With the participation of civil society organizations, representatives of military judiciary, public prosecution, public figures, academics and journalists, on Tuesday morning, 10 October 2017, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Gaza organized a panel discussion titled as, “Death Penalty Breaches in 2017.” The panel was held in Laterna Restaurant Hall in the center of Gaza City.
Hamdi Shaqqoura, PCHR’s Deputy Director for Program Affairs, opened the discussion, which he said coincided with the World Day against Death Penalty and the positive atmosphere prevailing the Palestinian reconciliation. Shaqqoura hoped that this atmosphere will reflect well on respecting human rights, including the right to life. Shaqqoura also said that there is a universal trend towards the abolition of this penalty, calling upon the Palestinian leadership to accede the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
During his intervention, Raji Sourani, PCHR’s Director, said that the Palestinian human rights organizations have a philosophical perspective to this cruel penalty. The human rights organizations’ rejectionist position of this penalty is because it violates the right to life and irreversible and irreparable as well. Sourani added that this penalty in itself is not deterrent and that imprisonment is way more deterrent. Sourani proved his words by saying that 4 different countries with different ideologies (Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and United States) apply this penalty, but the crime rate in these countries has never not declined. Sourani also called upon the Palestinian leadership to accede the 1989 Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Issam Younis, Director of al-Mizan Cenetr for Human Rights, had an intervention during which he stressed that death penalty is not deterrent as many international studies proved the crime rate in countries applying death penalty did not decline. Younis underscored that the human rights organizations refuse to apply this penalty for many reasons. Among them, penalty cannot be imposed without a fair trial, which our courts currently lack, and the trials should undergo strict standards; the last of which filing a mercy petition to the President, who is the highest authority. Younis stressed that death penalty neither can nor may be applied without the President’s ratification, as it happens in Gaza, calling upon the competent authorities not to be sidetracked by the public pressure to apply this penalty.
Jamil Sarhan, ICHR’s Deputy Director in the Gaza Strip, emphasized that experience strengthens the conviction that death penalty cannot lead to decreasing the crime or correct the legal mistakes committed against some of those who have been punished. Sarhan criticizes the absence of the right to litigation guarantees before the courts, including the military courts, violating persons’ right to litigation before their natural judge. Sarhan added that the military judiciary is competent only if 3 conditions were met; 1. The person should be military and on top of his work; 2. The crime is military and relevant to military discipline and 3. The crime was committed within a military zone and while on duty. Sarhan also said that those who were executed claimed they were tortured and that he himself witnessed one of those cases when he found signs of torture on a victim’s body.
In light of the discussions and the steadfast position of the human rights organizations organizing this panel discussion, the organizations call upon the officials and decision-makers in the Palestinian Authority (PA), particularly in light of the latest development on ending the division and unifying the 3 authorities between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and:
- call for immediate suspension of death penalty in the occupied Palestinian territory;
- call for respecting the Criminal Procedure Code and abide by the fair trial guarantees, particularly the right to defense;
- call for not referring civilians or civil cases to the military judiciary, stressing each person should appear before his natural judge;
- Call upon the Palestinian President to accede the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;
- demand prohibiting torture and prosecute its perpetrators, considering any confession obtained under torture inadmissible; and
- Calling for stopping referring drugs cases to the military judiciary or applying death penalty against those convicted in such cases as this is in clear violation of the domestic law and international, standards.