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UN should Condemn Israeli Torture and Hostage-Taking

On the eve of Israel's first-ever report to the United Nations' Human Rights Committee, Human Rights Watch strongly criticized Israel's use of torture and its detention of individuals as hostages.

The UN Human Rights Committee is the treaty-monitoring body of the ICCPR. It will meet today in Geneva to discuss Israel's report on its implementation of the Covenant. Israel's initial report has been overdue since January 1993.

"This report seriously misrepresents Israel's human rights record," said Hanny Megally, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division. "Israel doesn't report on the occupied territories, and its discussion of the ICCPR's implementation inside of Israel is filled with misleading and inaccurate statements."

Megally also noted that on the question of administrative detention -- the practice of holding individuals without charging them -- Israel's report deals with only a tiny fraction of the relevant cases. Almost all of the 1,900 administrative orders issued in 1997 were issued under military orders in the occupied territories, and not under Israel domestic law.

Israel has tried to argue that it should not be required to report on the occupied territories. But in its submission, Human Rights Watch shows that in other cases before the Human Rights Committee, States have been held responsible for the actions of their agents, even outside their national territory. Other treaty-monitoring bodies have also required Israel to report on the occupied territories. Human Rights Watch believes that Israel's obligations under the ICCPR extend to the territories under its control in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and South Lebanon.

Human Rights Watch also challenged Israel's use of the ICCPR's state of emergency clause to excuse instances of arbitrary arrest or detention. Israel has used prolonged administrative detention to hold individuals hostage, as a means of punishing non-violent political expression and activity, and as a substitute for bringing suspects to trial. In March 1998, Israel made public an Israeli Supreme Court decision allowing Israel to continue holding a group of Lebanese citizens as "bargaining chips," even though the Court acknowledged that the detainees were not themselves a threat to state security.

"The state of emergency clause does not allow states to violate international law," said Megally. "Israel's use of administrative detention to hold hostages is a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. International law categorically prohibits hostage-taking in wartime. Neither Israel nor the Committee can condone its use during a state of emergency."

Human Rights Watch also rejected Israel's characterization of its domestic law as prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and providing effective oversight of detention and interrogation practices. The treaty-monitoring body of the Convention against Torture has twice found Israel's interrogation practices to violate that Convention.

Finally, Human Rights Watch criticized Israel's High Court for abstaining from ruling on whether specific interrogation practices are cruel, inhuman, or degrading. The Court also routinely accepts the State's position that the use of physical force in interrogation is justified to obtain urgently needed information in order to save lives or property.

Human Rights Watch called on the Committee to recommend that Israel incorporate the ICCPR's provisions into domestic law; immediately end the practice of torture and make public the guidelines governing interrogation procedures; and immediately end the practice of holding detainees as hostages and release all persons held as "bargaining chips." Human Rights Watch also proposed a series of revisions to Israeli law that would be necessary to ensure that administrative detainees' treatment meets minimum international standards. The full text of the Human Rights Watch submission is available at:

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