On Monday, 19 December 2016, Palestinian police officers dispersed a sit-in organized by 4 Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), who resorted to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), following the Palestinian President’s decision to lift their immunity due to accusations of corruption, arms trade and defamation.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) warns of the consequences of the executive authority’s interference into the PLC members’ affairs. PCHR also emphasizes that selective accountability is unfair, and fighting corruption should not focus only on the opponents. PCHR reiterates its reservation over the Constitutional Court’s decision to grant the President the exclusive power to lift PLC Members’ immunity. This undermines the independence and freedom of the PLC Members, noting that the PLC has been already disrupted since the Palestinian division.
According to PCHR’s follow-up, on 12 December 2016, Hassan al-‘Oari, Legal Advisor to the Palestinian President, emphasized the Palestinian President’s decision to lift immunity of five PLC Members from the Fatah Parliamentary Bloc namely, Mohammed Dahlan; Shami al-Shami; Najat Abu Baker; Naser Jom’aah and Jamal al-Tirawi. This step came after the advisory opinion was taken by the Constitutional Court on 06 November 2016, when the Court upheld the Palestinian President’s right to issue a presidential decree to lift immunity of PLC Members according to his powers ensured in Article 43 of the Palestinian Basic Law (PBL).
On 14 December 2016, the Palestinian Corruption Crime Tribunal issued a sentence in absentia against PLC Member Mohammed Dahlan to 3-year imprisonment and returning US$ 16 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) treasury. The Court convicted Dahlan of embezzling this amount of money after he held the position as the Security Affairs Coordinator in the PA President’s Office. It should be mentioned that Dahlan is one of the most prominent political rivals of the Palestinian President and in April 2015 the Corruption Tribunal dismissed a case filed against Dahlan due to his parliamentary immunity. At that time, the Tribunal stated that his immunity can be only lifted by the PLC. However, following the Constitutional Court’s advisory opinion, the sentence was appealed and the Tribunal issued its sentence.
From the beginning, PCHR has followed up this issue with concern as since last year the Palestinian President has worked on enhancing his powers through controlling the judiciary and solely forming the Constitutional Court after taking over the Higher Judicial Council. The overthrowing of former Chief Justice Sami Sarsour, who signed his resignation before holding his position as Chief Justice, revealed that the Council works under the influence of the President, who has the power to discharge the Chief Justice anytime as long as the Chief had already signed his resignation.
The second step came when the Constitutional Court issued an advisory opinion that emphasizes the Palestinian President’s power to lift immunity of PLC Members after the President had already issued a decision to lift the immunity of Dahlan. This step paved the way for lifting immunity of any other PLC Member, who opposes the Palestinian President’s political orientation, and this was noticeable when the names of the 5 PLC Members whose immunity was lifted were announced.
All of this raises concerns about the delusion of having 3 powers within the PA as the President has always stressed respect for the separation of powers. This situation foreshadows more dominance of the executive power over the other powers as well as the human rights and freedoms after silencing every and each supervisory body.
Deep concerns have arisen over the independence of the Constitutional Court following its advisory opinion granting the President the power to lift the parliamentary immunity, especially after realizing that this decision clearly violates Article 53 of the PBL and Articles 95 and 96 in the PLC Executive Regulations, which limit the power to lift the immunity of PLC members to the PLC itself according to certain legal procedure.
PCHR would have welcomed lifting immunity of the PLC Members if only it had been a step on the way of reforming the PA, which suffers from rampant administrative and financial corruption, and if only that happened in due process within an independent judiciary.
However, in light of selectivity in addressing cases of corruption and legal breaches, PCHR emphasizes that selective justice is absolute injustice as it does not aim at promoting accountability and transparency, but intimidating political rivals or those tempting to criticize the Palestinian President or the PA’s orientation.
PCHR wonders how the immunity of Member Abu Baker be lifted as she was summoned to refer to the Public Prosecution on Tuesday, 20 December 2016, for accusing a Minister of corruption even without naming him. Does not this fall within the PLC supervisory duties? PCHR emphasizes that one of the main reasons behind granting immunity to the PLC Members is to enable them to bring charges against ministers to be questioned. It is not reasonable to lift immunity of a PLC Member and holding him/her accountable for only bringing charges against a minister.
Moreover, many questions have arisen over the credibility of those accusations against the other PLC Members, especially in light of the executive authority’s interferences into the judicial authority and the scandal of overthrowing the Chief Justice. More importantly, is it a coincidence that all the PLC Members, whose immunity was lifted for committing legal breaches, are opponents from Fatah movement to the Palestinian President?
The executive authority’s employment of the judicial one to overthrow the PLC Members terminates the Palestinian political system and questions the credibility of the three powers. PCHR also warns that these developments will contribute to the aggravation of the already deteriorating security situation in the West Bank.
PCHR expresses its deep concerns over the latest developments in the West Bank and calls upon the Palestinian President to stop the executive authority’s interference with the judicial and legislative ones.
PCHR calls upon all local and international actors to put pressure on the Palestinian President to retreat from the arbitrary actions against the PLC Members and to unleash freedoms.
PCHR welcomes holding anyone, including the PLC Members, accountable for any legal breaches, especially corruption and embezzling public money. However, accountability should be comprehensive and equal before an independent judiciary but not selective. This will only be achieved after a thorough reform of the judicial authority and PLC. This also requires a political will to end the division.
PCHR also calls upon the PLC to immediately convene and regain its powers disrupted since the Palestinian division to confront the executive authority’s predominance over the judicial and legislative authorities. This step is important for impartially holding the presidential and legislative elections due since 2010.