Photo Credit: Majdi Fathi/TPS
Gaza Police

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are “systematically mistreating and torturing Palestinians in detention, including critics and opponents,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report submitted jointly to the United Nations Committee Against Torture with the Palestinian rights group Lawyers for Justice.

Torture, both by the Fatah-led PA in the Judea and Samaria region and Hamas in Gaza, “may amount to crimes against humanity, given its systematic nature over many years,” HRW stressed.

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Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at HRW pointed out that “systematic abuse by the PA and Hamas forms a critical part of the repression of the Palestinian people.”

HRW called on countries to cut their assistance to “abusive Palestinian security forces, including the PA police who played a central part in recent repression,” and said that the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor should “investigate and prosecute people credibly implicated in these grave abuses.”

The PA and Hamas have claimed that “abuses amount to no more than isolated cases that are investigated and for which wrongdoers are held to account,” but years of research by HRW, including its 147-page 2018 report, “Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent,” contradict these claims.

“Palestinian authorities have consistently failed to hold security forces accountable,” HRW charged.

In 2021, the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) received 252 complaints of torture and ill-treatment and 279 of arbitrary arrest against the PA, and 193 complaints of torture and ill-treatment and 97 of arbitrary arrest against Hamas authorities in Gaza.

Hamas authorities have also executed at least 28 people in Gaza since seizing political control in June 2007, “in a context in which due process violations, coercion, and torture are prevalent,” HRW noted. and have summarily executed scores of other people without any judicial process, often on accusations of collaboration with Israel.

HRW called on the PA to abide by the international human rights treaties it has acceded to and “end grave abuses and endemic impunity by holding those responsible to account.”

Five years after the PA acceded to the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture, which requires establishing a “national preventative mechanism” to independently monitor detention centers, including surprise visits, only in May 2022 did PA head Mahmoud Abbas issue a decree establishing the National Commission Against Torture.

However, the decree sets out that the PA president will appoint commission members, who will be government employees, and that the commission will operate as a government body. However, this will strip the commission of much actual independence, as ICHR and a joint statement of 26 Arab civil society groups have noted. Abbas “should rescind the decree and put forward a new regulation that creates a fully independent body,” HRW demanded.

“Many governments say they want to support the rule of law in Palestine and yet year after year continue to fund police forces that actively undermine it,” Shakir said. “Purported concerns over the fragility of Palestinian institutions and other tired excuses should no longer stand in the way. Donor governments should cut ties to abusive Palestinian police and security forces and center their Palestine and Israel policies on human rights.”

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