UN Committee Against Torture Rules House Demolitions and Closures Can Constitute Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Ref: 75/2001

Date: 24 November 2001

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) welcomes yesterday’s finding by the UN Committee Against Torture that the Israeli government’s house demolition and closure policies “may, in certain instances, amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in violation of Article 16 of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Committee Against Torture issued its conclusions and recommendations yesterday after reviewing the Third Periodic Report of Israel on 20 and 21 November 2001.  The Committee affirmed that the house demolition policy pursued by the Israeli occupation forces was cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under certain circumstances.  Deliberate destruction of houses and property has been a common Israeli government practice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) for since the beginning of the occupation, but has escalated dramatically in the past year.  From 29 September 2000 to date, almost 400 civilian homes have been demolished in the Gaza Strip alone, leaving more than 3500 Palestinians homeless, the majority of them children.  House demolitions by the Israeli occupation forces, which are also in contravention of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, are carried out in circumstances which inflict maximum pain and suffering on the civilian population.  The demolitions usually occur at night and without any prior warning.  Residents are awakened by the sound of bulldozers and tanks and are given little or no time at all to remove their possessions from their homes before the demolition begins.

The Committee also affirmed that the closure policy imposed on the OPT by the Israeli occupation forces is also a violation of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture in certain circumstances.  The closure policy is over a decade old but the last year has seen unprecedented restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the OPT.  Partial and total closures imposed between Israel and the OPT, between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and even between towns and villages inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have resulted in the prevention of access for millions of Palestinians to their places of work, their schools, family and even regular and emergency medical care.  Delays at roadblocks have resulted in more than 25 deaths as soldiers have prevented ambulances and emergency patients from passing through.   Palestinians continue to suffer degrading and humiliating treatment by Israeli occupation soldiers at roadblocks, including being subjected to random shooting with live ammunition and tear gas, beatings, verbal insults and taunting and clearly unnecessary delays which often last for hours or even days.

The Committee recommended that Israel “desist from the policies of closure and house demolition where they offend Article 16 of the Convention,” which prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.

The Committee also expressed concern that Israel has still failed to promulgate legislation prohibiting torture, as is required of all State parties under the Convention, and stated that a noted 1999 Israeli Supreme Court decision on torture not only fails to constitute a definite prohibition on torture, but also permits the use of sleep deprivation and exempts ISA (Israeli Security Agency, formerly known as the GSS) interrogators who use physical pressure in extreme circumstances from criminal liability, as they may rely on the “defence of necessity.”

The Committee reaffirmed that there continued to be reports of torture and ill-treatment by ISA interrogators after the Supreme Court ruling.

The Committee further noted its concerns regarding: the continued use of administrative detention where it violates Article 16 of the Convention; the use of incommunicado detention, including with regards minors; failure to prosecute torturers, or provide effective remedies and compensation; and the admissibility of “objective evidence derived from an inadmissible confession.”

The Committee recommended that Israel review all its laws and policies to ensure that “all detainees without exception, are brought promptly before a judge, and are ensured prompt access to a lawyer.”  The Committee further recommended that Israel “take all necessary effective steps to prevent the crime of torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and institute effective complaint, investigative and prosecution mechanisms relating thereto.”

For further information regarding Israel’s violations of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, see “Briefing of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights for the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Consideration of the Third Periodic Report of Israel, 19 November 2001).  The briefing is attached.