On July 15 and 16, 1998 Israel presented its initial report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the U.N. body of independent experts responsible for monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its two Optional Protocols. Other U.N. expert bodies have evaluated Israel’s fulfillment of its obligations under human rights treaties prohibiting discrimination against women, racial discrimination, and torture, but this review marks the first time Israel has reported on the full range of civil and political rights guaranteed by international law.
Already more than five years overdue, the 369-page report should have included detailed information on the measures Israel had adopted to give effect to the rights recognized in the covenant, and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights. Instead, as Human Rights Watch argued in its submission to the Human Rights Committee, Israel’s report failed to give sufficient information on the implementation of the covenant in practice, left out any discussion of Israel’s implementation of the covenant in the territories it controlled in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and South Lebanon, and misrepresented Israeli practice on important issues including torture and administrative detention.
In its “Concluding Observations” on Israel’s report (CCPR/C/79/Add.93; attached as Appendix 1), the Human Rights Committee confirmed Human Right Watch’s assessment of Israel’s serious shortcomings in meeting its obligations under the covenant. Despite its finding that Israel’s submission “lacks sufficient information on the implementation of the covenant in practice and on the factors and difficulties impeding its effective implementation,” the committee identified twenty-one areas of concern, in some cases recommending specific steps to end violations, and in other cases requesting additional information on Israeli practices believed to be in violation of the covenant.
In each of the three areas addressed in Human Rights Watch’s submission, the Human Rights Committee concurred with our position that Israeli had not fulfilled its obligations under the covenant, and rejected Israel’s justifications for its continued violations. On Israel’s reporting obligations, the committee found that in view of the “longstanding presence of Israel in these [occupied] territories, Israel’s ambiguous attitude to their future status, as well as the exercise of effective jurisdiction by Israeli security forces therein,” the covenant “must be held applicable to the Occupied Territories and those areas of southern Lebanon and West Bekaa where Israel exercises effective control.” The committee also expressly requested Israel to include in its second periodic report “information on the implementation of the covenant in all lands over which Israel exercises effective control during the period covered by the report.”
Expressing its deep concern over Israeli interrogation practices, the committee urged Israel to cease using the methods of handcuffing in painful positions, violent shaking, and sleep deprivation that are believed to be authorized in Israel’s confidential Landau Commission interrogation guidelines, saying “The Committee is of the view that the guidelines can give rise to abuse and that the use of these methods constitutes a violation of article 7 of the covenant in any circumstances. The Committee stresses that article 7 of the covenant is a non-derogable prohibition of torture and all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In a clear reference to Israel’s repeated efforts to pass legislation codifying the Landau guidelines in law, in effect legalizing torture, the committee said “If legislation is to be enacted for the purpose of authorising interrogation techniques, such a law should explicitly prohibit all forms of treatment prohibited by article 7.”
The committee also criticized Israel’s use of administrative detention. It noted that despite a reduction in the number of administrative detainees, “persons may still be held for long and apparently indefinite periods of timein custody without trial,” Palestinians detained in the Occupied Territories “do not have the same rights to judicial review as persons detained in Israel under ordinary law,” and some detainees were held as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with third parties. Saying that it “considers the present application of administrative detention to be incompatible with articles 7 and 16 of the covenant, neither of which allow for derogation in times of public emergency,” the committee stressed that Israel’s derogation from article 9 of the covenant did not absolve it from the requirement of effective judicial review of detention. The committee also recommended that “the application of detention be brought within the strict requirements of the Covenant and that effective judicial review be made mandatory.”
The committee also expressed its concern over a broad range of other Israeli violations, including discrimination against Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, Arab Israelis, women, and Bedouin; the Israeli security forces’ use of firearms and rubber-coated metal bullets in dispersing demonstrations; the use of prolonged solitary confinement; restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, and on residency in East Jerusalem; discriminatory practices in funding religious bodies; the practice of demolishing “illegally” constructed Arab homes and demolishing Arab homes as a means of punishment; Israel’s failure to protect victims of trafficking for prostitution; and the lack of provision for civil marriage and burial. Several of the Human Rights Committee’s findings are also relevant to Israel’s implementation of rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which is to be reviewed during the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ November 16 to December 4, 1998 session. Israel’s submission to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/1990/5/Add.30) is also incomplete, in that it does not report on implementation of that convention in all the territories Israel controls.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the findings and recommendations of the Human Rights Committee, particularly its finding that Israel must report on its implementation of the covenant in all areas where it exercises effective control. Human Rights Watch urges Israel to ensure that all its future reports to the Human Rights Committee, and to all other U.N. treaty monitoring bodies, include complete information on Israel’s implementation of its treaty obligations in all territories under its effective control.
Human Rights Watch also urges Israel to take immediate steps to implement the committee’s recommendations, as well as the earlier recommendations of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the U.N. Committee Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the U.N. Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Special priority should be given to immediately ending those practices identified by the committee as being in clear violation of the covenant, including interrogation and detention practices in violation of Articles 7 and 16; and discriminatory practices in regulating housing, family reunion, and residency in violation of Articles 12, 17, 23, and 26.
In view of the findings of the committee, Human Rights Watch further calls on Israel to:
· Immediately end the practice of torture, amend domestic law to be consistent with the covenant’s prohibition of torture, including adopting a definition of torture consistent with international law, and make public the guidelines governing interrogation procedures;
· Immediately end the practice of holding detainees as hostages, both inside Israel and in the territories under its control. Persons held as “bargaining chips” should be immediately released;
· Immediately end the practice of arbitrary or prolonged administrative detention, and revise its laws to ensure that all detainees are guaranteed at minimum the right to prompt and effective judicial review of the lawfulness and conditions of their detention; the right to receive an explanation of one’s rights upon arrest in one’s own language or soon thereafter and to be informed of the specific, detailed, and personalizedreasons for the deprivation of liberty; the right of immediate access to family, legal counsel, and a medical officer; and the right to be released and seek compensation if the detention is arbitrary or unlawful.
Israel’s second periodic report to the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is due by June 2000.
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