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International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

In the absence of accountability & justice, torture against Palestinians continues unabated

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26 June 2021 |Reference 63/2021

On this day in 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), one of the key instruments in fighting torture, entered into force. To mark this historic date, the UN General Assembly designated June 26 of each year as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.


Every year on this day, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights seizes the opportunity to highlight the numerous practices and policies by the Israeli and, to a lesser extent, Palestinian authorities that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (CIDTP) under international law. Throughout the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), particularly in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians experience significant exposure to torture and CIDTP because of  the persistent absence of adequate protection mechanisms, the prevalence of Israel’s culture of impunity, and the inability of Palestinian victims to access justice due to the legal and judicial obstacles enforced by the Israeli authorities.


Being one of the most universally recognized human rights, the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of international law regarded as jus cogens, which places an erga omnes obligation on the international community to refrain from such acts and to prosecute perpetrators. Accordingly, any form of torture is absolutely banned under all relevant international legal instruments, with UNCAT expressly requiring states to incorporate its prohibition into their domestic legislation.


Yet, despite having ratified UNCAT in 1991, to date Israel has not passed any domestic legislation criminalizing torture. Further, a 1999 decision by the Israeli Supreme Court allows interrogators who have used techniques amounting to torture and ill-treatment to be protected from indictment in ‘ticking bomb’ cases under the ‘necessity defense’ clause of Israel’s penal code.[1]  By doing so, Israeli legislation not only gives state agents free rein to inflict forms of torture on Palestinians, but also allows Israeli courts to hand down sentences based on evidence and confessions obtained from Palestinian suspects, prisoners or detainees through torture or CIDTP. Clearly, such practices also violate the rights to due process and a fair trial enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of Article 2 of UNCAT.


Along with violations of the human rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, other Israeli practices and policies clearly amounting to a form of torture and CIDTP are those implemented against Palestinian patients in the Gaza Strip in need of medical treatments not available in Gaza due to Israel’s 14-year illegal closure. All medical patients from Gaza who are referred to hospitals in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, must pass through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing upon obtaining an exit-permit issued by Israeli authorities following a complex, discriminatory process that imposes unlawful preconditions on urgent and lifesaving treatment for thousands of Palestinians. In addition to long delays in the permit procedure, even when successful, Israel routinely places Palestinian patients and their companions under arbitrary arrest at the Erez crossing.


Similarly, years of systematic and unwarranted attacks and abuses—including the use of lethal and other excessive force, arbitrary arrest, confiscation and destruction of properties—against farmers and fishers in the so called ‘access restricted areas’ have placed these two categories among the poorest and most vulnerable in the Gaza Strip. The following testimony of a 27-year-old fisherman is one of the many affidavits collected by Al Mezan over the years showing the torture and CIDTP to which arrested and detained Palestinian fishers are subjected while in Israeli custody:


We were fishing off the coast of North Gaza when our boat suddenly stopped. The Israeli navy had opened fire on us, then heavily sprayed our boat with skunk [referring to a toxic, putrid smelling spray]. An Israeli navy boat then bumped into ours, which made me fall into the water. However, the gunfire did not stop and I was hit by live bullets in the hands. I almost drowned, but the Israeli soldiers pulled me out and moved me to their boat where they forced me to remove my clothes before proceeding to beat me all over my body. I was continuously punched and kicked for almost two minutes. The other fishermen and I were then detained at Ashdod port in Israel for questioning. 


While the State of Palestine ratified the UNCAT in April , the provisions of the Convention have not been incorporated into Palestinian law, and torture remains a widespread practice in the oPt as evident in the death of the Palestinian political activist and PLC candidate, Mr. Nizar Banat, who died in custody of the Palestinian Authority upon his arrest on Thursday, 24 June. Such incident calls for a thorough investigation into treatment of political dissidents in the State of Palestine, and for urgent establishment of an independent National Preventive Mechanism to conduct inspections in detention facilities and closed environments as stipulated by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, to which the State of Palestine is also a party.  


While marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Al Mezan extends its solidarity to victims of torture across the globe. On this day, Al Mezan also deplores the incessant suffering of the Palestinian people due to Israeli practices amounting to torture and CIDTP that continue unabated, and recalls that it is the absence of protection mechanisms and the impunity granted to Israel by the international community that has encouraged such practices to be further embedded in Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. Accordingly, Al Mezan calls on the international community, as well as on international organizations, to take concrete steps to put pressure on Israel so that it finally incorporates the absolute prohibition of torture into its legislation and guarantee redress for victims.


Similarly, Al Mezan calls on all competent Palestinian authorities to comprehensively review and amend all relevant laws in order to ensure their compliance with Palestine’s international obligations, notably those stemming from the UNCAT and its Optional Protocol. To this end, all legislative, judicial, and administrative measures must be taken to ensure that torture is criminalized. An independent national mechanism against torture must also be established.


[1] HCJ 5100/94, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. the State of Israel