopted the Israeli position and required that the PA take illegal measures against the Islamic opposition.
Press release issued by PNGO demanding protection for human rights in Palestine
On 29 September, member organizations of PNGO issued a press release expressing their concern over a series of illegal measures carried out by the Palestinian Authority. These measures began with the closure of Al-Risala newspaper and the Youth Union of the Islamic Block and continued with the closure of a number of Islamic organizations that provide services to thousands of citizens. In addition, the measures included massive waves of illegal arrests against supporters and activists of Islamic movements in the Gaza Strip. The press release considered such actions illegal and in contradiction to standards of human rights. The press release added that such measures reflected negatively on the development of democratic civil society in Palestine and demanded that they be cancelled. The press release also urged the Palestinian Attorney General to exercise his powers in accordance with Palestinian law.
The Promotion of positive and constructive dialogue with the Palestinian National Authority
The PCHR seeks to promote opportunities for constructive and positive dialogue with the Palestinian Authority by building formal and non-formal connections with the institutions of the legislative, executive, ajudicial authorities. A fundamental goal of the PCHRs strategy and philosophy is to contribute to the fulfillment of the Palestinian national project of an independent state with a modern democratic political system that reflects human rights. In this respect, the PCHR functions in all aspects relevant to the protection of human rights and the promotion of the rule of law.
During 1997, the PCHR dedicated itself to developing its relationship with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. The PCHR believes that the work towards democratization in Palestine depends to a great extent on the work of elected representatives of the Palestinian people. During 1997, all council members received publications of the PCHR, including reports, updates, press releases, and comments on draft laws. Members of PLC were also invited by the PCHR to participate in workshops and meetings attended by community activists. In these meetings, the PCHR is proud to report that fruitful discussions have taken place. The PCHR also intervenes on behalf of citizens before Palestinian concerned bodies, including the Attorney General, Ministers, officials in the Executive Authority, and the courts.
Conferences, workshops, and meetings related to Human Rights and Democracy organized by the PCHR
During 1997, the PCHR organized an international conference on human rights and final status issues, as well as numerous workshops and meetings on human rights and democracy. Academics, human rights activists, and representatives of civil society, including womens organizations, political forces, members of the PLC, judges, lawyers, and officials of the Palestinian Executive Authority, participated in these events. Such meetings contribute to the creation of an atmosphere of dialogue and the exchange of views. They provide an opportunity for face to face discussions between decision makers (officials from the Executive, PLC members, and judges) and civil society leaders, in order to improve the human rights situation and advance the development of democracy in Palestine. Following are the most important meetings held at PCHR in 1997:
Study day to evaluate the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council
On 8 March 1997, the PCHR organized a study day to evaluate the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council after its first anniversary. In the first of two sessions, members and heads of committees in the PLC gave presentations. In the second session, speakers represented national and Islamic political groups, particularly those groups that boycotted the general elections of 1996.
Symposium on European responsibility for human rights violations in Palestine
On 12 April 1997, the PCHR organized a symposium on European responsibility for violations of human rights in Palestine. The speakers included Mr. Per Stadig, lawyer and head of the Middle East Department at the International Commission of Jurists, Sweden; and Dr. Agneta Johannsen, member of the Steering Committee of the ICJ and professor of international law at Upsala University, Sweden. Participants in the symposium included a number of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, human rights activists, lawyers, and academics. Among the ideas raised during the symposium was the possibility of European intervention to exert economic pressure on Israel in order to oblige it to stop violating the human rights of the Palestinians. This idea especially pertained to the continued imposition of closure, which has created grave losses far outweighing international donations to the Palestinian people.
Symposium about the human rights conditions in the Arab World
On 13 July 1997, the PCHR organized a symposium about the human rights movement in the Arab world. The main speaker was Dr. Amin Makki Medani, the first technical advisor at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The symposium also included a number of members of the PLC, human rights activists, and representatives of NGOs in Gaza.
Workshop to discuss the program of the Womens Unit at the PCHR
On 15 June 1997, the PCHR organized a meeting for representatives of womens institutions and organizations in Gaza to discuss with them the program for the newly established PCHR Womens Unit. The aim of the meeting was to develop recommendations that might help the unit meet womens needs in Gaza. Two basic recommendations emerged and have guided the path of the unit:
- That the new unit should concentrate on providing legal aid and counseling for women and womens organizations. A special emphasis was placed on legal aid for women victims of the Personal Status Law (Sharia legal aid), with a particular recommendation for intervention in local Sharia courts. This has become a vital part of the units work.
- That the new unit should prepare studies and research about the conditions of women and publish booklets about legal awareness for women.
Meeting for Womens Organizations to discuss the Palestinian Draft Basic Law
On 23 October 1997, a special meeting was organized by the PCHR for representatives of the womens movement to discuss the Palestinian Draft Basic Law after it passed the third reading in the PLC. The meeting, held at the PCHR, aimed at crystallizing a womens analysis of the draft law to be exposed in a second, broader workshop that the PCHR was preparing. A number of womens organizations, activists, representatives of womens departments in Palestinian ministries, and female representatives to the PLC attended the meeting. A special committee was elected to formulate a statement based on the comments of the different speakers. Over the following week, the members of this committee met at the PCHR, prepared the statement, and elected a representative to present it at the upcoming meeting. Indirectly, the workshop contributed to promoting dialogue, building relationships, and encouraging joint action between womens organizations. The meeting also reflected a model upon which should be built the provision of service for women, particularly in terms of influencing the legislative process.
Meeting to discuss the most recent developments regarding the Draft Basic Law
On 2 November 1997, a workshop was held at PCHR to discuss the most recent developments regarding the Draft Basic Law for the Interim period. A month earlier, the PLC had passed the Draft Basic Law in its third reading. Participants to the workshop represented both national and Islamic political forces as well as NGOs and academics.
International Conference, Human Rights and the Final Status Issues
The PCHR crowned its activities for 1997 by convening the international conference, Human Rights and the Final Status Issues from 12-15 December. Over three days of deliberations, thirty-four international and local experts presented and discussed specialized research papers on topics related to the final status issues. These issues include the right to self determination for Palestinians; the Palestinian refugees and their right of return; the question of Jerusalem; Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; water, environment, and cultural rights; mutual security; economic relations and prospects for economic development in Palestine; and other issues, such as international mechanisms to stop human rights violations by Israel.
The significance of the conference was that it provided an opportunity for human rights experts from over 20 countries to consider legal and human rights aspects of the final status negotiations. The conference welcomed the Palestinian Authoritys support for this initiative as an encouraging sign of the Authoritys commitment to human rights and the rule of law. Further, the conference focused on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in the context of the hostile and provocative policies of the Government of Israel, which are based on the denial of these rights and the defiance of international conventions.
The conference provided an opportunity for international and local experts to assist the Palestinians duringthe final status negotiations through their expertise and insight. At the end of the Conference, on 15 December, the participants released the following conclusions:
First, the conference strongly condemned Israels failure to honor its commitments under international law and the Oslo agreement. In particular, the conference cited continuing settlement activities, ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, restrictions on movement between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the policy of closure as especially egregious examples of Israels failure to observe international law.
Second, the conference stressed the significance of international law as the proper framework for achieving a just, fair and durable peace. No mutual security can be achieved without the fulfillment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people through self-determination and statehood, with Jerusalem as their capital.
Third, the conference observed that under international law the Palestinian people in all of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, remain under the protection of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. The Conference called upon the high contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take positive steps, including the convening of a meeting of experts, to ensure strict observance of that convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Fourth, the Conference recommended that Palestine should avail itself of appropriate opportunities to involve the International Court of Justice in order to receive clarification of its legal status in general and the recognition of its statehood in particular. The conference noted in this regard that 137 states have already recognized Palestine, which gives Palestine sufficient basis to apply for UN membership.
Fifth, the Conference called for an immediate cessation of all Israeli settlement activity. The participants of the conference underlined that the continuing settlement policy of the Israeli government, including settlements in East Jerusalem, violates international law and has no legal impact whatsoever on the outcome of the final status negotiations.
Finally, the conference called upon the European Union to avail itself of its bilateral treaty instruments in order to prevent Israel from obstructing Palestinian trade with the European Union. The conference noted that implementing Israeli privileges under the EU-Israel agreement is, in the current context of continuing Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinian people, incompatible with the human rights provisions of the agreement.
The PCHR is currently involved in editing and publishing the proceedings of the conference as well as advocating the papers and recommendations, especially among politicians and decision makers, particularly those involved in the final status negotiations - locally, regionally, and internationally.
Participation in activities concerning human rights and democracy held in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
- Hamdi Shaqqura, coordinator of the Democratic Development Unit, participated in the activities of the Palestinian-European Meetings held at Al-Najah University, Nablus, from 10-13 May 1997. Shaqqura, who was denied access to the West Bank by the Israeli authorities, sent the conference his presentation on the role of Palestinian NGOs in the process of democratic transformation.
- From 13-15 October 1997, the PCHR participated in the activities of the international conference Health and Human Rights, organized by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. Raji Sourani, Director of the PCHR, was a member of the Advisory Committee, which included many prominent official and non-official figures. Sourani also presented a paper, entitled Human Rights in Palestine, analyzing the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Isam Younis, coordinator of the Social and Economic Rights Unit, presented a paper on Social and Economic Rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The paper cited the parties responsible for the fulfillment of economic and social rights in Palestine, including the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the donor countries. The paper emphasized that the greatest responsibility for human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is born by Israel, particularly concerning social and cultural rights.
- From 19-21 October 1997, the PCHR participated, along with experts on education and human rights, in an Amnesty International workshop about the incorporation of human rights principles into the Palestinian curriculum. Raji Sourani, director of the PCHR, delivered a speech in the opening ceremonies asserting the importance of human rights awareness and its incorporation into the Palestinian curriculum. He presented an overview of the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, citing the essential obstacles to enjoyment of human rights by Palestinians. Sourani also concentrated on the role of non-governmental organizations in raising human rights awareness. Isam Younis, coordinator of the Social and Economic Rights Unit, chaired a session dedicated to developing a general framework for a model curriculum concerning human rights in primary and secondary education.
- Reem Abu Dakka, lawyer at the Womens Unit, participated in a series of workshops organized in December 1997 by the Society for the Protection of the Family. Held throughout the Gaza Strip, these workshops were dedicated to discussing the results of research conducted by the Society on legal and social obstacles to sexual health in Palestine. Rheem Abu Dakka addressed the legal aspects of the discussions in three workshops held in Jabalia, Khan Younis and Gaza from 18-23 December 1997.