holding to account

U.N. to review reports of torture carried out by the Palestinian government

The Committee against Torture will convene from July 12-29 to consider reports on torture of civilians and POWs carried out by the Palestinian government

AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks to reporters at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah in June.

For the first time, a United Nations committee focused on addressing torture will scrutinize the actions of the Palestinian Authority and its treatment of those under its care.

The U.N. Committee against Torture (CAT) — a subsidiary of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) — convenes today in Geneva, where it will investigate instances of enforced disappearances, violent interrogations and the holding of the remains of Israeli soldiers, among other issues. In addition to investigating the Palestinian Authority, the committee will also probe Botswana, Nicaragua and the United Arab Emirates.

CAT, which holds broad powers to probe incidents of torture and cruel treatment, is expected to review reports submitted by American, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Coalition Against Torture, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Clinic on International Human Rights and others. 

“We welcome the fact that for the first time ever the Palestinian Authority will come under scrutiny at the United Nations for its record on torture,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, an independent non-governmental organization based in Geneva, told Jewish Insider.

In preparation for the session and in accordance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (from which CAT derives its authority), the Palestinian Authority (PA) was required to submit a report of its current adherence to the convention. 

The PA begins its report by reiterating its territorial claim to the Gaza Strip, with the caveat that it is not responsible for the actions of the Hamas-led government that controls the area. “The Gaza Strip is legally subject to the authority of the State of Palestine and the actions taken by Hamas there since [2007] are inadmissible and illegal in the eyes of the Government of the State of Palestine,” the report reads. 

In response to the claim, Joe Truzman, research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JI, “Hamas rules Gaza, that’s pretty much it.” He continued, “Even though [Palestinian Authority officials] say Gaza is theirs, I think they just… they say it because they want to make it appear that they have power in the enclave, but they don’t — they barely do.”

A July 5 meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh in Algeria, Truzman suggested, might indicate attempts at reconciliation. However, he said, “There’s still a long way to go. There’s a lot of grievances and a lot of obstacles to overcome before that even happens. There are efforts there, but it’s not happening anytime soon.”

As U.N. Watch notes in its alternative report on torture in the Palestinian state — which CAT will also consider — aside from initially placing blame for Gaza’s dire economic problems upon Hamas, the Palestinian report makes no mention of the treatment by Hamas’ or the PA of those within its territory, including Gaza. Instead, the Palestinian report is focused largely on calling out Israel for ill treatment. The report also omits Palestinian human rights abuses, such as the PA’s 2021 assassination of Palestinian human rights activist Nizar Banat.

“Regrettably, the Palestinians’ own report to the U.N. committee seeks to waste its time by attacking Israel, omitting critical information about their own record, when the review is supposed to be about the Palestinians,” said Neuer. “This is a pattern at the U.N. whenever the Palestinians are reviewed, they try to deflect attention from their systematic abuse and oppression of their own people, and their antisemitic policies and practices targeting Israeli Jews.”

Asked about the potential for future investigations of Palestinian human rights abuses, Truzman said, “There’s a huge lack of detail and information on Palestinian abuses…. I still haven’t figured out why. Now, some say, ‘Oh, it’s because the U.N. has an anti-Israel agenda,’ some say, ‘[…]they’re just being lazy.’ It’s tough to say but… it’s just [that] the U.N. has a track record of not doing — I think — their due diligence when it comes to the Palestinian side of the conflict and their potential abuses. So I’m not hopeful to see more of it, just because of their history.”

The PA report was initially due in 2015, but was not submitted until 2019 — a delay not addressed in the report. 

CAT works closely with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), which has a mandate to investigate torture and abuses of human or civil rights on the ground. Because the PA is a party to the Optional Protocol, SPT will have the authority to investigate reports of torture and other abuses on the ground.

CAT’s concluding observations, in which they will outline their recommendations for reform, are expected to be released on or about July 29.

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