March 31, 2005
Executing prisoners convicted in unfair trials would only undermine Abu Mazen’s attempt to bolster his ‘law and order’ credentials. To ensure the rule of law and security for Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority needs to establish an independent judiciary that respects due process
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

Amid recent reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may resume executions of prisoners on death row, Human Rights Watch urged the Palestinian leader to place an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and consider abolishing it altogether.

“Executing prisoners would only undermine Abu Mazen’s attempt to bolster his ‘law and order’ credentials,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “To ensure the rule of law and security for Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority needs to establish an independent judiciary that respects due process.”

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel and inhumane nature.

Recent press reports indicate that Abbas is considering certifying death sentences for up to 15 people, many of whom were convicted years ago. There are currently at least 27 people sitting on death row under the Palestinian Authority. In a letter to the Palestinian Authority president, Human Rights Watch expressed grave concern at the reported imminent resumption of executions and the fact that that most, if not all, of these individuals were denied a fair trial and an even an opportunity to appeal.

In its letter to Abbas, Human Rights Watch detailed several cases of Palestinians executed under the Palestinian Authority after grossly unfair trials by military and state security courts. In one such case, Ra'ed and Muhammad Abu Sultan were executed on August 30, 1998, after a summary and unfair trial before a special military court, only three days after Palestinian security services charged them with committing two killings.

“The Palestinian Authority has drawn a veil of secrecy over the basis for these men’s convictions, and even their identities,” said Whitson “If Abu Mazen wants to demonstrate his commitment to improving governance for Palestinians, he should make such information freely available.”

Human Rights Watch called on President Abbas to disclose all information regarding the identities and status of prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, the manner in which they were charged, sentenced and tried, the prisons in which they are being held, and details of any impending executions.

International law also stipulates that in countries where the death penalty has not been abolished it should be imposed only for a small number of the most serious crimes, but the Palestinian Authority extends the application of the death penalty for 42 offenses. International human rights standards stipulate that where the death penalty has not been abolished, it be imposed only in cases where due process has been scrupulously applied, including the right of the defendant to competent defense counsel, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to appeal both the factual and legal aspects of the case to a higher tribunal. But even these minimum guarantees have been violated in the trials carried out by the Palestinian Authority.

There is a growing global consensus that the death penalty should be abolished. More than 100 countries have effectively abolished the death penalty, and 54 have ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on abolition of the death penalty.