PCHR position on collaborators


Ref: 125/2002 Date: 26 October, 2002

The issue of the Palestinian State Security Courts (SSC) has once again come to the fore; on Thursday, 24 October 2002, the SSC sentenced Akram Mohammed Nazhmi al-Zatma, 22, from Rafah, to death by firing squad, after he had been convicted of collaborating with foreign security services to harm the national interest and weaken the resistance spirit of the Palestinian people. Al-Zatma was arrested in August 2002. He was accused of the aforementioned charges and of intentional killing or participating in the killing of Sheikh Salah Shehada; the bombing by the Israeli air force of the al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza on 22 July 2002, which left 16 Palestinian civilians, including 8 children dead. The court acquitted al-Zatma of the charge of intentional killing or participation in killing, but convicted him of the other two charges.

On Saturday, 19 October 2002, the SSC sentenced Amin Ahmed Ibrahim Khalafallah, 31, from Khan Yunis refugee camp, to death by firing squad, following his conviction for collaboration with the Israeli intelligence service. A day before, 18 October 2002, the SSC sentenced Walid Radhi Ibrahim Hamdia, 39, from al-Shojaeya neighborhood in Gaza, to death by firing squad, after he had been also convicted of collaborating with the Israeli intelligence service and killing 5 Palestinians. Both trials were held in the headquarters of the Palestinian General Intelligence in al-Sudania area. They were short and a small number of people, including journalists, were allowed to be present. Khalafallah and Hamdia had been detained by the Palestinian Authority without trial since 17 October 1998 and 25 September 1995 respectively.

In a precedent, the first of its kind since its establishment in 1994, the Palestinian Authority executed two Palestinians by firing squad on 13 January 2001, following their convictions for collaboration with Israel and providing Israeli security services with information that enabled them to arrest and assassinate a number of Palestinian activists. Criticism of those executions by PCHR and other Palestinian human rights organizations raised intense debate, and some used such criticism to incite against the Palestinian human rights movement, claiming that the movement was defending collaborators. This paper seeks to clarify PCHR’s position with regard to the issue of collaborators and the necessity of searching for and bringing them to justice.

Collaborators with the Israeli occupation are an integral part of the occupation’s structure and one of the most effective weapons used by the Israeli military in maintaining the illegal occupation. Collaborators cooperate in and even carry out crimes of the Israeli military, crimes which often constitute war crimes as defined under international humanitarian law. While searching for and bringing to justice Israeli war criminals is an obligation on states party to the Geneva Conventions, searching for and bringing to justice collaborators with the Israeli occupation is a Palestinian duty; this duty must be carried out in strict accordance with international standards on arrest, detention and the right to a fair trial. The Palestinian Authority is fully responsible, and has a right and a duty to carry out this duty within the framework of the law.

The Palestinian human rights movement has continuously criticized the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreements since their ratification seven years ago in a number of respects. In particular, human rights organizations drew attention to the guarantees given by the Palestine Liberation Organization not to search for or arrest collaborators declaring this to have been a major contradiction to the principles of the rule of law and human rights. In this context, article 20(4) of the Agreement on Gaza and Jericho signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1994 provides that “with the assumption of Palestinian authority, the Palestinian side commits itself to solving the problem of those Palestinians who were in contact with the Israeli authorities. Until an agreed solution is found, the Palestinian side undertakes not to prosecute these Palestinians or to harm them in any way.” Similar guarantees were provided for in article 16(2) of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington in 1995, which provides that “Palestinians who have maintained contact with the Israeli authorities will not be subjected to acts of harassment, violence, retribution or prosecution. Appropriate ongoing measures will be taken, in coordination with Israel, in order to ensure their protection.”

PCHR absolutely condemns these guarantees and their implementation by the Palestinian Authority; the failure to bring to justice those who have committed criminal offences stands in contradiction to the rule of law and the right to justice. The failure to search for and bring to justice those guilty of offences, in accordance with international standards on the rights to a fair trial, serves only to hold those persons above the law.

PCHR also firmly asserts that the demand that collaborators be brought to justice necessarily includes the right of all persons accused of an offence to a fair trial. The rights to a fair trial and the right not to be tortured or ill treated in detention form the foundations of a fair and just legal system. Since their establishment in 1995, PCHR has repeatedly criticized the State Security Courts of the Palestinian Authority as failing to reach the minimum international standards on the rights to a fair trial, including the rights to legal counsel, the right to knowledge of the charge, the right of an effective appeal and the right not to be subjected to torture or ill treatment .

The Presidency recently ratified the new Basic Law, the Law of the Judiciary and the Law of the Structure of Courts; none of this legislation provides for the State Security Courts. There is no foundation, including in legislation, for the ongoing use of the State Security Courts. PCHR demands that they be dismantled immediately and that the position of Attorney General of the State Security Courts be abolished.

Furthermore, as a human rights organization, PCHR has, and continues, to campaign against the use of the death penalty which, it clearly asserts is contrary to the fundamental principles of human rights and the rule of law. PCHR counters arguments regarding the efficacy of the death penalty; the increasing levels of violent crime including in those societies which allow for the death penalty, demonstrate that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent against crime. PCHR considers the death penalty to be a grave violation of the right to life.

The call for the abolition of the death penalty in the Palestinian Authority does not negate the demands for fair and appropriate punishment for those convicted in accordance with international standards on the right to a fair trial.

PCHR concludes that suspected collaborators should be investigated and tried in accordance with international standards, including the rights to fair trial, not to be subjected to torture and ill treatment, right to legal counsel and others. PCHR condemns the State Security Courts of the Palestinian Authority as failing to reach even the minimum international standards and demands that they be abolished immediately. PCHR further condemns the use of the death penalty as a punishment in all cases and considers it a grave violation of the fundamental principles of human rights, including the right to life.