Human Rights Watch today called on President Clinton to use his visit to the Israel and the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories to make clear his unequivocal commitment to ensuring that fundamental human rights are not sacrificed to security concerns.
"Human rights should not be subordinated to security concerns, but that is exactly what is happening," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "Torture, unfair trial, and many other serious violations have become the norm in the pursuit of security."
On Monday President Clinton will have an excellent opportunity to raise these concerns at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in the Gaza Strip, and at subsequent meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian officials during his three-day trip.
Since signing the Wye River Memorandum on October 23, the Palestinian Authority has conducted mass arrests of political opponents, restricted journalists' ability to report on public opinion, and issued a vaguely-worded presidential decree making it a criminal offense to "insult" religion, "incite" the public to break Palestinian government treaties and agreements, and establish "illegal organizations to practice and promote crime and chaos."
Meanwhile, Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights have also continued or in some cases increased. They include the systematic use of torture; arbitrary detention; house demolition; and the imposition of closures and other restrictions on freedom of movement.
"This visit presents a major opportunity for President Clinton to affirm publicly that the United States will not tolerate human rights violations by either party for the sake of security considerations," Megally said. "Continued U.S. silence on human rights violations will only encourage further abuses."
Megally also expressed concern over the prominent role given to the Central Intelligence Agency in monitoring the Memorandum's implementation. The CIA has in the past frequently tolerated gross human rights violations by security forces and groups it monitored or aided and has itself been implicated in human rights violations. He called on Clinton to ensure that U.S. representatives monitoring the memorandum's implementation not be limited to CIA personnel, and include individuals with human rights expertise.