Rights orgs withdraw petition in protest of Israeli court decision

Today [24 March 2009], three human rights organizations, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel withdrew a principle petition that they submitted to the [Israeli] High Court of Justice (HCJ). This was done in protest of the Court’s unprecedented and invalid majority decision by the nine judge panel to base their decision on the constitutionality of a law on secret evidence presented by Israel’s General Security Service (GSS) and heard ex-parte, in the absence of the petitioners.

The petitioning organizations explained that the Court’s decision has no legal basis and is in contradiction to previous HCJ judgments. The organizations pointed out that this decision sets a dangerous precedent which significantly harms future possibilities for judicial review of laws that violate human rights.

The law against which the organizations petitioned is the “Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Powers - Detention) (Detainee Suspected of Security Offense) (Temporary Order) 2006.” It was legislated as a temporary order for 18 months but was extended for an additional three years in December 2007. The Ministry of Justice apparently intends to turn it into a permanent law. The law permits the detention of suspects for 96 hours without judicial oversight (compared to 24 hours, or 48 hours, in cases of other detainees), the possibility of extending the suspects detention in their absence, and without allowing them to defend themselves, and even the withholding of information on whether the detention was extended or shortened. These violations add to a series of violations of suspect rights that existed prior to the legislation being challenged. The organizations warned that if this law is not canceled the individual’s freedom will continue to be able to be revoked, in the first stage, with no judicial review and at the second stage without hearing the suspect or seeing him and with no opportunity for counsel to make an effective argument in the detainee’s defense. Furthermore, implored the organizations, this law leaves too wide an opening for the detainee to be tortured.

Despite the damaging consequences of this law, of which even the State acknowledges its severity, the organizations decided to withdraw the petition and announce their decision in the course of the hearing. This is because of the unprecedented decision by the Court to decide on the constitutionality of a law based on information privy only to the GSS and withheld from the petitioners and from the public. The organizations’ representatives announced in front of the judges that they cannot be parties to such an improper legal process in which the constitutionality of a law that violates human rights is deliberated based on classified evidence.