Human Rights Defenders in Palestine At Risk

Palestinians pupils and students wait to pass Qalandiya Checkpoint to reach their schools, near the West Bank town of Ramallah December 20, 2005. (MAANnews/Charlotte de Bellabre)

A Front Line delegation, including Front Lne�s Director, Mary Lawlor, is currently in Gaza launching a report on the situation of human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The report, which is written in conjunction with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) examines killings, injury, arbitrary detention and arrests of human rights defenders over the past five years caused by both the Israeli military and by forces with links to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

The report recommends, among other things, that Israel stops treating human rights defenders as terrorists and lifts the regime of checkpoints, closures and curfews which has imposed a siege across the OPT and prevented defenders from carrying out their work.

In the report, Front Line calls for the release of a number of human rights defenders including al Haq fieldworker Ziyad Hmeidan who has been held without charge by Israeli authorities since July 2005.

The delegation is in the area for one week (from Wed 8 - Tuesday 14 February) and will meet with the Central Elections Commission, the UNRWA Gaza field office, the Israeli public Committee Against Torture, and a variety of human rights organisations. In Jerusalem on Monday, 13 February, Front Line will attend a conference for Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders.

Executive Summary

Defending human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) is a complex and dangerous task. The historical, political and legal framework of operation is disputed, although certain key understandings and conclusions can be drawn.

Human rights defenders face the challenging situation of operating to defend human rights violations resulting from the Israeli occupation as well as those committed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

Throughout the Palestinian Intifada the situation for human rights defenders has deteriorated in parallel with the overall human rights situation in the OPT. Human rights defenders have been subjected to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. This is a direct result of the checkpoint, closure and curfew policy imposed across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Further to this, human rights defenders have been subject to violations of the right to life and to injuries sustained in the course of their work.

Human rights defenders have become the victims of mass arrest campaigns and some organisations have been subjected to sustained attacks which have hampered their ability to work effectively in pursuit of the goals enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Underlying all of this is the fact that many violations are state- sanctioned, or if not sanctioned at the highest levels of the Israeli political and military establishment, then condoned by the ongoing policy of impunity which permeates the military and judicial system in relation to the OPT.

This report observes a number of emerging threats against defenders - in particular in relation to the construction of the Wall inside the territory of the West Bank and the unilateral Gaza ‘disengagement’ plan which will place severe limits on the abilities of individuals and organisations to carry out their work inside the OPT.

The Intifada has stripped the PNA of much of its power and authority. The history of the PNA before 29 September 2000 did not bode well for its human rights record or on the level of affording special protection for human rights defenders. The collapse of central authority, combined with international pressure, has ensured that some of the PNA’s human rights violations have been restricted - if not stopped altogether - there remains serious concerns about measures it is taking which are designed to have a domestic and global political impact.

The report makes clear that serious action is required by the Israeli Government, by the international community and also by the Palestinian National Authority. In the absence of such action, the situation for human rights defenders will continue to decline.

To download the full report (PDF) click here.

Related Links

  • Front Line Palestine:
    Killings, Arbitrary Detention, Restrictions on Movement, Threats,
    Harassment and Other Forms of Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders
    in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
    , Frontline/PCHR (February 2005)
  • Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
  • Frontline