Report: Torture rampant in Palestinian prisons

Today Al-Haq, as a Palestinian human rights organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), is releasing its report, “Torturing Each Other: The Widespread Practices of Arbitrary Detention and Torture in the Palestinian Territory.” This report documents and analyzes arbitrary arrests, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against individuals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by various Palestinian security or military agencies and personnel. These illegal practices have had a horrific physical and psychological effect on hundreds of Palestinian citizens and the society at large.

In the wake of Friday’s explosion in Gaza that killed six people and injured tens more, Al-Haq is again reminded of the importance and timing of this report. The ensuing arrests of Fatah-affiliated individuals and attacks on Fatah buildings and offices in Gaza over the weekend, which were then followed by widespread arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank, are evidence that the political infighting that has sparked the growing use of torture and ill-treatment of detainees has not waned. In this moment, Al-Haq therefore calls upon the authorities and security forces in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to refrain from exacting revenge on these detained individuals, to release those who have been arrested arbitrarily and to properly monitor the treatment of all detainees under their control. The alternative would be to further deepen the pain and instability within Palestinian society that has resulted partly from the growing use of torture and ill-treatment by these groups over the past year.

Ever since the de facto Hamas authority seized control of the Gaza Strip and the OPT became effectively divided along authority and territorial lines, Al-Haq has diligently monitored and documented the outbreak of the use of torture within the OPT. By taking sworn statements from victims, eyewitnesses, lawyers, families and others, we have monitored the situation inside prisons and detention centers in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and in evaluating our findings, have discovered a host of unsettling and unacceptable facts.

Al-Haq has found that the use of torture is driven primarily by political interests within the fractured political context of the OPT, and most often as a form of revenge against perceived political enemies. In the past year alone, Al-Haq has taken more than 150 sworn statements and documented over 2000 arrests in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This documentation confirms that the use of torture and ill-treatment against detainees has clearly become a widespread trend. And while there are some discrepancies between the intensity and rate of these practices in different areas, this trend prevails throughout the entire OPT.

In the immediate aftermath of the creation of the de facto Hamas authority in the Gaza Strip, when political tension was most severe and peace most fragile, virtually all security groups in the West Bank shared in arresting, and then using torture or ill-treatment against, Hamas-affiliated targets. Although after the first three months many of these groups stopped these practices, torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrests continued to be used by the General Intelligence Service and the Preventative Security Force. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, the Executive Force and the Hamas-affiliated Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades were using similar tactics against Fatah targets. The practices have been vicious and inhuman, even leading to the deaths of at least three detainees in the Gaza Strip and one in the West Bank. As Al-Haq reports in detail, they are all in violation of Palestinian law, human rights law and the basic standards of humanity as embodied in international law.

This widespread use of torture to terrorize, extract information from, and intimidate perceived political enemies within the OPT decreased in intensity by the end of 2007 and early 2008, but it still continues today. New trends have included an increase in psychological torture, an increase in arbitrary arrests, and arrests and detention carried out in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law and penal procedural laws. And while government officials have pledged to bring the security forces into line with the law and punish those responsible, the reality on the ground remains bleak. By not taking action against the perpetrators, and in the absence of legitimate and sustained monitoring — internally and externally — of their security forces, these officials are encouraging these illegal practices.

With this report, Al-Haq hopes to highlight and expose this horrifying and blatantly illegal trend, and to bring to light an aspect of Palestinian life that is spreading fear amongst the population and undermining the legitimacy of the authorities throughout the OPT. Most importantly, Al-Haq calls upon the respective Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to put an end to arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment of detainees and to punish those responsible. Finally, Al-Haq would like to thank all those who shared their stories for their courage in speaking out against these abhorrent practices.

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