Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) views with grave concern the announcement of impending execution of death sentences by the authorities in the Gaza Strip. If carried out, these executions will be done without the approval of the president of the Palestinian Authority as stipulated in Palestinian law. According to several statements by political leaders affiliated with the Hamas-led authorities, the execution of several persons who have been sentenced to death by courts in Gaza is expected soon. On Wednesday, 25 May 2016, the Change and Reform Bloc, which is made up of Hamas parliamentarians, published a statement on their social media announcing the imminent upcoming executions, which caused a great concern.
In its statement, the Hamas-led Bloc states that “after deliberations conducted by the Council in light of recent recurrence of crimes in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Legislative Council decided to consider all death sentences that have been issued by courts in accordance with the standards of fair trial and which have exhausted the full appeal procedures, are considered enforceable judgments to be executed” (unofficial translation by Al Mezan).
If implemented, this decision will be an unprecedented, grave violation of the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms in the Gaza Strip. It violates article (109) of Palestinian Basic Law, which states "death sentence pronounced by any court may not be implemented unless ratified by the President of the Palestinian National Authority."
Article (409) of the Palestinian Penal Procedures Law states that "[T]he death sentence shall not be executed without the ratification of the President of the State".
Moreover, the Attorney General and/or prosecutors may not observe the execution of death sentences unless they are ratified by the president. According to article (410) of the same law, "[The Attorney General, or a representative that he/she delegates, shall supervise over the execution of ratified death sentences" (emphasis added).
In a yet graver infringement on the law and ethical standards, there have been repeated calls demanding executing death sentences in public places, which, if carried out, would represent a serious violation of article (418) of the Palestinian Penal Procedures Law No. 3 of 2001, which dictates that executing death sentences must take place inside rehabilitation centers (prisons) in order to preserve the dignity of the convicted person and his/her family.
Al Mezan asserts that, instead of using harsh punishment, the best way to ensure security and reduce crime, is to make an honest, effective effort to improve the socioeconomic conditions and eradicate endemic, extreme poverty. Nothing can prevent the recurrence of crime without dealing with the root causes that stand behind it.
The protection of public security, including through deterrent punishment against serious crimes, is significant. Nevertheless, Al Mezan reasserts its principled opposition to death penalty and calls for its abolition in Palestine altogether. Until then, human rights standards dictate that death penalty must be extremely limited to the most serious crimes and be governed by a full, fair legal process that guarantees the rights and the dignity of every person. The authorities must give sufficient time after a court rules on a death sentence and not rush into executing it, and ensure implementation of the other restrictive requirements, such as the ratification of the president – a requirement that was passed into a law in a vote by the Palestinian Legislative Council, at the time when the Hamas-led Bloc constituted the majority in the Council, directly after Palestinian political split began, as evidenced in article (96) of the Military Law No. 4 of 2008.
The argument by Hamas Bloc that the presidential ratification is no longer valid on the ground that the president's term in office has expired, and therefore executions can be carried out without it, is in fact an invalid argument, since the same applied to the Bloc itself, whose term in office has similarly expired during the past years of political split. Yet, the law has not changed, and it is dangerous to assume legal powers of such implications based on an invalid argument. Therefore, the decision of the Hamas-led Bloc has no legal effect.
It is rather concerning that the recent debate was sparked by crimes that provoked public opinion, yet have still been under investigation. The above-mentioned statements seem to have been prompted by leaked information about the investigations into these serious crimes, which in itself is an infringement on the law, and must not guide such a significant public debate on such an important matter as death penalty.
While strongly condemning the heinous crimes recently committed in Gaza and calling for a full legal process to prosecute and punish them, Al Mezan calls on the authorities to refrain from rushing the execution of death sentences without presidential ratification. Al Mezan warns that such execution of death sentences will represent an unlawful practice of extra-judicial execution – a crime punishable both domestically and internationally.
In light of this, Al Mezan emphasizes that death penalty does not, and will not, deter crime. It is cruel, inhumane and degrading to all people. Al Mezan calls for an immediate halt of all executions of death penalty as a first step toward abolishing the practice completely through legislative reform, which must be part of the efforts to achieve Palestinian internal reconciliation.