Israel: Human Rights Committee Expresses Several Concerns in its Concluding Observations

On 20 October 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) considered Israel's fourth periodic report. On this occasion, important issues were discussed, leading the HRC to issue its Concluding observations and recommendations to be implemented by Israel over the next four years.

While the HRC welcomed some of the positive steps taken by Israel, such as the transfer of the function of Inspector for Complaints against Interrogators of the Israel Security Agency (ISA, known as the Shin bet) to the Ministry of Justice, and the establishment of a joint inter-ministerial team tasked with reviewing and implementing the treaty bodies 'concluding observations, the Committee raised numerous concerns and issued 35 recommendations.

As already mentioned during Israel's review, the HRC remained concerned over the Israeli policies of discrimination against Palestinians, especially in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Also subject of considerable criticism were Israel's house demolition as a punitive measure, Israel's plans to relocate Bedouins, as well as the increasing confiscation and appropriation of Palestinian land and natural resources and the restrictions on freedom of movement. Finally, the Committee invited the State party to investigate "effectively, independently and impartially" all the human rights violations committed during its three military operations in the Gaza strip since 2009.

Central to the HRC's attention was Israel's interpretation of the applicability of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee regretted that "the State party continues to maintain its position on the non-applicability of the Covenant to the Occupied Territories, by claiming the Covenant is a territorially bound treaty and does not apply with respect to individuals under its jurisdiction, but outside its territory," and called upon Israel to "interpret the Covenant in good faith". In that sense, the HRC emphasised that the Covenant was applicable all conducts by Israel's authorities or agents "regardless of the location". Additionally, the Committee recalled "that the applicability of international humanitarian law during an armed conflict, as well as in a situation of occupation, does not preclude the application of the Covenant."

Israel was also requested to prevent the excessive use of lethal force by its security forces, in particular the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) during law enforcement operations against civilians. The Committee remained concerned about the "weak" accountability of IDF agents for incidents involving fatalities in the West Bank, despite the announcement of new policies by the Military Advocate General in 2011, according to which criminal investigations would be automatically opened into such acts.

As for administrative detention, the Committee called upon Israel to put an immediate end to this practice, and raised particular concern over the fact that detention orders were based on secret evidence in proceedings and over the denial of access to a counsel, independent doctors and relatives. The Committee finally requested Israel to ensure that individuals subject to administrative detention orders be promptly charged with a criminal offence or released.

The UN experts remained also concerned about the fact that no crime of torture had been incorporated into the State party's legislation, and reiterated their concerns that the "defence of necessity" continued to be legal and was used as a "possible justification for torture". The fact that the Supreme Court implicitly allowed the use of so-called "moderate physical pressure" was also pointed out as a matter of concern. The Committee further noted that the ill-treatment of Palestinian children was "widespread, systematic and institutionalised," and needed to be eradicated, and that "prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations" should be carried out where allegations had been made, including in cases involving the Israeli Security Agency.

Finally, while the Committee noted some positive developments in relation to the juvenile military justice, such as "the increase in the age of majority in the military courts from 16 to 18 years and the adoption of a number of military orders providing for guarantees and safeguards for children," the UN experts claimed that "Palestinian children are still exposed to arbitrary arrest and detention and often do not enjoy full procedural rights." The State party was thus invited to ensure that any arrest and detention of a child be in conformity with the dispositions of the Covenant.

Israel is to provide to the Committee within one year with information as per the implementation of the HRC's priority recommendations regarding, among others, the definition and practice of torture and juvenile military justice. Whilst Israel is to submit its next periodic report in 2018, Alkarama will continue, in the meantime, to follow-up closely on the recommendations issued by the HRC and their effective implementation by Israel.

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