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From the field

Violation of the Convention Against Torture

B'Tselem and ACRI in Joint Report to UN Committee Against Torture: Israel Continues to Violate the Convention Against Torture

Tomorrow, 15 May 1998, the UN Committee against Torture will convene to discuss Israel's obligations under the Convention Against Torture. Because Israel's report to the Committee does not accurately represent the situation in Israel, Israel's leading human rights organizations - B'Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel - submitted a joint critique of the State's report.

The Committee is likely to issue its recommendations on Monday, May 14. On Wednesday, May 20, Israel's High Court of Justice will, for the first time, convene a nine-judge panel to hear several petitions relating to the legal basis for Israel's interrogation methods. On Tuesday, B'Tselem will release a new report to coincide with the High Court hearing.

Previous Decisions of the Committee Against Torture

In 1986, Israel ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1986. It has recently submitted its second periodic report to the Committee, and it is this report which will form the basis of the Committee's discussion. In May 1997, the Committee against Torture issued the following decisions and recommendations regarding Israel:

The interrogation methods employed by Israel's General Security Service constitute torture as defined by the Convention; No exceptional circumstances can justify the use of torture. Israel should immediately cease using these interrogation methods; Israel should incorporate the provisions of the Convention into its domestic law; Israel should publish the confidential part of the 1987 Landau Commission Report, dealing with the specific methods allowed during interrogations; Israel should include in its next report to the Committee information on the measures taken in response to the Committee's conclusions.

Torture of Palestinians

The first section of the State's report concentrates on the treatment of Palestinians suspected of hostile terrorist activity. According to B'Tselem and ACRI, Israel has not implemented the changes called for by the Committee, and continues to violate the Convention against Torture. These violations include the following:

Israel makes routine and systematic use of interrogation methods that constitute torture. The GSS interrogates between 1,000 to 1,500 Palestinians annually. In some eighty-five percent of these cases, the GSS tortures the detainees. Israel continues to justify the use of torture, both before the High Court of Justice and in its report to the Committee against Torture, basing its justification on crimes allegedly committed by the detainees. Israel has not enacted a law against torture, and has not even initiated the process to enact such legislation. Furthermore, the High Court of Justice and the State accept the "necessity defense" to cover interrogation methods deemed torture by the Committee against Torture, overriding relevant provisions of Israel's Penal Law.

The Landau Commission's recommendations on the allowable methods of interrogation remain confidential.

Other Violations of the Convention

The second section of Israel's report deals with prisoners and detainees from Israel, the Occupied Territories, and Lebanon, and the rights granted to them by the Convention. The State fails to mention several points, among them the following:

Israel is holding more than one hundred Palestinians and at least twenty-one Lebanese in administrative detention, which may be extended indefinitely. Palestinians have been held for over three years, and Lebanese for up to eleven years, all with no indication when they will be released.

B'Tselem and ACRI maintain that such prolonged detention without trial constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment, in violation of the Convention against Torture. Foreign citizens, including those seeking political asylum, are held for weeks, months, and in some cases, years pursuant to deportation order. These detainees too have been neither tried nor convicted. Israel's detention of these persons also violates its commitments under the Convention against Torture. Blatant violations of the Convention take place in al-Khiam prison, in southern Lebanon. The prisoners there are held in harsh conditions. They are denied visits by relatives, attorneys, or the Red Cross and are therefore totally severed from the outside world.

In their critique, B'Tselem and ACRI point out that testimonies indicate that IDF and GSS personnel are involved in operation of the prison, supply of equipment, and in transfer of detainees to and from the prison. Consequently, B'Tselem and ACRI maintain, Israel bears responsibility for the human rights violations occurring at al-Khiam. Contrary to the impression given by the State's report, police brutality continues to be a serious problem in Israel. The conditions in Israeli prisons and detention facilities continue to be extremely severe, and in some of these facilities persons are being held in inhuman and degrading conditions.