Founded in 1995, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is a Gaza-based non-governmental organization (NGO) claiming a human rights agenda. Its focus is galvanizing international pressure and punitive measures against Israel in the legal realm. For instance, over the years, PCHR has targeted numerous Israeli officials, such as former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livini, with universal jurisdiction arrest warrants in European countries and New Zealand.
With considerable assistance from European governments, PCHR has played an instrumental role in pressuring the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into Israel. Since 2014, PCHR and its partners have “delivered 6 legal submissions to the ICC” accusing Israel of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity during the 2014 Gaza war, in settlements in the West Bank, and during the 2018-2019 violent riots along the Gaza border. The goal, in the words of PCHR Director Raji Sourani, is to “inundate the [Israeli] occupation with hundreds and thousands of legal suits that will incriminate and convict it” (Palestinian TV, April 15, 2013, translation by Meir Amit Information Center).
Several sources of European funding to PCHR have been specifically earmarked for such activities.
Notably, as documented by NGO Monitor, PCHR has multiple links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is designated as a terror organization by the EU, the US, Canada, and Israel. Nevertheless, the UN and foreign governments continue to provide PCHR with extensive funding and rely on it as a source for legal and factual claims.
PCHR’s ICC Campaign Against Israel
PCHR has been one of the leading NGOs in singling out Israel through ICC lobbying. According to its 2019 annual report, “PCHR has worked restlessly for more than 11 years to reach the ICC, this work was intensified in the past 5 years after the Public Prosecutor announced opening a preliminary investigation [into Israel] in January 2015. Starting in 2020, PCHR will employ all its resources and energy in this trajectory, which will require us to coordinate on multiple levels” (emphasis added).
According to PCHR, it “has employed all its legal capacities and international networks and played a leading role within its work with the ICC…. Building legal files for the international judiciary; holding meetings with experts and coordinating with partners to the cases that will be presented before the international judiciary; Contacting with the ICC Prosecutor’s Office; providing legal information and submissions for the international litigation mechanisms; Enabling victims and witnesses to appear before international litigation mechanisms; and following up cases before national courts in accordance with international jurisdiction.”
PCHR’s lobbying has included numerous meetings with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her staff. Indeed, PCHR hailed Bensouda’s December 2019 decision to proceed with an investigation into Israel as a “major milestone” and the culmination of “years of dedication and struggle.”
- According to PCHR 2015 Annual Report, “PCHR and its partners carried out a series of meetings with Fatou Bensouda, the General Prosecutor of the ICC, and her team in her office.” This included three meetings with the ICC’s Head of the Situation Analysis Section and his team, as well as a meeting with Bensouda and two of her advisors.
- In March 2016, “PCHR and its partners met in Jordan with Emeric Roger, Chief of Situation Analysis Section in the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, and the preliminary investigation team in the ICC Public Prosecutor office.”
- During 2017, “PCHR and its partners held 2 meetings with the ICC Public Prosecutor Office.”
- In June 2018, PCHR staff “held a meeting with the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, in her office in the Netherlands.” PCHR “gave a detailed presentation about the Great March of Return… Fatou Bensouda reviewed the latest developments concerning the preliminary investigation into the situation of Palestine and unequivocally confirmed that she is going to end the investigation and file the case before the end of 2018.”
- In June 2019, PCHR Director Raji Sourani met with ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to discuss “the delay in opening an ICC investigation into Israeli crimes and whether further evidence is necessary,” but was assured that “HROs [human rights organizations] supplied sufficient evidence and proofs.” In a December 2019 speech before the Assembly of Member States of the ICC, Sourani addressed Bensouda: “we were very consistent in working with the ICC and your office…Palestinian human rights organizations provided really significant material to your office.”
PCHR has also provided legal briefs arguing for ICC jurisdiction over Israel. In March 2020, PCHR submitted an amicus brief with Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, and Al-Dameer, “welcom[ing] and support[ing] the findings of the Prosecutor that there is a reasonable basis to believe that international crimes have been committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, comprising the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.” PCHR also submitted a second amicus brief “on behalf of hundreds of Palestinian individual victims residing in the Gaza Strip…. who have suffered direct harm as a result of grave crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.”1
European funding to PCHR
A significant portion of PHRC’s lobbying efforts is funded by European governments. PCHR does not publish an annual budget, reflecting a lack of transparency.
According to its 2019 annual report, PCHR donors include: the EU, Irish Aid (Ireland), The Spanish Agency for International Development “AECID” (Spain), France (Consulate General), Open Society Institute, DanChurchAid (Denmark), Grassroots International, Kvinna Till Kvinna (Sweden), Trocaire (Ireland), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Misereor (Germany), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Norwegian Representative Office, and the United Nations (OCHA, UNDP, UN Women). (See Appendix I for further details.)
In some instances, the European funding to Palestinian NGOs was explicitly earmarked for activities vis-à-vis the ICC (see appendix below). For instance, in its contract with the Swiss government, PCHR is required to “conduct communications with the Office of the General Prosecutor of the ICC and other int’l litigation mechanisms, send communications to international litigation mechanisms (ICC, UN lnquiry commissions, treaty bodies, UJ), …and provide training and coaching on int’I criminal law and ICC for new lawyers” (on file with NGO Monitor).
PCHR ties to the PFLP
As documented by NGO Monitor, PCHR has multiple links to the PFLP terror organization. According to information posted on the PFLP website, on June 27, 2015, the PFLP’s prisoner committee participated in a workshop organized by PCHR. The event was held “in solidarity” with Khader Adnan, a member and “leader” of the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, during his two-month long hunger strike. During the event, PFLP prisoner committee member Hani Mezher called on PCHR to “exert a double effort to make urgent contacts with all institutions and raise the issue of prisoners with the international community and the free world so we can save his life.”
The following are examples of PCHR staff with known ties to the PFLP:
Raji Sourani, General Director
- During the ceremony, Sourani stated, “I was in the ranks of the Popular Front, and there were comrades who taught us with their own hands…We don’t apologize and don’t regret our past, we are proud that once we were members of this organization and we fought in its ranks” (emphasis added).
On November 14, 2017, the Gaza branch of the PFLP held a book launch for the book Echo of Enclosure by PFLP commander Ahmed Sa’adat. According to the PFLP, “members of the PFLP Central Committee spoke at the gathering, along with the fighter Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights…”
Wishah is a member of PCHR’s Administrative Board (according to the 2019 annual report) and served as Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors until 2017.
- In 1985, according to a December 27, 1985 article in the Israeli Maariv, Wishah served as “the head of the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Gaza.” A September 1999 article in Arabic language media similarly states that he was responsible for the PFLP’s military apparatus.
- Wishah was convicted by Israel of “holding a leading position in a terrorist organization of which he was a member, intentionally attempting to kill an Israeli Staff Sergeant in Gaza, configuring a bomb and planting a bomb, possession of fire arms and conspiring to commit murder.”
- Wishah was sentenced to life in prison and spent 15 years in Israeli prison in 1985-1999. (It appears that Wishah was released as part of the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement.)
- Wishah was incarcerated together with terrorist Samir Kuntar2 and Wishah’s mother became Kuntar’s adoptive mother. When Kuntar was released from prison, Wishah expressed his happiness for the release of his “former cellmate,” stating, “Today is a true day of joy for all Palestinians and all freedom lovers across the world.”
Appendix I: PCHR 2014-2019 Funding
|European Union||€320,187 for a project with PMRS||2018-2020|
|€411,861 for a project with Oxfam Novib||2014-2016|
|Christian Aid Ireland||€70,000||2018|
|Municipality of San Sebastián||€68,921||2014-2016|
|Al Quds Association||€80,000||2016|
- Although PCHR’s name does not appear on the brief, the two main counsels are Raji Sourani, head of PCHR, and Chantal Meloni, who has “collaborated” with the PCHR since 2010. Meloni previously worked for the ICC Prosecutor’s Office.
- On April 22, 1979, Samir Kuntar brutally murdered a family, among them a four-year-old girl and an Israeli police officer. After his release, Kuntar became a Hezbollah operative and was killed on December 19, 2015. The US Department of State designated Samir Kuntar as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”