Early this morning Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have arrested 21 male relatives of Palestinians suspected of having been involved in recent attacks against Israelis. The IDF threatens to transfer them from the West Bank to Gaza.
“The forcible transfer of these people under these circumstances is collective punishment,” Amnesty International said. “We call on the Israeli government not to carry out such measures.”
“If anyone of those arrested is suspected of a recognizably criminal offence, he should be promptly charged and brought to trial. Otherwise, he should be released,” the organization added.
Under international humanitarian law collective punishment is illegal: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.” (Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). Protected persons are those living in territory which is under military occupation, as is the case with the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967.
The unlawful transfer of protected persons constitutes a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Under the Rome Statute, which reflects customary international law, such violations may also constitute crimes against humanity.
The IDF also demolished at least two homes of the 21 people arrested. That too amounts to collective punishment prohibited by international humanitarian law.
The 21 detainees include the brothers and fathers of ‘Ali Ajuri, suspected of organizing the Tel Aviv suicide bombing, and of Nasser and ‘Asem Abu Asida, allegedly responsible for the attack on a bus near Emmanuel.
The Israeli government has reportedly asked the Attorney General for a legal opinion on transferring Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza or deporting them to other countries.
Forcible transfer involves movement against a person’s will within national frontiers. Deportation involves movement against a person’s will across national frontiers.
Amnesty International’s opposition to the transfer of the 21 detainees is based on the following international standards:
Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits “[c]ollective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation” as well as “[r]eprisals against protected persons and their property.”
Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines “unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person” as a grave breach of the Convention and therefore a war crime.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which reflects customary international law, defines as a war crime in Article 8(2)(b)(viii) “the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory” by the occupying power.
Under Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute, the deportation or forcible transfer of population would also constitute a crime against humanity, when carried out in a widespread or systematic way, as part of a governmental policy.
The Rome Statute defines deportation or forcible transfer of population as “forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law”.