The Palestinian security forces, created pursuant to the Oslo Accords, have become the most visible agent of abuse in the self-rule areas. Oslo II provided for the establishment of "a strong Palestinian police force" in order to "guarantee public order and internal security."13 This police force was supposed to be the sole security force: Oslo II explicitly states: "Except for the Palestinian Police and the Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."14 The police force was intended to "consist of one integral unit under the control of the Legislative Council," and be "subordinate to one central command." According to the agreement, the force was to be composed of six branches: the civil police, public security, preventive security, presidential security, intelligence, and emergency and rescue services;15 a separate coastal police unit was also created pursuant to Article XIV.

However, the number of agencies concerned with internal security has steadily grown. They now include General Intelligence (mukhabaraat), Military Intelligence, the elite Presidential Guards known as "Force 17," and Preventive Security (PSS). These various forces operate openly in the West Bank and Gaza alongside the Palestinianpolice, some actively cooperating with Israeli security forces.16 Human Rights Watch has found, based on the testimony of victims, that most branches of the security forces have engaged in abusive conduct.

Oslo II envisaged that upon completion of all stages of Israeli redeployment, a total of 30,000 Palestinian police would operate in the areas under Palestinian rule.17 Although redeployment has not been completed, the number of Palestinian police and security personnel in the self-rule areas well exceeds that figure.18

Security force members were recruited both from inside the West Bank and Gaza and from among pro-Arafat Fatah activists who with the advent of self-rule returned to the area from Arab countries. Officials and other Palestinians have sometimes blamed abusive conduct on the fact that many of the returnees were long-time residents of repressive Arab countries whose careers were spent in Palestinian military forces in exile. In addition, many West Bank Palestinians resent the heavy representation in the security forces of Gazans, whom they view as outsiders.

The various security agencies appear to be autonomous units whose duties are ill-defined and overlapping. They appear to be accountable to no one but President Arafat, and sometimes act in competition with one another. Dr. Haidar Abd al-Shafi, a respected critic of President Arafat and a member of the Legislative Council, commented, "The security forces are in complete disorder and confusion. There are so many security organs and no coordination between them. Some officers function unilaterally, violating rules."19

It is not known, for example, why the Coastal Police operates in a landlocked city such as Nablus, where its members were found guilty, in August 1996, of torturing a detainee to death (see below). The responsibilities of the Presidential Guards (Force 17) are also murky, since they appear to engage in arrests and interrogations in security, criminal and civilian cases that are unrelated to presidential security. One man who was detained for over four months in 1996 told Human Rights Watch that he was initially detained and beaten by Force 17 but was not questioned about anything related to presidential security; he was then transferred to Military Intelligence.20

In February 1997, civilian Yusif Ismail Mahmud al-Baba died less than one month after his arrest, apparently from torture inflicted in a Nablus jail. The fact that he had been detained by Military Intelligence prompted sharp comments from Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein. A few days after al-Baba's death, Abu Medein told reporters, "The dangerous thing is that al-Baba was arrested illegally by an agency which had no right to detain or interrogatehim and he was not presented either to civil police or the public prosecutor."21 For more on this case, see the section on deaths in detention below.

Commanders and members of security agencies routinely profess an inability to address problems brought to their attention, stating that the matter must be referred to President Arafat. Although this might be interpreted as shirking responsibility, it also highlights the control that President Arafat exercises over both major and minor cases. According to Elia Theodory, a lawyer for the Human Rights Action Program (HRAP) at Birzeit University, "The officers always say, I want to release this person but I can't unless I have orders from Abu Ammar [Yasir Arafat's nom de guerre]. This is a problem for us lawyers-we can't just close our offices and go home and only write letters to Abu Ammar."22

Ihab Abu Ghoush, director of the Quaker Legal Services in Ramallah, told Human Rights Watch about a case his office handled in which a man fled to the West Bank from Jordan with his infant child; his wife obtained a custody order from a Nablus court in January 1996, but found that the Palestinian police were unwilling to enforce the judgment against her husband, whose brother was very influential in Fatah-Yasir Arafat's dominant faction within the PLO. She spent the next five months trying to publicize her case, including making an appeal to President Arafat. The Quaker Legal Services wrote to President Arafat that, in light of the police's unwillingness to enforce the court order, they were planning to bring the case to the Palestinian High Court of Justice (the "High Court"). In mid-June, President Arafat visited Nablus and personally delivered the child to its mother. According to Abu Ghoush:

Arafat decided to intervene personally on behalf of someone in need of protection....This should not require intervention by Arafat, but should be done through the courts. This intervention could be positive if it became a clear message to the police and security forces that they must enforce court decisions, regardless of who the parties are to the dispute. But a situation has been created where Arafat is the only one who is able to resolve situations like this.23

In a recent interview, Muhammad Dahlan, chief of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip, stated that problem of agencies overstepping their mandates had declined:

I believe that there are more apparatuses in name than in reality....At the outset, each apparatus acted as an independent sovereign body because each wanted to consider itself the protector of the country and the guardian of its security. But with the passage of time and experience, the multiplicity of the apparatuses led to the introduction of specialization. We [the PSS] and the intelligence apparatus deal with internal security matters while the presidential security apparatus deals with matters pertaining to the president's security and the intelligence apparatus deals with the security of members of the Palestinian police forces only. Because of the introduction of the system of specialization, the number of conflicts dropped...and the [possibility of the] arrest of a citizen by more than one apparatus decreased immensely.24

Arrests and Lack of Due Process

Palestinian security forces have carried out over a dozen major arrest campaigns since May 1994, usually in response to anti-Israeli violence, responsibility for which was claimed by militant groups opposed to the Israeli-PLO peace process.25 During the first eight months of 1996, at least 2,000 Palestinians were arrested by the PA-nearly double the number of arrests during all of 1995.26 The Mandela Institute estimated in late February 1997 that the PA was holding 523 detainees in the West Bank and an additional 395 in the Gaza Strip. By the summer of 1997, the number had declined. Five months later, the new Attorney General, Fayez Abu Rahma, stated that he had the files of 180-185 detainees being held without charge who he said should be released or tried "as soon as possible"27 In August 1997, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group published a list of 115 detainees it said had been held for between twelve and thirty-nine months without charge or trial.28 It cautioned that the list was not necessarily comprehensive, and another human rights group, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), estimated the number at around 300.29

An estimated 900 to 1,200 of the 1996 arrests, the overwhelming majority of which were of suspected Islamists, took place in February, March, and April, after four suicide bombings. In these, as in other arrests, the PA routinely violated the suspects' due process rights. For example, authorities rarely presented arrest or search warrants when entering people's homes or workplaces. Many of the arrests were arbitrary: instead of limiting the operations to persons suspected of involvement with the bombings or with the military wings of Islamist groups, the PA raided mosques, universities and homes, rounding up suspected Islamist sympathizers in an apparently indiscriminate fashion. According to a former detainee, "Any young male who prays five times a day in a mosque" could have been among those rounded up.30 In one incident in early April, reported by Middle East International, Mustafa Jarra of Ramallah visited Ramallah prison to bring some food to a friend detained there. He was informed by the guard that he "looked like Hamas," presumably because he had a beard, and would be detained. He remained in detention for one month, until a relative and Legislative Council member, Burghan Jarra, secured his release.31

According to lawyers and human rights organizations, the majority of those arrested in these sweeps were never even questioned or interrogated about alleged offenses-a further indication that the PA either lacked evidence linking them to offenses or lacked the will to prosecute them.32 The sweeps appeared intended to punish supposedIslamist sympathizers, and to be seen to do so, without founding these operations in law. At the same time, some of these detainees were told by PA officials that they were being detained for their own safety, in order to protect them from being arrested by Israel. One former detainee told Human Rights Watch:

I spent three months in detention. There was no interrogation, no charge sheet, they never brought me to a judge. They just asked me what is my attitude about the bombings and violence. They said this is not a detention but a kind of protection because I am wanted by Israel. But they did not allow me to go outside the cell until the last two weeks.33

The references by some jailers to Israeli intentions regarding particular detainees might reflect the particular PA officials' efforts to encourage detainees to accept their "punishment" as a lesser evil, but it offers little to suggest the detentions were in accord with due process of law.

In April 1997, Muhammad Dahlan, the chief of the PSS in the Gaza Strip, stated, "As for releasing Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad prisoners, we have not got anyone in prison who has not been involved in a military action which harms the PA's interests."34 However, the vast majority of those arrested by the PA, particularly following the February and March 1996 suicide bombings, were never charged with an offense or brought before a judge, even though many were detained for longer than six months. By the end of 1996, according to information provided by the Jerusalem-based, nongovernmental Addameer Prisoners Support Association, only fifty-eight persons had been convicted of any offense, all of them in trials held in the state security courts (see below).

In the Gaza Strip, a suspect in custody must be brought before a judge within forty-eight hours after arrest if authorities wish to extend his detention.35 In the West Bank, a detainee must be brought before the district prosecutor within forty-eight hours or released immediately.36 These laws have been routinely ignored. In a view endorsed by many lawyers and former detainees, one former detainee observed:

There are no rules, no procedures, no warrants-nothing. Maybe many of [the Israeli rules] were bad rules, but at least your lawyer could go to court if they didn't bring you to a judge, or if they didn't let you go outside to see the sun.37

A former detainee who said he was tortured by Palestinian security commented, "Under the Israelis they would torture me, but at least my Israeli lawyer could come and visit me inside the prison."38

Ex-detainees told Human Rights Watch that one of the worst aspects of their detention was the uncertainty about how long they would remain in detention. One activist said, "Today there is a feeling that administrative detention [the much-criticized Israeli practice of "preventive" detention without charge or trial] is more just thanwhat the PA does, because administrative detention has a definite date, while arrest by the PA can go on indefinitely."39 A university student from Bethlehem reinforced this view:

During the occupation you would hire a lawyer and he knew whether you were in administrative detention, under interrogation or whatever. So the teachers knew how to deal with you-they would put a paper in the file so that you could do the work and take the exams after you were released. Now, under the PA, you don't know what is happening, for how long. You can't study anymore and you can't know when your normal life will continue.40

Palestinian rights groups estimated in 1996 that the PA administers at least thirty detention facilities in the West Bank and twenty-four in the Gaza Strip. In addition, some of the security forces appear to run facilities in secret locations.41

During 1996, Palestinian prison officials frequently flouted internationally-accepted standard rules for the treatment of detainees. Detainees' names were often not entered in prison logs, or they were listed under false names. In addition, prison officials regularly refused or failed to notify families or respond to their inquiries about their detained relative's legal status and whereabouts. Families were left to check with each of the different security organs until they found the correct place of detention. A West Bank human rights activist told Human Rights Watch of a case in Bethlehem where a family had been searching for three months for a relative arrested by Military Intelligence.42 In another case, Manal al-Rai, whose husband Shaher was sentenced to seven years imprisonment by the state security court on September 3, 1996, told Human Rights Watch that she had learned about her husband's trial from the press. Then, she said, "It took two months before they would let me visit him. They kept sending me to different buildings and once they said he was not even being held there. Then they said it was forbidden to visit-there was an order from Amin Ziad [the prosecutor for the state security court in Jericho]."43

Palestinians in detention have been denied their right to consult promptly with a lawyer.44 Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they are often denied access to detainees, particularly during interrogation, which can lastfor more than a month and is the period when torture is most likely to take place. Birzeit HRAP's lawyer Theodory, who represented a group of Birzeit University students arrested in March 1996, said:

All the students who went to the Jericho interrogation center were interrogated in a very bad way. The first time they let me visit them was after one month. Two officials from the prison were there and we only spoke for a few minutes because the situation was not very comfortable for a visit.45

In many cases, prison officials have permitted lawyers and human rights workers to meet with detainees on an ad hoc basis, but not as the detainees' counsel. To the best of our knowledge, such visits have only been permitted once interrogation has been completed. According to one West Bank activist: "If we ask to visit as [name of human rights organization] it would take us two months just to get an answer. So we just go as `friends' of the detainee, and no one stops us."46 However, one human rights organization, the Mandela Institute, reports that it has gained fairly regular access to all facilities in the West Bank except the interrogation wing at Jericho prison. The Mandela Institute has thus been able to assess conditions and provide medical treatment in some cases, although not to ensure legal representation.

While not a substitute for regular access by lawyers and human rights groups, one positive step taken by the PA was its signing of an agreement, on September 1, 1996, with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), granting that organization regular access to all detention facilities and all detainees held in the Palestinian self-rule areas. Three months later, the ICRC began its first round of visits.47 An earlier PA-ICRC agreement on prison visits, signed in 1994, was never implemented.

13 Oslo II, art. XII. 14 Oslo II, art. XIV(3). 15 Oslo II, art. I, art. IV(2)(a). 16 The Oslo Accords provide for "coordination and cooperation in mutual security matters," including the establishment of joint security committees and joint local patrolling. See Oslo II, ann. I, art. III. See also, Graham Usher, "The PA's New Intelligence Services," News From Within (Jerusalem), vol. XII, no. 5 (May 1996), p. 30. 17 Oslo II, annex I, art. IV(3). 18 Muhammad Dahlan, chief of the Preventive Security Service in the Gaza Strip, stated, "We have 36,000 people of whom we only need 10,000 [in the security forces]. This huge number is a burden on the PA and a burden on the security organ. We view it as a social issue because I cannot tell a prisoner who has spent fifteen years in jail that I have no job for him." Interview in Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), April 25, 1997, as reported in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia (hereinafter FBIS-NES), April 25, 1997. See also David Hirst, "Yasir Arafat's Tools of Repression," The Guardian (London), July 6, 1996. 19 Human Rights Watch interview, Gaza City, July 29, 1996. 20 Human Rights Watch interview, Bethlehem, July 16, 1996. 21 "Palestinian minister admits prisoner died from `extreme torture'," Agence France-Presse (AFP), February 3, 1997. 22 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 20, 1996. 23 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 15, 1996. 24 Al-Quds al-Arabi interview, April 25, 1997. 25 Gaza Center for Rights and Law, "Collective Arrests Among Affiliates of Hamas and El Jihad El Islami," April 12, 1995. 26 LAW-The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (formerly LAWE, hereinafter "LAW"), "Statement on PA Prisoners," News From Within, vol. XII, no. 8 (August 1996), pp. 20. 27 "New Palestinian Top Lawyer To Free or Try Detainees," Reuter, July 20, 1997; and interview published in People's Rights (Jerusalem), July 1997. 28 The Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, No. 3 (August 1997), pp. 7-11. The PHRMG said that the list included suspected activists from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations as well as persons accused of -- but not charged with --criminal offenses and/or collaboration with Israel. 29 Private communication with Human Rights Watch/Middle East, August 23, 1997. 30 Human Rights Watch interview, Gaza Strip, July 26, 1996. See also, "Arafat's Police Raid Hamas Stronghold in Gaza," Reuter, March 6, 1996, reporting on raids in Gaza. 31 Nigel Parry, "Human Rights on the Israeli Election Altar," Middle East International (London), May 28, 1996. 32 See also Human Rights Watch/Middle East, "Israel and the Palestinian Authority Engaging in Arbitrary Arrests, Denial of Due Process and Torture in Response to Suicide Bombings," April 3, 1996. 33 Human Rights Watch interview, Bethlehem, July 16, 1996. 34 Al-Quds al-Arabi interview, April 25, 1997. 35 In Gaza, arrest procedures are governed by the 1924 Criminal Procedure (Arrest and Searches) Ordinance, promulgated during the British mandatory rule. 36 Pursuant to articles 100-114 of the 1961 Jordanian Criminal Procedures Law no. 9, which governs arrest procedures in the West Bank. 37 Human Rights Watch interview, Bethlehem, July 16, 1996. 38 Human Rights Watch interview, Gaza Strip, July 24, 1996. 39 Human Rights Watch interview, Nablus, July 22, 1996. 40 Human Rights Watch interview, Bethlehem, July 16, 1996. 41 Mandela Institute, "Palestinian Detention Facilities and Detainees after Two Years of Autonomy," Mandela Institute Newsletter, Special Edition, June 25, 1996; and Gaza Center for Rights and Law, "Illegal Extravagances in Areas of the Palestinian National Authority in the Gaza Strip." 42 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 17, 1996. 43 Human Rights Watch interview, Jericho, July 15, 1996. 44 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 14, (3(d)) states that a defendant is entitled to "defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it."

The U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, in Principle 15, provides that, "Communication of the detained or imprisoned person with the outside world, and in particular his family or counsel, shall not be denied for more than a matter of days."

The U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of the Lawyers is more specific in its Principle 7: "Governments shall further ensure that all persons arrested or detained, with or without criminal charge, shall have prompt access to a lawyer, and in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time of arrest or detention."

45 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 20, 1996. 46 Human Rights Watch interview, Ramallah, July 13, 1996. 47 The ICRC does not publish its findings about the treatment of detainees and the conditions of detention but provides important protection to political detainees through its programs of regular visits.