UN Human Rights Committee: “Revoke new ban on family reunification law”

On 6 August 2003, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (“the Committee”) issued its Concluding Observations, after reviewing Israel’s Second Periodic Report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee emphasized 13 key points regarding Israel’s violations of ICCPR rights of Arab citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Israel is a State Party to the ICCPR, and as such, Israel has undertaken to protect and uphold the rights enshrined in this international human rights treaty.

Adalah General Director, Attorney Hassan Jabareen and Adalah Staff Attorney Gadeer Nicola presented Adalah’s reports and participated in the Committee’s sessions in Geneva on 24-25 July 2003, which reviewed Israel’s compliance with the ICCPR. Adalah’s reports to the Committee included information on: (1) Israel’s increasing use of state of emergency laws against Arab leaders and political activists; (2) the Israeli army’s use of Palestinian civilians as human shields; (3) family unification and citizenship; and (4) the state’s failure to implement laws ensuring the fair representation of Arab citizens of Israel in governmental bodies. Additional information on social and economic rights, education rights, and land and housing rights, prepared by Adalah in May 2003 for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, was also provided. These new reports supplemented Adalah’s October 2002 submission to the Committee that focused on the increasing legitimization of racism; restrictions on political participation; discriminatory laws and policies concerning the family and children; discrimination against Palestinian women citizens of Israel; and the absence of equality/minority rights. The Committee related to many of the issues raised in Adalah’s reports in its Concluding Observations.

Numerous other Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights NGOs presented reports and participated in the Committee’s July 2003 sessions including the Association of Forty, the Public Committee Against Torture, Al-Haq, LAW, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The Israeli delegation was headed by the Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Yaacov Levy, and included seven attorneys from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by Mr. Shai Nitzan of the Attorney General’s Office.

Concluding Observations

In its Concluding Observations, the Committee emphasized the following 13 principal subjects of concern and recommendations regarding Israel’s violations of ICCPR rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories:

* Israel should “revoke” the new law banning family unification for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens, which raises serious issues under articles 17, 23 and 26 of the Covenant and “reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents.”
* Israel should take necessary action “to investigate, prosecute and punish” “public pronouncements made by several prominent Israeli personalities” in relation to Arab citizens of the state, which “may constitute advocacy of racial and religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.” *
* Israel should “ensure that any changes to citizenship legislation,” referring with specific concern to the law enabling the revocation of Israeli citizenship of Arab citizens of Israel, are in conformity with article 24 of the Covenant. *
* The “vagueness of definitions,” “the ambiguous wording of the provisions,” and “several evidentiary presumptions” in Israeli counter-terrorism legislation and regulations (e.g., The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance - 1948) appear to run counter to the principle of legality, with adverse consequences on defendants’ rights as protected under article 15 of the Covenant. *
* The sweeping nature of the government’s state of emergency powers violates Article 4 of the Covenant. Derogations may only be specified “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.” *
* The use of prolonged detention without access to counsel violates Articles 7, 9, 10 and 14(3)(b) of the Covenant. The Committee urged Israel to “ensure that no one is held for more than 48 hours without access to a lawyer.” *
* Israel should “adopt targeted measures with a view to improving participation of Arab Israeli women in the public sector and accelerating progress towards equality.” *
* The ICCPR applies to the Occupied Territories and “falls within the ambit of state responsibility of Israel under the principles of public international law.” Israel should submit information “regarding the application of the Covenant in the Occupied Territories resulting from its activities therein.” *
* Israel should not use “ ‘targeted killings’ as a deterrent or punishment” in the Occupied Territories. “All measures to arrest a person suspected of being in the course of committing acts of terror must be exhausted in order to avoid resorting to the use of deadly force.” *
* Israel should “cease” property and home demolitions in the Occupied Territories, as these practices “contravene the obligations” of Israel under Articles 7, 12, 17, and 26. *
* Israel should “discontinue” the practice of using Palestinian civilians as “volunteers” or “human shields” during military operations, which often result in the arbitrary deprivation of life, a violation of Article 6 of the Covenant. *
* Israel should review its recourse to the “necessity defense argument,” which is not recognized by the ICCPR but is often invoked as a justification for GSS actions in the course of investigations. Israel should “ensure that alleged instances of ill-treatment and torture are vigorously investigated by independent mechanisms, and that those responsible for such actions are prosecuted.” *
* Israel should “stop the construction of a ‘Seam Zone’ ” within the Occupied Territories. The wide-ranging restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by the ‘fence’ or the ‘wall’ are incompatible with Article 12 of the Covenant.

Highlights of Adalah’s July 2003 Reports

State of Emergency. Israel has remained under a declared state of emergency for the past 55 years. Israel has used the state of emergency to grant sweeping powers to government officials, and to legitimize unjustified and unnecessary derogations from various international human rights covenants and peremptory norms of due process. Rather than being of a “temporary and exceptional nature,” the tens of emergency laws and regulations still in use have become an integral part of the Israeli legal system. Adalah argued that Israel is increasingly relying on emergency laws to suppress political dissent against government policies voiced by Arab political leaders and activists in Israel. Recent examples include the imposition of foreign travel bans, the use of administrative detention, an attempt to close a newspaper, and the filing of indictments under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance -1948 and the Defense (Emergency) Regulations - 1945. The government’s actions constitute a severe and excessive infringement of protected rights, which cannot be justified under the exigencies of the declared state of emergency. Israel’s “normalized” state of emergency not only threatens the rights of the Palestinian minority, but also limits the possibility of a democratic regime for all citizens.

Human Shields. During al-Aqsa Intifada, the Israeli army has used Palestinian civilians as human shields and/or hostages during military operations. In May 2002, Adalah submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel in its own name and on behalf of six other Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs demanding that the army stop using this practice. The Court issued an injunction in August 2002, after a young man who was being used as human shield was killed in the course of the operation. In December 2002, the Israeli army issued a new “prior warning” order, whereby Palestinian civilians may be used as “assistants” if they agree to the request and the military commander determines that there is no danger to the civilian. The Supreme Court has permitted the army to act in accordance with this order, despite serious questions concerning its legality. Adalah argued that both practices, with or without “the consent” of the civilian, violate the right to life, physical integrity, and dignity - Articles 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, and 51 of the Geneva Convention (IV) (1949); Articles 51, 57 and 58 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (1977); as well as Articles 45, 46, and 50 of the Hague Regulations (1907). Furthermore, these military procedures amount to a grave breach of the Geneva Convention (IV), pursuant to Article 147, and thus, constitute a war crime. The case is still pending.

Family Unification and Citizenship. Family Unification: In May 2002, the Israeli government unanimously passed Decision 1813 that effectively banned Palestinian spouses married to Israeli citizens from obtaining citizenship and/or residency in Israel. Palestinian citizens of Israel are the Israeli citizens who marry Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. The general policy of gradual naturalization for all other “foreign spouses” of Israeli citizens remained unchanged. On 4 June 2003, the Israeli government introduced new legislation in the Knesset that would enshrine Government Decision No. 1813 into statute. The proposed law will affect thousands of couples and their children, forcing families to separate or to leave the country. The government justifies the need for these measures on security grounds. Adalah argued that the proposed bill severely violates the fundamental rights of individuals to equality, liberty, privacy and family life, as it limits the ability of Israeli citizens’, namely Palestinian citizens of Israel, to exercise these rights based on the ethnicity of their spouses. All international human rights treaties to which Israel is a party, including the ICCPR, prohibit discrimination on this basis. Adalah also argued that the sweeping measures proposed are disproportionate to the security concerns alleged, and amount to collective punishment. Revocation of Citizenship: In September 2002, the Interior Minister signed a decree revoking the citizenship of two Palestinian citizens of Israel. These unprecedented decisions make at least one of the individual’s stateless. The procedure to revoke citizenship is detailed in subsection (b) and (c) of Article 11 of the Nationality Law -1952. While the Supreme Court has the power to overturn the Interior Minister’s decision, Israeli citizens subject to citizenship revocation have no international legal remedy, as Israel has not signed the ICCPR’s Optional Protocol I.

No Fair Representation in Governmental Bodies. Civil Service Workforce: According to official 2002 statistics, although Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise close to 20% of the total population, they make up only 6.1% of the civil service workforce. Palestinian women citizens of Israel comprise only 2%. Since the enactment of the new amendment to Civil Service Appointments Law (1959, as amended in 2000) that guarantees fair representation in civil service employment to “the Arab population,” the percentage increase in Palestinian citizen workers in the civil service (in 2001 and 2002) amounts to only 0.4%. Government Companies: Legislative amendments in 1993 and 2000 to the Government Companies Law (1975) create an obligation on the state to ensure that women in general, and Arab citizens of Israel in particular are fairly represented on the boards of directors of governmental companies bodies. However, according to official 2003 figures, Arab citizens of Israel - women and men - comprise less than 5.9% of the total number of directors. Palestinian women citizens of Israel comprise only 1%. Adalah argued that even after Supreme Court litigation on this issue, Israel has failed to take significant steps towards implementing these laws.