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Human Rights Watch condemns torture by Hamas and PA

  • Human Rights
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on governments to sever ties and cut off aid to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) because of their continued arbitrary arrest and torture of critics in the West Bank and Gaza.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jun 06, 2019

HRW said Hamas and the PA’s actions could amount to crimes against humanity under the United Nations’ Convention against Torture. It therefore called on international powers to halt all aid to the Palestinian agencies responsible for abuse “until the authorities curb those practices and hold those responsible for abuse accountable”.

Eight months ago, [HRW] accused the PA and Hamas of routinely engaging in “systematic” unwarranted arrests and torture of critics, suspected dissidents, and political opponents in the West Bank and Gaza. A new report released last week suggests that not much has changed.

The HRW investigates and reports on abuses globally. Israel has criticised it in the past for being biased towards the country.

However, in October last year in a report titled, “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent”, the HRW accused both the PA and Hamas of developing “parallel police states” in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the 149-page report based on interviews with 147 witnesses, HRW detailed a common method of abuse and torture known as shabeh in which detainees are placed in painful physical positions for lengthy periods of time. This includes forcing detainees into squats, powerfully stretching their arms above or behind them, and leaving them standing or sitting for hours on end.

Such practices cause distress and trauma to detainees, while often leaving “little or no trace on the body”, the report said.

The HRW’s latest report is titled: “Palestine: No Letup in Arbitrary Arrests, Torture. Palestinian Authority, Hamas Muzzle Critics, Opponents”. It shows that shabeh is still being practiced, as well as other forms of torture and human-rights violations.

The report said both the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza are arbitrarily arresting “peaceful critics and opponents”.

The widespread occurrence of such brutality indicates that “torture is governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas”, according to HRW.

The October report cites Palestinian forces in the West Bank and Gaza regularly using threats of violence, taunts, solitary confinement, and beatings, to elicit confessions, punish, and intimidate activists.

Those subjected to this, the report says, are journalists, human rights workers, and peaceful activists.

Both reports cite several cases in which activists or media workers were arrested for critical news articles or social-media posts and live streaming protest action. Hamas and the PA regularly abuse each other’s activists in the territories they control, the reports say.

The two Palestinian factions split in 2007, after Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. For more than a decade, Hamas has maintained an iron grip on power, and suppressed any sign of public dissent.

In March, Hamas security members were seen arresting scores of people demonstrating against price rises and dire living conditions across Gaza.

Videos posted online showed officers beating unarmed “We want to live” protesters. Amnesty International said hundreds of people, including journalists attempting to document the rallies, had been subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture. Abbas has also silenced dissent by clamping down on social media and news websites, with jail time for anyone charged of harming “national unity” or the “social fabric”.

Both Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority denied the accusations, and said they would investigate.

The latest report said that from January 2018 through to March 2019, the PA admitted to detaining more than 1 600 people based on “peaceful expression”. Hamas authorities arrested more than 1 000 during the March 2019 protests against its rule alone.

“The Palestinian Authority and Hamas remain bitterly divided, but unified in a common approach to crushing dissent,” said Eric Goldstein, the deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. “Leaders who have been in power for more than a decade without elections should at the very least listen to criticism, not punish it.”

Last week, the former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, tweeted, “I have issues with @hrw, but if you care about Palestinian lives, this is vital reading. Always easy to just blame Israel but here is a real discussion about awful behaviour by PA and Hamas. Friends of Palestinians need to speak out.”

The HRW said there “have been no serious efforts to hold wrongdoers to account or any apparent change in policy or practice” more than six months after its damning report.

It said both authorities “deny wrongdoing, and have failed to take meaningful action to address abuse, with impunity endemic”.

From January 2018 until March 2019, no officers were convicted by Gazan courts for arbitrary arrest, mistreatment, or torture, while courts in the West Bank convicted only one security officer for these offences.

The report said that other countries should suspend assistance to Palestinian security agencies that routinely torture dissidents for as long as systematic torture and other serious abuses continue. This should include, in the case of the Palestinian Authority, the intelligence services, preventive security, and joint security committee. In the case of Hamas, it should include internal security.

“Continued promises to reform, and warnings about the fragility of their institutions fool no one when systematic abuse and impunity continue unabated,” Goldstein said. “Governments should not fall for these tired excuses, but should cut ties to abusive Palestinian security forces.”

South African lawyer Gilad Cohen said, “The PA and Hamas should adhere to the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. These are guiding policies for all states to follow to ensure due process and fairness.”

Cohen, who is involved in the Free Avera and Hisham Committee (two Israeli civilians being held hostage in Gaza) said the UN named the rules after Mandela, who is quoted as saying, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

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