Palestinian and international human rights defenders are urging Hamas authorities not to proceed with planned executions in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this month, Ismail Jaber, the attorney general in the coastal territory, announced that Gaza would soon witness the public executions of 13 persons convicted of murder, with the goal of deterring such crimes.
Ismail Haniyeh, the most senior Hamas leader in Gaza, also announced that the executions would go ahead. On Wednesday, Gaza-based members of the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council also approved the plan.
Human rights defenders are mobilizing to stop the executions.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) warned on Thursday that the executions would be illegal under the Palestinian Basic Law, which requires that all death sentences be ratified by the Palestinian Authority president.
The group said that the executions would amount to extrajudicial killings.
PCHR said it had written to Haniyeh setting out its legal arguments against the executions. The group stated that leaders who order them could face prosecution in the International Criminal Court in which Palestine is now a member.
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, also based in Gaza, said it too was in contact with Hamas leaders to try to prevent the killings.
“We are against it. There’s no logic in violating the right to life and when you implement the death penalty it doesn’t stop the crime,” Al-Mezan’s assistant director Samir Zakout said. “The street wants the death penalty, people who had relatives killed want it. But we are against this kind of street justice.”
Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his office was “deeply concerned” about the planned executions.
“We urge the authorities in Gaza to uphold their obligations to respect the rights to life and to a fair trial – which are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the State of Palestine is a party – and not carry out these executions,” Colville said.
“We also urge the Palestinian president to establish a moratorium on executions in line with the strong international trend towards ending the use of the death penalty,” Colville added.
The West Bank-based PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has not ratified any death sentences in a decade.
Hamas has however continued the use of the death penalty in Gaza.
The surprise victor in legislative elections in 2006, Hamas took control of the internal governance of Gaza in 2007 after fierce battles with Abbas’ rival Fatah party, which refused to hand over power.
This has meant in practice that most areas of governance, including the judicial system, have been split.
As of January, according to PCHR, a total of 172 death sentences had been issued since the PA was established in 1994, of which 30 were in the West Bank and 142 in Gaza.
Eighty-four death sentences were issued since Hamas took over in Gaza in 2007.
Up to 2010, according to PCHR, approximately half the death sentences were for homicides and approximately half for collaboration with Israel.
The planned executions come in apparent response to several high-profile murders in Gaza and an increase in crime that is seen as linked to the dire economic situation in the territory as a result of the tight siege Israel has imposed since Hamas assumed power.
PCHR, which has long campaigned against the death penalty, challenged the claims of Hamas leaders that public killings would do anything to improve security.
PCHR noted that crime rates in Gaza, where the death penalty has been applied in recent years, are far higher than in the West Bank, where it has not been implemented since 2001.
“In addition, the experiences of other countries, which abolished the death penalty, reveal that no change was noticed regarding the serious crime rate,” PCHR added. “Even in countries applying thousands of death sentences annually, serious crime rates have not decreased.”
“According to scientific research, the crime rate is mainly based on social, economic and cultural circumstances and an efficient security system not on lenient or severe punishments,” PCHR stated.
The group urged Hamas leaders to take another factor into account: the potential gift to Israeli propaganda of public executions.
“Implementing the death sentences in this manner might contribute to displaying a negative image about the Gaza Strip that Israel attempts to market to justify their crimes against Palestinian civilians,” PCHR said.
While Israel and its supporters have certainly tried to exploit executions by Palestinians to portray them as barbaric, Israeli leaders are enthusiastic about executing Palestinians, whether judicially or extrajudicially, just as long as it is done by Israelis.