Human Rights Watch letter toDanish Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding the appointment of Carmi Gillon as Israel's new ambassador to
Letter to Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mogens Lykketoft
His Excellency Mogens Lykketoft
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Danish Foreign Ministry
Asiatisk Plads 2
DK - 1448 Copenhagen K
Brussels, July 18, 2001
Dear Foreign Minister Lykketoft,
Human Rights Watch is writing with regard to the appointment of Carmi Gillon as Israel's new ambassador to Denmark. This is Mr. Gillon's first diplomatic posting, and it follows a career with Israel's General Security Services (GSS), the body responsible for conducting interrogations of persons detained by Israel on security-related charges. From 1988 to 1996, he held high-ranking positions within the agency. Extensive and well-documented allegations of torture have been made against the GSS, including during the 1993-1996 period, when Mr. Gillon was head of GSS Headquarters and subsequently of the entire GSS operation. In the light of Mr. Gillon's professional history, we are dismayed to learn that Denmark has accepted his credentials, and that he is expected to take up his duties in September.
Since his appointment, in a number of interviews with Danish media, Mr. Gillon has spoken approvingly of the policies of "moderate physical pressure" that the GSS has routinely applied in its interrogation sessions, referring to techniques such as violent shaking and prolonged position abuse that virtually all other states and international human rights bodies have condemned as amounting to torture or ill-treatment. He further suggested that, following an Israeli high court ruling of September 1999 that such practices were not sanctioned by law, legislation should be passed to authorize those practices. In an interview in Jyllands Posten of July 9, he stated that he was himself directly implicated in about one hundred such cases.
In response to these comments in the media, your office stated that the Danish government "strongly oppose[s] all forms and acts of torture" and that Denmark has "criticized Israel for its practice of torture during interrogations." The statement also said, "There should be no doubt that the Danish government clearly distances itself from this position," referring to Mr. Gillon's remarks in the Danish media.
While we welcome this public criticism of Mr. Gillon's remarks, we were dismayed that your statement concluded by stating that "it is foreign governments' own responsibility whom they find it appropriate to be represented by in Denmark." Your remarks appear to contradict the spirit of the policy of the European Union, as articulated in the "Guidelines to E.U. Policy towards Third Countries on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," adopted by E.U. foreign ministers meeting as the General Affairs Council on April 9 of this year. These guidelines state that "Torture and ill-treatment are among the most abhorrent violations of human rights and human dignity," and note that "impunity for the perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment continues to prevail in many countries." The guidelines include steps to "combat impunity"-steps that include "conduct[ing] prompt, impartial and effective investigations of all allegations of torture" and "bringing those responsible for torture and ill-treatment to justice."
We therefore urge you to review the decision to accept Mr. Gillon's credentials, and to exercise the discretion allowed by Article 9(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to reverse that decision. We also urge the Foreign Ministry to review and make public the procedures by which the credentials of persons appointed as ambassadors are considered and evaluated, in order to minimize the possibility of any similar embarrassment in the future.
Mr. Gillon's career as a high-level official in the GSS, also known as the Shin Bet, or SHABAK, is a matter of record. His official biography notes that from 1972 to 1988 he held "various professional duties and field command positions" in this organization. From 1988 to 1990, he was head of the GSS Training Branch, and from 1990 to 1993 he served as head of the Northern Region Branch. In 1993 he became chief of the Headquarters Branch, and in 1995 he was named overall head of the GSS. His official service with the organization ended in 1996.
Torture during interrogation of Palestinian security suspects has been a major issue in Israel for many years, and notably throughout the period when Mr. Gillon occupied high positions in the agency. In 1987, as a result of a series of scandals associated with torture of Palestinian suspects in detention, a Commission of Inquiry headed by then-Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau concluded that "exertion of a moderate measure of physical pressure" should be allowed in interrogations. In contrast to the prevailing situation, this "moderate physical pressure" should have "clear boundaries," which were detailed in an annex to the report that still remains secret. The guidelines reportedly included severe shaking, shackling detainees in painful positions for prolonged periods, sleep and sensory deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, and psychological pressures. The Landau Commission also set up a ministerial review committee to review the guidelines periodically, and called for the State Comptroller to assume responsibility for investigating complaints of abuse.
Numerous Israeli and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, maintained that the "moderate physical pressure" allowed by the Landau Commission constituted torture as defined in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Israel ratified in 1991. The Convention categorically prohibits any use of torture under any circumstances. The United Nations Committee against Torture, which reviews the reports and practices of states parties to the Convention, concluded in April 1994 that "'moderate physical pressure' as a lawful mode of interrogation is completely unacceptable to this Committee."
Torture is further considered a "grave breach" of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In May 1992 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) took the unusual step of stating publicly that "means of physical and psychological pressure are being used that constitute a violation of the Convention," and deeply regretted that its reports and presentations on this subject at high levels "have been to no avail."
Controversies over Israel's routine use of torture and ill-treatment in interrogation were heightened by widespread reports and official findings that the Landau Commission's guidelines were being extensively breached. A May 1991 investigation into violence in military interrogation centers, headed by Maj. Gen. Rafael Vardi, recommended transferring the interrogation mandate from the military (Israel Defense Force, IDF), "which was not meant to interrogate civilians." An investigation by the Ministry of Justice into GSS interrogation practices, also in May 1991, reportedly found extensive "deviations" from the Landau Commission guidelines. An audit of GSS practices by the State Comptroller, covering the 1988-1992 period-i.e., the years of the first intifada-also found extensive "deviations" from the Landau recommendations and GSS regulations, especially in Gaza but in other facilities as well. The Comptroller concluded that these violations did not stem from ignorance of those rules and regulations: the "deviations" were committed by "veteran interrogators" on a serious and systematic basis. (The Comptroller's audit was submitted to the Knesset Subcommittee on Intelligence Services in 1995; a summary was made public only in January 2000, following the September 1999 High Court ruling outlawing the Landau Commission rules.)
According to Israeli press reports, citing the State Attorney, the GSS interrogated some 23,000 Palestinians between 1987 and 1994. Investigations by international and Israeli human rights organizations have found that, in the words of a 1997 report by B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, "it is very rare indeed that the GSS interrogates Palestinians without using at least some of the ["moderate physical pressures"] methods…." The report went on to cite a 1995 remark of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said that violent "shaking" had been used against 8,000 detainees.
In June 1994, a Human Rights Watch investigation into Israel's use of torture during interrogation of Palestinians confirmed that the GSS, with ten interrogation centers, was the agency primarily responsible for interrogation of security suspects. "In general the GSS decides who does the interrogation," an official in the IDF Judge Advocate General's office told us. We concluded that the GSS used beatings less than the IDF during interrogations, and relied more on position abuse and sensory deprivation. "Within one or two days of their arrest, persons taken to GSS interrogation wings are placed in a universe of discomfort, pain, humiliation and threats," the report stated. We noted that "[a]t all stages of GSS interrogations, the methods of torture and ill-treatment tend to follow a well-defined set of steps and guidelines. Interrogation methods are selected to inflict extreme physical pain and mental anguish without causing lasting or traceable physical injury." Our investigation also found that torture and abuse were more the rule than the exception, and that tens of thousands of Palestinians had suffered abuse at the hands of GSS and the IDF. Many of those in the sample we interviewed had eventually been released without charges ever having been brought against them, a finding confirmed by other international and Israeli human rights organizations and one suggesting that the "ticking bomb" or "necessity" argument accounted for very few of the cases where torture and ill-treatment were employed.
These practices were ongoing and a matter of high public controversy during the period when Mr. Gillon occupied high-level positions in the GSS.
· B'Tselem documented nine cases of torture and ill-treatment in the May-August period of 1994, at a time when Mr. Gillon was chief of the GSS's Headquarters Branch.
· In April 1995, Abd al-Samad Harizat died in Jerusalem's Russian Compound (Moskobiyya) detention center after having been subjected by GSS agents to violent shaking, a practice sanctioned by the Landau Commission. According to an autopsy report by Israeli forensic pathologists, the specifics of his injuries "fit with brain damage due to rotational acceleration of the head without direct injury and/or indirect injury to the head." At the time Mr. Gillon was the head of the GSS.
· In January 1996, also during Mr. Gillon's tenure as the head of the GSS, the High Court of Justice at the request of the government annulled an interim injunction it had earlier issued against further use of "moderate physical pressures" against Abd al-Halim Bilbeisi. The government acknowledged or refrained from denying that these methods included: shackling in painful positions; hooding; incessant blaring music; sleep deprivation; enforced squatting; and violent shaking.
Given Mr. Gillon's prominent role in an agency that regularly used and promoted the use of measures authoritatively understood to constitute torture or ill-treatment under international human rights and humanitarian law, we strongly urge your government to exercise the discretion allowed by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by revoking the diplomatic accreditation recently extended to him. To do otherwise would be to debase the E.U.'s own Guidelines, adopted this April, concerning policy towards third countries on matters of torture. It is important to send a signal to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which nominated Mr. Gillon as its ambassador, that Denmark will not in any way countenance a policy of torture and ill-treatment, even if that policy is couched in terms of "moderate physical pressures."
Coming out of this controversy, Denmark should send one strong message: that diplomatic service should not be the source of job and travel opportunities for persons responsible for committing or sanctioning acts of torture, and that Denmark will not welcome such persons to Copenhagen's diplomatic community. It is vitally important that the European Union support Denmark fully in this matter and ensure that member states implement policies and procedures to prevent any similar abuse of the privileges of diplomatic immunity. Human Rights Watch therefore calls on the Belgian Presidency and the E.U. High Representative, Javier Solana, to take immediate steps to coordinate transparent and efficient implementation of the adopted guidelines throughout the E.U. region.
Lotte Leicht Hanny Megally
Brussels Director Executive Director
Human Rights Watch MiddleEast & North Africa Division
Ministers of Foreign Affairs, European Union Member States
E.U. High Representative Javier Solana
E.U. Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten