- On May 5 and 6, 2009, Israel is scheduled to be reviewed by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) as part of its periodic review of country compliance with the International Convention Against Torture. As is standard in many of the UN human rights frameworks, such as the Durban process, many of the NGO submissions to CAT grossly distort the humanitarian, human rights and international legal dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- NGOs command significant power at CAT. NGOs may submit statements to the committee, and accredited NGOs are entitled to have one-hour private meetings with committee members prior to the CAT country review session. Accredited NGOs also submit reports regarding country compliance with CAT recommendations, and observe the state meetings.
- Some NGO submissions invent and distort international law beyond recognition, and seek to manipulate of this UN treaty body by inserting gratuitous and false accusations regarding Israeli policies.
- The submissions of several NGOs – including Amnesty International, COHRE, Adalah, Al Haq, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (many of whom are funded by the EU, European governments and NIF) – are part of the Durban Strategy of isolating Israel through the exploitation of UN forums and international courts. This strategy was also behind attempts to demonize Israel at the Durban Review Conference.
- The submissions of many NGOs contain claims backed by questionable statistics, include allegations contradicted by other NGO claims, or provide no source at all. Claims made by NGOs with documented credibility problems, such as Yesh Din and B’Tselem, are repeated and cited without question.
On May 5 and 6, 2009, following the Durban Review Conference, Israel is scheduled to be reviewed by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) as part of its periodic review of country compliance with the international Convention Against Torture. The committee comprises 10 “experts” in the field.
NGOs command significant power at the CAT. In advance of review, the state submits a report outlining its compliance with the treaty, and NGOs are also invited to submit reports. At each review session, the committee engages in a dialogue with state representatives. One day prior to this session, members of the Committee conduct one-hour private briefings with accredited NGOs to discuss the country’s practices. Accredited NGOs may also attend the country sessions as observers. Following the review session, CAT compiles its findings and issues recommendations to the state party. NGOs may submit additional materials to the committee regarding follow-up of committee recommendations. Several powerful NGOs such as Amnesty, HRW, FIDH, and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) have links to their homepages on the official UN CAT webpage.
In advance of the CAT review of Israel, the Israeli government and more than 20 NGOs submitted statements, which will be incorporated into the final analysis of Israel’s human rights record. Other countries to be reviewed include New Zealand, Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Philippines. Israel had the most NGO submissions of any of the countries to be reviewed this session.
Many of the NGOs participating with the CAT, such as Amnesty International, COHRE, Al Haq, Adalah, B’Tselem, and HaMoked frequently publish reports and launch campaigns that stand in sharp contradiction to their stated missions of upholding universal human rights. Indeed, they consistently provide an incomplete and often highly misleading picture of the state of human rights in Israel. Moreover, many of these NGOs are funded by European governments, the EU, prominent foundations (NIF and Ford), and international NGOs (Christian Aid and Diakonia-Sweden), and use this funding to carry out anti-Israel international lobbying.
The majority of the NGO submissions grossly distort the humanitarian, human rights and international legal dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including:
- Manipulation of UN treaty bodies by submitting accusations on issues that are completely unrelated, such as alleged “violations of the right to water and sanitation,” international travel restrictions on suspected terrorists, and the Gaza War.
- Using false claims of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination to distort a political and territorial dispute fought via asymmetrical warfare.
- Employment of international legal rhetoric such as “collective punishment” and distortion or invention of international law such as the claim that Gaza is remains “occupied” after the Israeli withdrawal.
- Failure to provide sources for claims; allegations based on unreliable statistics; repetition of and citation to claims by non-credible political NGOs such as Yesh Din and B’Tselem.
- Omitting the context of terrorism as well as ignoring Israel’s international legal obligations to fight terrorism and its financing.
In contrast, the NGO submission by the Hotline for Migrant Workers and the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University raises criticisms of Israel’s refugee and detention policies without the accompanying rhetoric, invention of international law, and demonization contained in the statements analyzed below.
Amnesty submitted two reports to CAT containing accusations against Israel, including alleged “intensification of measures amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against Palestinians.” A significant portion of Amnesty’s submissions deals with issues unrelated to the treaty – including “house demolitions,” settlement policy, “checkpoints,” the “Fence/Wall,” and “the blockade of Gaza” – and repeat unsubstantiated allegations regarding the Gaza War, such as claims regarding white phosphorous. Amnesty minimizes Palestinian violence and denigrates the difficult choices faced by Israel to balance human rights in the midst on-going attacks on its civilians. The inclusion of these issues reflects the organization’s attempt to abuse the UN treaty body process to promote its standard ideological agenda.1
In one section, Amnesty claims Israel engages in a “discriminatory policy” of house demolitions against Palestinians and the Bedouin – a topic unrelated to torture. Independent research conducted by Israeli attorney, Justus Reid Weiner, has found these accusations to be without basis as a majority of these homes were built illegally in violation of building codes, posing a safety hazard to their inhabitants and neighbors. In addition, Amnesty ignores the complex challenges Israel faces in involving and integrating the Bedouin into Israeli society and legal framework, as has been established.
Similarly, Amnesty falsely claims that the Israeli Supreme Court “condones” acts of torture and human rights violations. In fact, the Israeli Supreme Court has judged thousands of petitions (many of which were brought by NGOs) examining the authority of the military commander according to the standards of proportionality; restrictions on place of residence; checkpoint positioning; harm to Palestinian property due to army operations; the safeguarding of freedom of worship and the right to access to holy places; the demolition of houses; the laying of siege; the powers of the army during combat pursuant to international humanitarian law; the rights of Palestinians to food, medicine, and similar needs during combat operations; the rights of Palestinians during the arrest of terrorists; and detention and interrogation procedures. In more than one hundred petitions, the Israeli Supreme Court “has examined the rights of [Palestinians] according to international humanitarian law as a result of the erection of the separation fence.”
Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions (COHRE)
COHRE’s submission invents and distorts international law beyond recognition. Its entire report advances allegations that violations of “the right to water and sanitation” and “right to adequate housing” are defined acts of “torture” under international law. Like Amnesty and other submissions, this process represents a manipulation of the UN treaty body system to insert gratuitous and false accusations regarding Israeli policies into the official UN record. The organization repeats claims of “collective punishment” citing statistics published by unreliable political NGOs such as B’Tselem and ICAHD. COHRE quotes a false allegation of Amnesty International that “only Palestinians are systematically denied building permits and risk home demolition for any construction to their existing houses.” Such claims are contradicted by statistics issued by the Jerusalem municipality. In addition, a study released by the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv notes that house demolitions for Israeli settlers is actually higher than the number of demolitions carried out on Palestinian homes.
United Against Torture (UAT) Coalition
The UAT Coalition comprises 14 NGOs including NIF-funded Adalah, Al Haq (Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Christian Aid, Diakonia, Ford Foundation), Defence of Children International-Palestine (Luxembourg, UNICEF), Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (EU, Finland), Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Addameer, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (NIF, EU, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Oxfam, Novib Holland). Al Haq’s General Director, Shawan Jabarin, is alleged to be a “senior activist” in the PFLP terror organization, as noted by the Israeli Supreme Court on at least three occasions (see more below).
This coalition levels unsupported charges claiming Israel engages in the “widespread and systematic use” of torture against Palestinians and operates with a “culture of impunity.” It minimizes or omits the on-going Palestinian campaign of violence and attacks on Israeli civilians. Many of these NGOs were active in the Durban Strategy of anti-Israel boycotts and demonization:
- Like Amnesty, the report introduces issues completely unrelated to the issue of torture, such as the “Gaza siege” and “house demolitions,” in order to politicize the UN treaty body process.
- One of the coalition’s several reports to the Committee entirely focuses on the Gaza War and how the operation amounted to “torture.” It repeats several spurious NGO claims such as the deliberate targeting of civilians with white phosphorous. NGO Monitor has analyzed the tendentious nature of these claims in depth.
- The report makes sweeping generalizations regarding the Israeli justice system, with few or no sources for the allegations. For instance, the claim that Palestinian detainees “are almost never told of his or her rights and [are] invariably denied access to a lawyer” is based entirely on limited anecdotal evidence.
- Much of the submission cites to discredited reports issued by B’Tselem and HaMoked in May 2007 and Yesh Din.
- The report claims Israel is engaging in torture by only allowing family members to visit relatives in prison “twenty four times a year,” that they must communicate via a glass partition, and that “only” three relatives are allowed per visit. These NGOs then claim that Israeli policies on family visits from Gaza are a form of “collective punishment” in retaliation for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. Ironically, few, if any, of these NGOs have campaigned on behalf of Shalit who has been held incommunicado for nearly three years by Hamas.
- The submission makes special note of the travel ban on Al Haq’s Jabarin, claiming it is a form of “torture”; the NGOs also make the false claim that “no explanation for the restrictions has been given.” Jabarin allegedly has a long history of ties to the PFLP including supposed recruitment of terrorists abroad and as mentioned above, the Israeli Supreme Court has noted that Jabarin appears to have continuing leadership role in the PFLP:
On March 10, 2009, the court found that
We found that the material pointing to the petitioner’s involvement in the activity of terrorist entities is concrete and reliable material. We also found that additional negative material concerning the petitioner has been added even after his previous petition was rejected. This negative basis strengthens the security authorities’ position, according to which the prohibition placed on the petitioner leaving the country is not intended for “punishment” for his forbidden activity, but due to relevant security considerations.
In its decision of July 7, 2008 the court stated that:
We are dealing with reliable information according to which the petitioner is among the senior activists of the terrorist organization, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
And in June 2007, the court again found that:
This petitioner is apparently active as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in part of his hours of activity he is the director of a human rights organization, and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist organization which does not shy away from acts of murder and attempted murder, which have nothing to do with rights, and, on the contrary, deny the most basic right of all, the most fundamental of fundamental rights, without which there are no other rights – the right to life.
In addition, under international law such as Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001), Israel has a legal obligation to “prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls and controls on issuance of identity papers and travel documents” (emphasis added).
Many of the NGO submissions discussed herein ignore this obligation and seek to place “human rights” duties upon Israel that stand in direct conflict with Israel’s legal obligations – in essence, demanding Israel violate international law.
B’Tselem & HaMoked
B’Tselem and HaMoked claim to supply quantitative information for the Committee in their submission. It mirrors many of the criticisms about their May 2007 report, which was found to be “fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies” and “was based upon a non-representative sample that seems to have been deliberately chosen which distorts the reality prevailing in the course of arrest and interrogation of security prisoners.” In the CAT submission, the NGOs repeatedly admit that their data is “not a representative sample.” Nevertheless, they make sweeping generalizations based upon anecdotal evidence. In one instance, B’Tselem and HaMoked claim that of 345 complaints of ill treatment submitted, only fourteen resulted in an indictment. There is no source provided for this claim, but even if true, B’Tselem and HaMoked do not mention whether the remaining complaints were investigated and did not result in criminal action because there was no merit to the charges.
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
PCATI submitted an initial report to the committee as well as a follow up report (in conjunction with the OMCT) in advance of its private briefing with the Committee.2 The follow-up report focuses mainly on the Gaza War, accusing Israel of “deliberate and indiscriminate” attacks on “civilians and civilian objects.” The NGO openly admits that these topics “do not per se fall under the Convention.”
Given CAT’s impact, it is important that its report and recommendations on Israel be credible, accurate and impartial. The powerful role that politicized NGOs play in the CAT’s review is inconsistent with this requirement. The obsessive NGO condemnations of Israeli responses to daily attacks on its civilians, as well as disproportionate criticism of Israeli attempts to balance rights within a complex society facing asymmetrical warfare, further highlights this issue.
While questions regarding “house demolitions,” “the siege on Gaza,” and the separation barrier appear in the CAT’s “list of issues” to Israel allegedly falling under Article 16 of the convention, it appears the inclusion of such topics were driven by the NGO submissions. The “List of Issues” for other countries pursuant to Article 16 contain no references to political topics unrelated to the issue of torture. Rather, they focus on “extrajudicial executions,” use of weaponry by security officials, use of isolation cells, and prison conditions — all topics that would be expected to be discussed on this issue. If NGO submissions are not driving the committee, then the inclusion of these off-topic issues represents another example of double standards and politicization in the UN human rights framework that is exploited by NGOs.
According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, Manfred Nowak, Article 16 of the Convention is meant to cover acts (cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT)) that fall short of the Article 1 definition of torture. CIDT covers the “disproportionate exercise of police powers” where a victim is detained and rendered “powerless” to resist. So long as a “person is able to resist the use by law enforcement officials of the degree of force legitimately required by the exigencies of the situation, the use of force falls outside the scope of the prohibition of CIDT.” The Rapporteur gives the example that beating a detainee with a club while in custody may amount to CIDT, but the legitimate use of force with that club to disperse rioters on the street does not. Since the issues of house demolitions, the Separation Barrier, water rights, and Gaza policy are issues that do not involve detainees; will be negotiated in a political solution between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, and other states; and that victims have the right to challenge alleged violations administratively and in the judicial system, these topics clearly fall outside the scope of Article 16 and their inclusion is an abuse of the treaty review process.
- PCATI also joined in the UAT Coalition submission.