Donors to Palestinian security forces in the West Bank should condition their aid on concrete efforts to end serious abuses by all forces, Human Rights Watch said today. When providing security aid and training, donors should require the Ramallah authorities to build law enforcement institutions that are transparent, accountable and in compliance with international human rights standards.

More than 40 senior officials from European Union member states, the United Nations, the Arab League, the United States and elsewhere are joining Palestinian and Israeli officials on June 24, 2008, in Berlin for a conference to support the Palestinian civil police and rule of law in the West Bank.

“Berlin is an opportunity to strengthen human rights protections for Palestinians in the West Bank, who suffer abuses by their own security forces as well as Israel’s,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Donors should condition their aid on concrete steps to end politically motivated arrests, torture, and other serious violations that have increased over the past year.”

The conference is focusing on the civil police, which seem to be the least abusive Palestinian force in the West Bank, Human Rights Watch said. But it is part of a comprehensive international effort to bolster the Fatah-dominated authorities in Ramallah as an alternative to Hamas and as a partner in negotiations with Israel.

“The civil police are improving and they deserve support, but other sectors of the West Bank security apparatus are committing serious abuses with impunity,” Whitson said. “Donors concerned with the rule of law must take that into account.”

Over the past year, violations by West Bank security forces have risen sharply, as part of a crackdown against Hamas, Human Rights Watch said. In Gaza, which is run by Hamas, Fatah members and supporters have suffered similar abuse.

The abuses in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are the subject of a new Human Rights Watch report, due out in July. It criticizes both Fatah and Hamas security forces for arrest and detention practices that routinely violate Palestinian and international human rights law.
In the West Bank, security forces have carried out hundreds of arrests without warrants. The forces are often masked, do not identify themselves, and do not inform the person of the reason for their arrest. Families frequently have not received official information on the location of their arrested relative.

Human Rights Watch and local human rights groups have documented the torture of detainees, especially in interrogation, in one case leading to a detainee’s death. Methods of torture include mock executions, kicks and punches, and beatings with sticks, plastic pipes and rubber hoses.

In one case from February 2008, a 36-year-old man who campaigned for Hamas in the 2006 elections was summoned to General Intelligence Service (GIS) headquarters in Ramallah. After questions about Hamas and its leaders, the beating began. He told Human Rights Watch:

“Two interrogators came with water pipes. They asked the military guy to sit on my legs and they beat me on the bottom of my feet… I pushed the military man aside and they beat me all over, with no questions.”

The GIS released the man 10 days later without filing any charges, after he signed a document in which he promised to break all ties with Hamas. He was never accused of a crime, brought before an investigative judge, or provided access to a lawyer.

The most common form of torture reported to Human Rights Watch was forcing detainees to stand in stress positions for prolonged periods, known in Arabic as shabah, causing pain and sometimes internal injuries but leaving no physical mark. Such positions include standing for hours with feet apart and hands tied behind the back, standing with one leg and one arm raised, or sitting on the edge of a chair with hands tied to feet.

West Bank security forces have frequently violated the due process provisions guaranteed in Palestinian law. Authorities often failed to provide detainees with lawyers or bring them before a prosecutor within 24 hours. When courts ordered detainees released, the security forces sometimes refused to comply.

Security officials in the West Bank told Human Rights Watch that no political agenda lay behind their arrests. But the crackdown has clearly targeted persons associated with Hamas. Some detainees were released after signing documents that they will sever all ties with Hamas, indicating the political motivations behind the arrest.

Most of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch and Palestinian human rights organizations involved Preventive Security, a quasi-paramilitary force that deals with armed groups and political crimes, and the GIS.

Preventive Security, commanded by Ziyad Hab al-Rib, officially reports to Minister of Interior Abdel Razak al-Yahya. The GIS, commanded by Tawfiq Tirawi, reports to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Under article 39 of the Palestinian Basic Law, the interim constitution, the president is the commander-in-chief of all Palestinian security forces.

The funding sources of Preventive Security and GIS remain unclear. The latter recently completed construction on a modern training college in Jericho.

The Berlin conference to support the civil police and rule of law is a follow-up to the December 2007 conference in Paris, where donors pledged roughly €5 billion to assist the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

The EU, the largest Palestinian Authority donor, is currently funding a multi-million euro project called EU Police Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support, or EUPOL COPPS. The project advises and assists the civil police, coordinates international assistance to the police, and gives advice on criminal justice.

EUPOL COPPS is training the roughly 800-member public order unit of the civil police, including a course on human rights. It is planning to work on prison infrastructure and to help develop a legal framework for the police.

The US is leading the drive to strengthen Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, under US security coordinator Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton. It has committed nearly $60 million to train and assist the National Security Force and Presidential Guard loyal to Abbas.

“The US, EU, and other donors are putting so much money into Palestinian security sector reform,” Whitson said. “They should make sure that the money helps build security forces across the board that do not carry out torture or arbitrary detention, and are accountable to an independent judiciary.”

The Berlin conference is not addressing aid to Gaza, but donors to the Hamas authorities there should also condition their aid on desperately needed human rights improvements, including an end to arbitrary arrests and torture, Human Rights Watch said.