The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) will for the first time home in on the actions of the Palestinian Authority. Members of the Geneva-based body, which is a subsidiary of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), were scheduled to meet this week.
The committee will determine whether the P.A. is in compliance with the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and investigate instances of forced disappearances, violent interrogations, the holding of the remains of Israeli soldiers and other issues. The review will also address actions by Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and is routinely accused of torture by international watchdogs.
“Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees held in Palestinian custody in the West Bank and Gaza,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told JNS.
The 10-member CAT is meant to review all parties (174 to date) to the Convention against Torture every four years. However, this will be the first review of the P.A., which signed on to the convention in 2014 despite not being a state.
According to a spokesperson at the Israeli mission to the United Nations in Geneva, CAT reviews are considered quite thorough, marked by demanding questions by committee members. Prior to this year’s session, Ramallah submitted the required compliance report, which nonetheless ignores documented P.A. abuses or deflects blame for them onto Israel.
For example, the June 2021 death in P.A. custody of critic Nizar Banat, which led to a wave of protests in which Palestinian police beat protesters, journalists, civil society activists and lawyers, is completely omitted from the P.A.’s submission to CAT.
The Palestinian Authority, which is a party to other U.N. rights bodies such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), has a habit of skirting responsibility in such forums, according to the spokesperson at the Israeli mission in Geneva.
“They usually take little responsibility and blame Israel and ‘the occupation’ for everything going wrong. CEDAW had, for instance, called them out on this lousy excuse,” the Israeli spokesperson told JNS.
CAT is expected to review additional reports submitted by American, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. These include Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Coalition Against Torture, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Clinic on International Human Rights, among others.
Botswana, Nicaragua and the United Arab Emirates are also set to be reviewed.
In its own report, UN Watch charged that the P.A. and Hamas routinely torture human rights activists, women, members of the LGBT community, political opponents, “collaborators” with Israel, and Palestinians who sell land to Jews. CAT published the UN Watch report on its website. UN Watch representatives were scheduled to present their findings to CAT’s 10-member committee during a private briefing for human rights groups this week.
The UN Watch report details numerous instances of torture by the Palestinian Authority, including a 2021 series of arrests of activists and students who were taken to an infamous Jericho prison and severely abused. UN Watch also noted examples of P.A. torture of those accused of “collaborating” with Israel, including beatings, the pulling out of teeth and sexual abuse.
The report also cited the life sentence handed down in 2018 to American-Palestinian Isaam Akel for violating the P.A. law prohibiting land sales to Jews. Akel’s sentence for selling his Jerusalem property included hard labor. A U.S. official who visited Akel in prison confirmed that he had been put in isolation and tortured.
“We trust that our collection of evidence and harrowing testimonies will assist the UN committee experts when they review whether the P.A. has followed through on its promises to eradicate the use of torture,” said UN Watch’s Neuer, who called on the Palestinian envoy to Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, to come clean about the P.A.’s regular use of torture.
CAT’s conclusions, which will include recommendations for reforms, are due later this month. PJC