May 2, 2007

The Israeli authorities should immediately lift a travel ban on Shawan Jabarin, the general director of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, a group of leading international human rights organizations said today.

Jabarin was unable to attend the annual Congress of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Lisbon on April 19, 2007 because Israeli authorities would not allow him to leave the occupied West Bank.

The international human rights organizations calling for the lifting of Jabarin’s travel ban include the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), together with Human Rights Watch.

Since March 23, 2006, Israeli security officials have refused Jabarin’s requests to travel abroad for professional purposes and in response to invitations from international nongovernmental organizations. Israeli authorities have not explained why the restrictions are in place, nor have they responded to a Human Rights Watch letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on March 11, 2007 requesting that the Israeli government lift the travel ban against Jabarin.

Before his travel ban was imposed last year, Jabarin had traveled abroad on eight different occasions since 1999. In February 2006, the authorities permitted Jabarin to leave the West Bank and travel abroad. One of these trips was to attend a human rights conference in Morocco. On that occasion, the authorities’ pre-departure inspection raised no concerns that would justify preventing Jabarin from traveling.

A month later, on March 23, 2006, Jabarin attempted to cross from the West Bank to Jordan. However, while Jabarin reports that nothing had changed in his circumstances, Israeli security officials denied his exit from the West Bank and issued him a police order to appear at the Etsion Liaison Office, between Hebron and Bethlehem. Jabarin appeared at Etsion at the specified time on March 26, but was made to wait outside for four hours in uncomfortably cold weather.

When Jabarin refused to comply with what he regarded as a humiliating request to strip the clothes from his torso before entering the compound, an Israeli official told him to go home but refused to return his identification document. Without such documents, Palestinian residents of the West Bank cannot legally travel even within that territory. Despite his repeated efforts to retrieve his ID, Israeli authorities returned it to him only in July, through the assistance of the Israeli human rights organization HaMoked.

In October 2006, Israeli authorities again refused to grant Jabarin permission to travel to attend a human rights conference in Spain. And again in December, the authorities denied him permission to attend a conference in Egypt organized by Christian Aid. Jabarin filed an appeal in response to this denial, and the Israeli High Court rejected his request. The court’s decision was based on submissions from the authorities that neither Jabarin nor his counsel was allowed to see.

Under these circumstances, the Israeli government’s repeated refusal to allow Jabarin to travel abroad constitutes an arbitrary and unlawful infringement on his right to freedom of movement. This includes his right to leave his own country, guaranteed in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Israel ratified in 1991.

Although human rights law permits restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons, the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body that oversees the ICCPR, said in its General Comment 27 that “any limits on freedom of movement cannot reverse the relation between right and restriction, between norm and exception.”

In addition, according to Article 5c of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, at the national and international levels [...] to communicate with nongovernmental or intergovernmental organizations.”

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Human Rights Watch said that travel restrictions such as those imposed on Jabarin unfairly and arbitrarily impair his ability and the ability of his organization to address international forums about human rights concerns in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For these reasons, the Israeli authorities should immediately lift these restrictions against Jabarin. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Human Rights Watch also urged Israeli authorities to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders are able to carry out their work without unjustified hindrances.