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Human Rights Monitors Needed in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Open Letter from Amnesty International and HRW to Leaders of U.S., E.U., Israel, P.A., and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch write to urge full support for the dispatch of international human rights monitors to the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories under the control of the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These observers should include persons with the expertise and training to monitor the compliance of the parties with international human rights and humanitarian law.

The clashes between Israelis and Palestinians since October 2000 have been marked by systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Civilians have been the main victims of the violence, and an immediate priority must be to bring such violations to an end. At least 470 Palestinians have been killed, most of them unlawfully by Israeli security forces when their lives and the lives of others were not in danger. More than 120 Israelis have been killed, most of them civilians deliberately targeted by armed groups and individuals. The death toll includes more than 130 children.

Investigations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented human rights and humanitarian law violations by both sides. Based on these findings, both organizations have advocated the dispatch of international observers to monitor compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law as a means of enhancing protection for civilians. Similar findings and recommendations were made by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry and in an 11 April 2001 resolution of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The Report of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee ("the Mitchell Report"), in its introduction, stressed that "the path to peace, justice and security" required that "agreed commitments be implemented, international law respected, and human rights protected." The committee made a number of recommendations similar to those already made by our organizations, recommendations that would lead to greater protection for civilian victims of the violence. The committee urged, for instance, that the Israeli authorities "adopt and enforce policies and procedures encouraging non-lethal responses to unarmed demonstrators," reinstate investigations into Palestinian deaths caused by actions of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), and lift restrictions on freedom of movement. The committee urged the Palestinian Authority to establish a "clear and unchallenged chain of command for armed personnel operating under its authority," institute and enforce effective standards of conduct and accountability, and prevent gunmen from firing on Israeli civilian populated areas or on IDF positions from Palestinian populated areas.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel have accepted the report of the Sharm el-Sheikh Committee. On 13 June, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to the cease-fire plan negotiated by George Tenet, director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

While the partially-implemented cease-fire has reduced the daily toll of Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties, serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations have continued. Since 13 June:

At least twelve Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in circumstances that suggest their killings may have been unlawful. Two of those were killed during demonstrations when lives of others were reportedly not in danger. One was killed at a checkpoint. Four were killed in circumstances that suggest possible extra judicial execution.

Seven Israelis, including four civilians, have been killed. The three civilians and one soldier were apparently killed in drive-by shootings by armed groups or individuals.

At least 28 Palestinian homes have been demolished by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) since the 13 June cease-fire. Some 20 were destroyed on 23 June by bulldozers in the Barahmeh area of Rafah, apparently as a collective punishment shortly after two Israeli soldiers were killed elsewhere in the Gaza Strip; no time was given to the residents to remove their possessions.

Continued and renewed closures of the Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank arbitrarily restrict the right of Palestinians to freedom of movement out of and between enclaves, with grave humanitarian consequences, impeding access to health services and education as well as the provision of basic civilian necessities, including food, medicines, and fuel.

Many Palestinian areas bordering on Jewish settlements have been bombarded, usually in excessive and disproportionate response by the IDF to small arms or mortar fire from Palestinians. Scores of Palestinian homes have been made uninhabitable, and surrounding areas have become "no-go" areas, where Palestinians have been targeted and in some cases killed by the IDF.

The Tenet cease-fire plan calls for the revival of joint security committees of Israeli, Palestinian and US security officials and the reactivation of Israeli-Palestinian District Coordination Offices. We are acutely aware that during periods of clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli Defence Forces since the end of September 2000, the level of cooperation within these joint security committees quickly decreased. For much of the past nine months they have not met, and the meetings held since the announcement of the Tenet cease-fire plan have been intermittent. Furthermore, the extent of continued serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations over these past several weeks, including killings, house demolitions, and closures listed above, give cause for concern at the ability of this security cooperation in and of itself to bring an end to these serious and systematic human rights violations.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, at a press briefing following a meeting on 28 June with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat, said, "I think as we get into the confidence building measures, the confidence building phase, there will be a need for monitors, observers, to see what is happening on the ground, to serve as interlocutors, to go to points of friction and make an independent observation of what has happened." Subsequently, during a press briefing with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Secretary Powell said, "Earlier today, when we were talking about monitors and observers, I had it in the context of what the two sides might decide to do within their own resources or whatever resources might be appropriate by mutual agreement, not some outside group of forces coming in."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch believe that independent observation, in Secretary Powell's words, is essential, and this requires that the monitoring presence have an international dimension. Such a presence would appreciably enhance and build on existing joint efforts by the two parties, such as the joint security committee meetings, to bring the violence to an end. We recognize that the deployment of international monitors can only happen with the agreement of all parties to the conflict, and we therefore call on Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as states with influence with the parties, to take the steps necessary for the deployment of international human rights monitors in the zones of conflict.

The human rights monitoring mechanism might take the form of an international presence mandated by the United Nations Security Council. Alternatively its composition might come from states that may make available their good offices in this regard. The monitors would have appropriate monitoring skills, experience, and resources, and function in accordance with U.N. standards. They would be charged with monitoring the observance by the parties to the conflict of both international human rights and humanitarian law standards. Because the areas that are the site of continuing clashes are under military occupation, the policies of the occupying authority must comply with Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. However, the application of international humanitarian law does not preempt the application of core international human rights standards, particularly non-derogable rights. In situations of this complexity, both legal regimes should complement and reinforce each other in order to provide maximum protection to individuals.

We note that the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) has been deployed continuously in the city since 1997, but its lack of a public reporting mandate has limited its capacity to affect significantly the extensive ongoing human rights violations in that city. The deployment in recent weeks of European Union technical advisers to Beit Jala appears to have contributed to greatly reduced number of incidents of Palestinian gunfire on Gilo, a heavily populated Israeli Jewish settlement, and Israeli military shelling of Beit Jala neighborhoods. The mandate of the monitoring mechanism we call for here should include reporting to the public as well as to the responsible authorities on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Impartial, experienced, and independent international observers offer a practical means to observe, and investigate and report on, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law standards by government authorities or armed groups. By their presence at points of friction and through their reporting they will enhance protection to both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

Fact-finding and reporting

The occurrence of human rights violations frequently involve claims and counter-claims concerning the specific incidents. Given the lack of past investigations, and in the present atmosphere of distrust and mutual accusation, it is imperative to gather information that is accurate and impartial. International observers should monitor continuously points where demonstrations and clashes occur, as well as other friction points, so as to observe and report, for example, on whether demonstrators were armed, whether the lives of others were in danger, whether Palestinian officials made efforts to halt armed Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, and whether Israeli security forces handled relevant situations in accordance with basic international standards governing the use of force.

A key feature of the clashes that erupted in late September has been the failure to conduct proper investigations of alleged unlawful killings. The mandate of the monitoring force should include the task of pressing the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, as appropriate, to initiate prompt investigations that are independent, impartial and transparent, and to discipline and/or bring to justice persons suspected of being responsible for such killings.

Many Palestinians are extremely fearful of passing Israeli checkpoints. At such checkpoints Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers; Palestinians have also been prevented from reaching urgent medical care and deaths have resulted in some cases. Impartial international human rights monitors can serve as a deterrent to unlawful behavior and can contribute to combating the lack of accountability and impunity that characterizes the situation today.

The presence at key locations of international human rights monitors may help to deter attacks on roads and improve security for people travelling in areas where drivers of car with a "wrong" license plate is in danger of being attacked by armed individuals or militias. Such observers can also press the relevant authorities to investigate and bring to justice persons responsible for such attacks.

International human rights observers should be mandated to monitor, on an ongoing basis, the behavior of security forces and armed individuals or groups in areas that have been declared or effectively become "no-go" or "free fire" zones.
International monitors must be independent, but with access to the decision-makers of each side. They should have human rights and international humanitarian law expertise and appropriate experience and training. They should have the right to travel wherever necessary in order to carry out their duties. They should report their findings, including human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law by either side, to the joint Israeli, Palestinian and US security committees, the mandating body or governments, and other responsible officials designated by the parties. At regular intervals, and not less frequently than every month, the findings of the monitors should be made public, along with a report on the steps taken by the parties to correct policies and actions responsible for human rights violations, and to investigate and discipline or bring to justice individuals responsible for those violations.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reiterate our view, in concurrence with the view of the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, that peace and security must be built on respect for international law and the protection of human rights. In addressing the question of an international monitoring presence, the committee correctly noted that such a step required the agreement and support of all parties to the conflict.

We believe that such an initiative is long overdue, and we therefore call on the government of Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority to declare their readiness to cooperate with such an initiative.

We further call on the international community, and especially those states whose influence with the parties is greatest, to endorse publicly such an initiative. In particular, the governments of the U.S. and European Union members states should take immediate steps to implement this initiative, either in the form of a U.N. Security Council resolution or as a project of states deeply engaged in efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the parties.


Hanny Megally
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

Kate Gilmore
Interim Secretary-General
Amnesty International

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