United Nations 25 July 2003
GENEVA — The Human Rights Committee this afternoon concluded its consideration, carried out over three meetings, of the second periodic report of Israel on how that country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Introducing his country’s report, Yaakov Levy, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Government, the Supreme Court and the Israeli parliament were closely and intensively promoting and maintaining human rights in his country in a variety of ways. The concept and values of human rights had been legislated in the form of basic laws on human dignity and liberty, he added.
Also introducing the report, Shai Nitzan, Director of the Division for Special Affairs at the State Attorney’s Office, Ministry of Justice of Israel, said his country was a true representative democracy, in which the full enjoyment of rights by all of its residents and citizens had improved significantly over the years.
Among other issues, Committee Experts asked about the alleged keeping of Lebanese prisoners as “bargaining chips”; the situation of disabled persons; the effective control of the occupied territories by Israel and its responsibility to implement the provisions of the International Covenant; the continued renewal of the state of emergency; the frequency of the use of ill-treatment of persons during detention; the building of the wall of separation; and the kind of investigation undertaken regarding the shooting of peace activists.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Israel at the end of its four-week session on 8 August. In preliminary remarks, the Chairperson of the Committee, Abdelfattah Amor, said that the delegation had performed its work in a very professional manner and it had to be applauded. It had provided solid arguments, which were not integrally shared by the Committee. Once the information in response to the remaining questions had been received, it would be included in the final concluding observations to be drafted by the Experts.
The Israeli delegation was also made up of Tuvia Israel, Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Rachel Gottleib, Deputy Legal Adviser, Ministry of Public Security; Aner Helman, Senior Deputy to the State Attorney, Ministry of Justice; Boaz Oren, Deputy Director and Miri Sharon, Senior Assistant to the Director, Department of International Agreements and International Litigation, Ministry of Justice; Ady Schonmann, International Human Rights Law Adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Teizu Guluma, Adviser, Permanent Mission of Israel in Geneva.
As one of the 150 States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Israel is obligated to submit periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to give effect to the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Monday, 28 July, it is scheduled to meet in private. The Committee’s next public meeting is expected to be at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 July, when it will discuss its annual draft report to the General Assembly.
Report of Israel
The second periodic report of Israel (CCPR/C/ISR/2001/2) provides information on the various activities accomplished by the State party with the view of implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It notes that since the submission of the previous report, many legislative, administrative and judicial developments relevant to the International Covenant have occurred. The report also addresses the comments made in the concluding observations by the Committee on the previous report.
The report also notes that Israel has undergone substantial policy and legislative changes since the initial report was submitted. Some policy and legislative changes, although decided upon, will need time until they are fully implemented. In many areas, however, substantial changes are already visible. In terms of legislation, between 1998 and today, significant steps have been taken to promote human rights issues. Some of the more prominent new laws include the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law of 1998, and the amendment to the Equal Rights for Women Law.
With respect to judicial decisions, the Supreme Court of Israel has continued to play a major role in the implementation of civil and political rights, the report notes. The Court has issued a number of precedent setting decisions on human rights issues.
Presentation of Report
YAAKOV LEVY, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Government, the Supreme Court and the Israeli Parliament are closely and intensively promoting and maintaining human rights in the country in a variety of ways. The concept and values of human rights had been legislated in the form of basic laws on human dignity and liberty. They had been incorporated into the country’s legal and social domains on all levels of legislation, in education, and in rulings of Israeli courts.
Mr. Levy said that the Israeli Supreme Court, the ultimate guarantor of human rights in the country, had expanded in recent years its interventions regarding issues of human rights; and special rulings had served as cornerstones in the human rights areas. The Israeli parliament — the Knesset — had legislated extensively for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Israeli Government had also worked to promote human rights.
In seeking to strike the correct balance between competing human rights, Israel relied upon several cherished values and institutions, Mr. Levy said. The first was the freedom of debate and expression within the society. As a vibrant and highly vocal democracy, there was no issue of public policy, including security measures, that did not become an issue of public examination and debate, while Israel’s media, printed in a variety of languages, enjoyed freedom of speech and opinion.
Mr. Levy said that the increase in the number of foreign workers in Israel was another new challenge, and the amendment to the Foreign Workers Law on unlawful employment and the ensuring of suitable conditions was an important tool in securing the basic rights of foreign workers.
SHAI NITZAN, Director of the Division for Special Affairs at the State Attorney’s Office, Ministry of Justice of Israel, said that his country was a true representative democracy, in which the full enjoyment of rights by all of its residents and citizens had improved significantly over the years. Since the submission of the initial report, all branches of government had made a concerted effort to promote equality between all citizens of the State — men and women, Jews and Arabs alike. As part of that effort, various government entities had striven to promote the civil rights of all of Israel’s citizens in accordance with the dictates of the International Covenant. Today, the State’s efforts in that field had born fruit.
More attention had been paid in recent years towards improving the situation of Arab citizens of Israel than towards improving those of Jewish citizens, although certain gaps still existed, Mr. Nitzan said. Free speech was encouraged in the country and there was always an ongoing public debate on any given topic, in which event the most extreme ideas were exchanged freely and uncensored. Admittedly, many problems remained. However, it should be stressed that the enhancement and promotion of equality among all citizens and the promotion of their civil rights remained a priority.
Mr. Nitzan further said that Israel today was facing a twofold crisis: an armed conflict imposed by the Palestinians and a serious economic crisis. The armed conflict was unique in the sense that it was a war imposed upon Israel, not by a State but by terrorist organizations. To date, more than 800 Israeli citizens and residents had been killed since the outbreak of violence and hostilities in September 2000. More than 5,600 had been wounded. During the conflict, thousands of Palestinians had also been killed and wounded.
In the economic field, Mr. Nitzan continued, since October 2000, the growth rate had declined by more than 6 per cent due to the global economic slowdown, which reduced investments in Israel’s start-up companies, and in the high-tech industry in general. The growth rate had also declined due to the advance effects of terrorism. Despite those developments, Israel had continued to preserve the civil rights enshrined in the Covenant and to promote equality of all citizens.
Responding to the written questions raised by the Committee Experts in advance, the Israeli delegation said that the State of Israel was presently experiencing a state of emergency. Since October 2000, it had been subjected to an unprecedented wave of terror. The Government did not derogate from any of the provisions of the International Covenant except as stated in its declaration of 3 October 1991 with regard to “powers of arrest and detention”. The Emergency Powers Law allowed the administrative detention of a person based on reasonable grounds to presume that such detention was necessary for State security. The measures taken under Israeli law to protect national security and public order, including those which were based on emergency legislation, did not require derogation under article 4 of the Covenant. In light of the current situation, the state of emergency had not been abolished and would be in force until June 2004.
On the compliance with the International Covenant of the counter-terrorism measures pursuant to Security Council resolution 1373, the delegation said that Israel had been threatened by terrorist acts for many years, and continued to suffer to date from the ravages of suicide bombing terrorism. Israel’s counter-terrorism measures strived to combine its uncompromising battle against terrorism with strict adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights. All counter-terrorism activities pursuant to Resolution 1373 were aimed at protecting human rights. All aspects of counter-terrorism activities, including those currently implemented in the West Bank and Gaza, were subject to judicial review.
The Israeli delegation said that the International Covenant does not extend to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The authorities believed that the Palestinian Authority, which had jurisdiction over those territories, was responsible for the implementation of issues related to the International Covenant. Israel was only responsible for the security situation while the Authority was accountable for the civil and political issues of the Palestinians. It was Israel’s position that the Covenant did not apply beyond its territory, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, especially as long as there was a situation of armed conflict and hostilities in those areas.
Asked about the justification for the collective punishment of families of persons who had committed a crime, the delegation said that the Palestinian terrorist campaign was employing the most abhorrent and inhuman methods in order to target Israeli civilians and soldiers. Such attacks received wide and unprecedented support by Palestinian public opinion. Palestinian suicide bombers were treated with respect and honour, and their families enjoyed economic assistance and grants. The military was instructed to allow demolition of family houses of terrorists only in severe cases, and only as a means of deterrence and not as a punishment.
On the practice of administrative detention, the delegation said that there was one Israeli citizen held in administrative detention. As of July 15, there were 779 residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip held in administrative detention. Administrative detention of persons was permissible under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The detention periods might last up to six month, and should be reviewed by a military judge. Administrative detention in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were in line with international humanitarian law, and were subject to judicial review by the High Court of Justice.
Freedom of expression was fully guaranteed in Israel and everybody was entitled to express her or his own personal views, the delegation said.
No governmental legal initiative was taken for the enactment of a law for the use of physical force in the process of interrogation, the delegation continued to state.
Asked about the practice of “liquidations” — extrajudicial executions — of persons suspected of terrorist activities, the delegation said that Israel did not practice extrajudicial executions or liquidations. However, it did act in accordance with its inherent right for self-defence against those who had taken a direct part in the hostilities. Since the end of September 2000, Israel had been facing an armed conflict. Israel had to secure the safety of its citizens from such attacks, and it had been applying a broad range of measures and activities, which were compatible with international law.
With regard to reports of ill treatment of minors in the police station of Gush Etzen, the delegation said that in 1992, an independent department within the Ministry of Justice had been set up to investigate any complaints on involvement of police personnel in the commission of offences. Attempts had been made to investigate the allegation of ill-treatment in the police station; however, due to lack of cooperation of the said victims, it was not continued.
Committee Experts raised follow-up questions on issues such as the alleged keeping of Lebanese prisoners as “bargaining chips”; the situation of disabled persons; the effective control of the occupied territories by Israel and its responsibility to implement the provisions of the International Covenant; the continued renewal of the state of emergency; the frequency of the use of ill-treatment of persons during detention; targeted killing of persons instead of using other options for arrest; the responsibility of Israel concerning settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory; the building of the wall of separation; the kind of investigation undertaken regarding the shooting of peace activists; the reported general tendency of the practice of torture as a consequence of the Intifada; the Government’s policy on torture and the number of complaints of torture since September 2000; the effects of prolonged incommunicado detention; and Israel’s violation of a number of international conventions.
Responding, the Israeli delegation said, referring to the allegation that Israel had derogated article 9 of the Covenant, that the judicial review of administrative detention was effective. The military courts had cancelled or shortened the detention period of individuals who used judicial review procedures. The administrative detainee cannot be prevented from meeting his lawyer.
On the compatibility of anti-terrorism legislation with article 15 of the Covenant, the delegation said that there were no retroactive measures in convicting a terrorist.
In any case when a person who was investigated claimed that moderate physical pressure was used against him by Israeli security agents while interrogating him, complaints were examined and investigated. In rare cases, it was found that moderate physical pressure had been used. Then it was checked whether the conditions of the criminal defence of necessity, which was a worldwide known defence, existed. In all the complaints checked, when it was found that moderate physical pressure was used, it was found that the criminal defence of necessity applied. In other cases, the complaints were found to be unfounded. In no case was it found that interrogators had used means of torture, shaking or any other means causing severe pain or suffering.
A terrorist who was captured on the basis of his knowledge of hidden bombs, for example, had been treated with moderate physical pressure, which resulted in the terrorist’s collaboration in indicating the placement of a bomb before it exploded.
In a country where three suicide bombing were occurring each week, it was difficult to establish exactly the number of victims, the delegation said. However, since September 2000, 830 Israelis had been killed and 5,600 wounded.
Concerning the security fence, the delegation said that it was not intended to establish a political boundary. In order to stop the infiltration of terrorists carrying suicide bombs, Israel had to use such fences as self-defence. The decision to build the fence was taken after all other options were exhausted. Most of the fence was built along the so-called “green line”, and gates were built for farmers to cross to their agricultural lands and for the safe transfer of their goods. Israel had paid compensation for those whose property had been affected by the building of the fence.
The freedom of movement of Palestinians had been curtailed due to the increased activities of suicide bombers, the delegation said. In the past, 120,000 Palestinians used to work in Israel on a daily basis. The Government was now issuing work permits for Palestinians wishing to go and work in Israel.
Those who took a direct part in hostilities were considered as legitimate targets by the security personnel of Israel, the delegation said. The Israeli security service was instructed not to victimize innocent civilians while operating against unlawful combatants.
Responding to the remaining written questions, the delegation said that Israel had taken measures to cooperate with other nations in the campaign against terrorism. In 1994, it had adopted a law on extradition of persons involved in terrorist acts. The fight against terrorism had been Israel’s priority, inflicting severe punishment against those who committed acts of terrorism. A new law had been adopted in 2001 concerning the rights of victims to compensation and redress.
On the use by Israeli Defence Forces of Palestinian civilians as “human shields”, the delegation said that such cases had been properly investigated despite the lack of cooperation by Palestinians. An officer who used Palestinians as a “human shield” had been indicted and convicted. The law prohibited the practice of “human shields”. The use of “human shields” was common by Palestinians in their terrorist acts.
Every effort was made to ease the burden encountered by the Palestinians due to the measures of closure, curfews and checkpoints, the delegation said. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were considered as closed areas by the regional Israeli military commanders.
Israel was expressly established as a democratic State to serve as a Jewish State, homeland for the Jewish people, while at the same time all citizens enjoyed economic, cultural and social rights, the delegation said. Israel’s founders enacted the Law of Return to give formal expression to the return of the Jewish exiles, among other things. Non-Jews were not prevented from immigrating to Israel, nor were there any restrictions on any particular group.
Asked about the Multi-Year Plan for the Development of Arab Sector Communities, the delegation said that the Arab sector enjoyed the same level of State funds allocation as any other sector in Israel; in the Jewish sector, there was a propensity towards high-rise building as the density was higher.
On the revocation of Israeli citizenship, in particular with regard to individuals belonging to the Arab minority, the delegation said that the Law of Citizenship of 1952 authorized the Minister of the Interior to revoke the citizenship of an Israeli citizen whose action was in breach of allegiance to the State of Israel. Any person whose citizenship was revoked accordingly might file a petition to the Supreme Court. To date, only two citizenships had been revoked.
Committee Experts continued to raise follow-up questions addressing issues such as equality of treatment between Jewish and Arab Israelis; the status of non-Jewish persons married to Jewish Israelis; the number of applications per year for family reunion requests; access by disabled persons to buildings and educational facilities; the control of water by Israel and access by Palestinians; detention of migrant workers awaiting expulsion; the level of freedom of association and deportation of migrant labour union leaders; and the participation of the Bedouin and other minorities in Israeli political life.
Responding to the last segment of the questions, the delegation said that detainees in Israel were not held incommunicado, and their whereabouts were known. The detainee’s identity was compiled at a centralized information service, where concerned relatives had access. The right of a defendant to be represented by legal counsel in criminal proceedings had been recognized as fundamental in Israeli law, and thus might be restricted only by explicit statuary authorization.
Concerning the Israeli Military Order No. 132, which reportedly allowed the arrest and detention of Palestinian children aged 12-14 years, the delegation said that the Order put in place special measures for children in that category who were involved in crimes. The sentence handed down against children between 12 and 14 years could not go beyond six months. Children under 12 years old had no criminal responsibilities and they were not targeted by the Order.
Full conscientious objection (pacifism) was recognized and could be invoked by all citizens who proved this pacifism, the delegation said. In certain cases, disciplinary measures against certain objectors might lead to their imprisonment to periods up to 35 days. The Committee said that according to information it received, an increasing number of Israeli soldiers and reservists were being imprisoned for refusing to do military service in the occupied territories.
Responding to a question on family reunification, the delegation said that the Government had suspended the granting of residence permits on the ground of family reunification. The measures were taken for security reasons and a special bill should be passed in order to regulate the situation. In the past, about 100,000 Palestinians from the territories had been granted status in Israel through family reunification. At present, about 16,000 applications for family reunion were pending. The stoppage of granting residence permits did not prohibit Israelis from getting married to foreigners.
Israel and the United Nations did not reach an agreement on the parameters of the mission to Jenin and, therefore, the inquiry was disbanded, the delegation said. The Secretary-General of the UN had asserted that there had been no massacre in Jenin.
There was no civil marriage in Israel, the delegation said.
Israeli Arabs were serving as judges in the judiciary and their number was increasing, the delegation said. An Arab judge was recently appointed to the Supreme Court. The first Bedouin judge was also recently appointed. In the northern areas where many Arabs lived, the number of Arab judges was higher.
The delegation of Israel would provide written responses to the Committee by the beginning of next week.
Committee Chairperson Abdelfattah Amor said that the delegation had performed its work in a very professional manner and it had to be applauded. Once the information in response to the remaining questions had been received, it would be included in the final concluding observations to be drafted by the Experts.
He said that in light of the International Covenant, there was concern about the property rights of individuals. The delegation had provided solid arguments, which were not integrally shared by the Committee. There was divergence between what the delegation said and what the Committee was saying over the course of the discussion.
The questions of torture, human shields and administrative detention were part of the Committee’s concerns. Although the Committee understood the security concerns of Israel, the issue of the wall was something that concerned the Committee. The wall created a division among people. Israel could take measures to make the Middle East a region of faith and peace.
Concluding Remark by Delegation
The head of the delegation said that the policy of the Palestinian Authority to support suicide bombings had prompted Israel to build the security fence. That was also an expression of mistrust. The dialogue with the Committee had augmented the experience of the members of the delegation, who, in their daily work, were upholding human rights, although they did not share some of the Committee’s views.