The Palestinian Centre for Human
Rights (PCHR) is deeply concerned regarding the series of attacks currently
underway against human rights organizations based in Israel. PCHR expresses its
full support for all organizations engaged in the fight to combat impunity and
uphold the rule of law.
The latest Israeli campaign against
human rights defenders was triggered by a report issued in April by a radical
Zionist group called IM Tirtzu – The Second Zionist Revolution, which focused
on universal jurisdiction cases brought against senior Israeli officials
suspected of committing war crimes.
The report, now available in Arabic
and in English, is in fact a poorly researched document which is inaccurate,
mixes and confuses information, and ultimately misrepresents the overall
situation. The document, which lacks any juridical notion and any concrete
basis is clearly issued as a propaganda exercise intended to target every
organization currently dealing with human rights in Israel.
The effort to silence those who
denounce the commission of human rights and international law violations in
Israel is evident in the new draft bill that was submitted on the 28 of April by 19
members of the Knesset to amend the Israeli Law of Associations. The proposed
legislation aims at preventing the registration of a NGO, or shutting
down an already registered one, if “there is reasonable basis to conclude that
the organization is providing information to foreign bodies or is involved in
lawsuits abroad against senior officials in the government in Israel and/or officers
in the Israeli army regarding war crimes”. It should be noted that universal
jurisdiction proceedings have been taken against one of the signatories of the
bill, Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shabak (the Israeli Intelligence
Service). This proposed legislation is clearly a move intended to shield those
suspected of violating international law from justice.
As it was emphasized by Adalah, only
a state that commits prohibited acts would be interested in such legislation.
On the contrary, a state that is
committed to rule of law would adhere to its international obligations, and
open an independent, impartial, genuine investigations to seriously investigate
the numerous allegation of breaches of international humanitarian and human
rights law committed by the Israeli armed forces against the Palestinian
population, especially during last year’s offensive on Gaza of December
Notwithstanding the fact that
serious violations of international law and alleged crimes committed by the Israeli forces have
been widely documented, and that the conclusions of the UN fact finding mission
on the Gaza Conflict (the Goldstone report) internationally endorsed inter
alia by the UN General Assembly, the
Human Rights Council and the European Parliament, Israel still has not opened
any genuine investigation.
In fact, as PCHR has thoroughly
explained in a recent report (see ‘Genuinely unwilling’), the Israeli system is designed to
shield those suspected of violating international law from justice. Under the
current system, genuine investigations, conducted in accordance with
international standards, are an impossibility.
PCHR remind that recourse to
universal jurisdiction is only necessary and possible when genuine domestic
investigations and prosecutions are not forthcoming. If Israel fulfilled its
international obligations, recourse to such mechanisms would be unnecessary.
PCHR emphasize that universal
jurisdiction is a legitimate, long-standing legal tool. It is an essential
component of international justice, and seeks to ensure that those responsible
for the most serious crimes – crimes that shock the conscience of humanity –
are held to account.
Universal jurisdiction has developed
in international criminal law precisely to deal with the commission of the most
serious crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, which are
subject to a high risk of impunity, given that such crimes are normally ‘state
crimes’ involving the apparatus of the State: When the very government officials
and the senior echelons of the military apparatus are involved in the decisions
which are at the basis of the commission of the crimes it is very difficult to
bring the suspected criminals to justice in domestic courts.
PCHR strongly reiterates that as long
as individuals and States are granted impunity they will continue to violate
international law. Universal jurisdiction is an essential and legitimate tool
in the fight against impunity: it is a self-evident truth that if international
law is to be respected, it must be enforced.
We are proud of being one of the
actors that are struggling to uphold the rule of law and will keep working hard
to defend our clients: innocent
civilians who continue to suffer the horrific consequences of the violation and
disregard of the most basic principles of international law.
Link to PCHR “The Principle and
Practice of Universal Jurisdiction”