(Jerusalem) – The Palestinian Authority (PA) should urgently act to hold accountable the police officials responsible for recent beatings of peaceful demonstrators in Ramallah in the West Bank. Police severely beat protesters in the street and dragged others to a police station, where the police continued to beat and kick them. At least six protesters required hospitalization.
A coalition of Palestinian human rights groups released a report on August 27, 2012, that identified several senior police officials who were present and in charge of the forces that beat protesters in Ramallah’s main square on June 30 and July 1.
“Two months and four reports later, the Palestinian Authority has not yet brought to justice the police officers responsible for brutal assaults on peaceful protesters in Ramallah’s main square,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The PA should end its foot-dragging and promptly investigate and prosecute abuse by members of its security forces.”
Senior Palestinian officials have said they will carry out the recommendations of a prior report on the incidents by an independent committee of inquiry established by President Mahmud Abbas. On July 24, the committee delivered a report to Abbas that called for the prosecution of the head of the Ramallah police station, the chief of police for the Ramallah area, and the head of the criminal investigations unit, among others.
Palestinian news reports said that the Palestinian Interior Ministry delivered the results of its own inquiry to Abbas in early August. The official Palestinian human rights ombudsman reported on the incidents to the interior minister on July 3.
The Palestinian Authority’s civil police are funded and trained by a European Union program, EUPOL-COPPS, with a €9.3 million annual budget. The United States and other countries support other Palestinian security services in the West Bank. The EU program states that it aims to create a criminal justice system that “complies with international human rights standards” by advising and closely mentoring the Palestinian police, “specifically senior officials at District and Headquarters level.”
“The EU and US should take a hard look at the PA security forces’ record of impunity, and condition support for those forces on credible investigations and prosecutions of abuses,” Stork said.
From January 2009 to July 2012, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), the official Palestinian human rights ombudsman, received 584 complaints of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, including severe beatings, slamming detainees’ heads against the wall, forcing detainees to stand or sit in painful positions for prolonged periods, and sleep deprivation. Of the 109 alleged cases of abuse reported in 2012, 62 were by civil police investigators.
Human Rights Watch has not uncovered information about a single case in which a Palestinian security official has been judicially punished for serious abuses, including torture and denial of medical treatment that caused death. In one case, security officials were prosecuted for abuses involving a death in detention from torture. All were acquitted.
The Palestinian Authority has claimed in the past that it disciplined security officials for abuses but has not published the names of the officials or any other verifiable information about these cases.
On June 30, uniformed police and plainclothes security officers punched, kicked, bludgeoned, and arbitrarily arrested demonstrators who had gathered in the main square of Ramallah to protest a planned meeting between the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and Shaul Mofaz, then the vice prime minister of Israel. When demonstrators gathered on July 1 to protest those abuses, police attacked them again. At least six protesters were hospitalized for injuries from police assaults on both days, according to the separate reports by the inquiry committee and Palestinian human rights groups.
Police also beat journalists covering the events, the latest in a series of attacks on journalists by Palestinian security forces. Mohammed Jaradat, an independent journalist, told Human Rights Watch that police beat him at the demonstration, dragged him to the nearby central Ramallah police station, and held him down on the ground while striking him with truncheons and kicking him. He was hospitalized for two days for injuries all over his body, he said.
On July 3, the ICHR commissioner-general, Ahmad Harb, met with the Palestinian interior minister, Said Abu Ali, and presented him with the report documenting “the unjustified use of force and beating of a number of participants in the peaceful demonstrations, and the detention of a number of others for some time before being released,” the commission said in a statement.
On July 2, Abbas established the independent inquiry committee, headed by Munib al-Masry, a leading Palestinian businessman, which interviewed dozens of witnesses and officials. The committee’s July 24 report to Abbas identified individual police officials responsible for the attacks. The report’s executive summary and recommendations, which were published in the Palestinian media, called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the police officials are criminally prosecuted.
Al-Masry later told Human Rights Watch that Abbas had called on Abu Ali, the interior minister, to carry out the committee’s recommendations. On August 15, Abu Ali told the committee that he was in the process of issuing the necessary recommendations to do so.
On August 27, the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations, which includes rights groups such as Al-Haq and Addameer, published a report stating that Palestinian police and officers wearing civilian clothes attacked protesters on June 30 on the orders of the Ramallah chief of police, Lt. Col. Abd al-Latif al-Kadumi, to push the protesters back. Police attacks on June 30 and July 1 were both conducted in the presence of al-Kadumi and his deputy, and Maj. Mohammed Abu Bakr, director of the city’s police station, the report said.
The report cited a statement to news media in which the Palestinian security services spokesman, Maj. Gen. Adnan Al-Damiri, said that police acted to stop the protests from reaching the presidential headquarters – the Muqataa compound – in Ramallah, where demonstrations are “prohibited.”
In another recent case, members of the Palestinian Preventive Security service allegedly tortured Zakaria Zubeidi, the co-founder of The Freedom Theater, a theater company in Jenin, at a detention facility in Jericho. Zubeidi has been detained without charge since May 13 on suspicion of knowing the location of guns in the possession of armed groups, which he denies.
The Palestinian Authority has failed to act on the recommendations of other independent inquiries into abuse by security forces. For instance, in response to the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Richard Goldstone, which documented arbitrary arrests, torture of detainees, and attacks by Palestinian Authority security forces on journalists and demonstrators protesting in the West Bank against Israeli military attacks in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, Abbas authorized an independent inquiry committee.
The committee’s report, published in June 2010, called on the Palestinian Authority to “hold accountable and prosecute those who violate the law, whether by acts of arbitrary detention, by crimes of torture or other forms of cruel or degrading treatment or by violations of other rights and freedoms.” The Palestinian Authority has not published specific, verifiable information about any such prosecutions, however.
Human Rights Watch also documented Israel’s and Hamas’s responses to the Goldstone report’s other recommendations.