On 15 July 2008, the Palestinian Special Military Court issued death sentences for Wael Sa'id Sa'ad Sa'ad and Muhammad Sa'ad Mahmoud Sa'ad, after both were convicted of treason and conspiracy for “collaboration” with Israel. Execution of the sentences requires ratification by Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud ‘Abbas.
This ruling has been an alarming development for anyone committed to human rights in the Occupied Territories. Since World War II, the international community has increasingly advocated the elimination of capital punishment from domestic law codes. One of the fundamental human rights, as delineated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), is the right to life. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), to which over 150 countries are a party, contains an optional protocol that prohibits the death penalty in domestic systems of law. On 15 November 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution encouraging UN member states to place a moratorium on the death penalty “with a view to abolishing [it].” Although there is a clear international trend toward eliminating the death penalty, the Palestinian Authority has yet to do so.
Imposition of the death penalty in the Palestinian judicial system contravenes international law in several ways. First, the range of offenses for which the death sentence may be imposed is extremely wide. Second, the fact that the trials are held in special courts denies defendants the elementary rules of due process. Third, there is no judicial procedure of appeal.
The death penalty is incompatible with the establishment of a just and equitable criminal justice system in the Palestinian Authority. As the PA aspires to become the government of a nation-state with full recognition in the international system, it should strive to establish a criminal justice system fully dedicated to the principles of life, equality and liberty. The PA must work to ensure that the universal human rights it cites in its struggle for statehood must also be protected in its own criminal justice system. The death penalty undermines these rights wherever it is adopted.
Augmenting the chorus of organizations and individuals opposed to capital punishment in the Occupied Territories, B'Tselem wrote to President ‘Abbas, urging him to commute the sentences of the convicted men.