The Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council (PHROC) is following, with concern, the recent decline in human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. PHROC is particularly concerned about violations of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly under the unconstitutional state of emergency, as dozens of citizens have been summoned, arrested, and detained against this background.
According to the documentations of PHROC member organisations, 2020 has witnessed a sharp rise in violations of the right to freedom of expression across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as they have monitored and documented cases that involved summoning, arresting, and detaining dozens of citizens against the backdrop of freedom of expression, and the dispersing of six peaceful assemblies. West Bank-based security agencies detained many activists, journalists, and other citizens for sharing posts on social media. In the same context, the Internal Security Agency also served summonses to and detained a number of citizens across the Gaza Strip because they had criticised the performance of local authorities on public and social media outlets. In both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, some detainees were physically assaulted, abused, and their right to a fair trial was not protected nor honoured. Especially in September 2020, these persons were detained in inhumane and unsanitary conditions in spite of the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19.
On Saturday, 5 September 2020, PHROC member organisations documented an attack by security agencies on a peaceful assembly, which was organised by the “Movement against CEDAW” at the Al-Manarah roundabout in the Ramallah city in the West Bank. Security personnel dispersed and fired sound and tear gas grenades on demonstrators, injuring a number of participants and passers-by due to gas inhalation. Subsequently, security agencies detained as many as 20 participants, including a child.
In the Gaza Strip, where tight restrictions to control the outbreak of COVID-19 are imposed, the Police used violence to disperse citizens who gathered in the Ash-Sheikh Nasser neighbourhood of Khan Yunis city, according to the documentation of PHROC member organisations. Police personnel beat with batons, pursued, raided the homes of, and arrested a number of protestors. As a result, several citizens, including women and children, sustained injuries and bone fractures. Other gatherings were also dispersed by force across the Gaza Strip.
In a similar vein, on 7 September 2020, security agencies prevented seconded judges, lawyers, civil society activists, and media representatives from accessing the Court Complex in the El-Bireh city in the West Bank. Judges had to attend a court hearing on their objections to a decision to second them to government institutions. Security agencies set up checkpoints at the entrance to the Court, gravely violating the right to seek redress in the judicial system and hold public court hearings. In contravention to the law, restrictions were also placed on media outlets.
PHROC asserts that the aforementioned impingements are committed while the Executive Authority continues to extend the state of emergency, in violation with the provisions of the Palestinian Basic Law, and constitutes a grave violation of the principle of the rule of law, separation of powers, and obligations under the international human rights conventions, which the State of Palestine acceded to. This situation requires that the state of emergency be terminated, and rather utilise effective legislations, which can be used to control the spread of COVID-19. Further, PHROC stresses that the state of emergency should not be exploited to abuse human rights and public freedoms, which is what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised upon in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council.
PHROC reiterates its firm position, calling for incorporating human rights conventions into the Palestinian legal system and for publishing these instruments in the Palestinian Official Gazette. PHROC further reaffirms its deep aversion to the hate speech and incitement to violence by some groups in Palestinian society. It emphasises that the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Palestinian legislation and international conventions, does not allow anyone to incite violence against women’s associations and human rights organisations, or to call for intolerance, accusation of unbelief, and intimation of disloyalty. Against this background, PHROC is of the opinion that increasing violence in Palestinian society, particularly violence against women, including femicide, necessitates a renewed approach to confronting violence by proper policy and legislative procedures and measures. Accordingly, PHROC believes that approval of the Law on Family Protection from Violence is as urgent as ever. Official authorities ought to bear their responsibility for family issues, in particular providing protection to women against violence.
PHROC voices its profound concern at the ongoing decline in human rights across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, notably in light of the continued extension of the state of emergency. Security agencies have detained citizens against the backdrop of exercising the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, rendering these detentions arbitrary. Abuse of force by security services infringes on citizens’ rights and public freedoms, amounting to constitutional crimes provided for by the Palestinian Basic Law of 2003 and violating operative domestic regulations, as it is further a breach of the State of Palestine’s obligations arising from accession to fundamental rights conventions on international human. In particular, it runs counter to respect for, protection and realisation of the rights to dignity, liberty, security of person, freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, among others. PHROC stresses that these violations reflect a reversal of the positive statements made by Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh on safeguarding freedom of expression. When he took office, Dr. Shtayyeh emphasised that no citizens would be arrested against the backdrop of freedom of expression.
Calling upon citizens to act responsibly, abide by preventive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and ensure accurate information, the PHROC calls for:
- Terminating the state of emergency declared to control and prevent the outbreak of COVID-19, giving due regard for the Palestinian Basic Law, and enforcing effective legislation, which is sufficient to counter the threat of COVID-19;
- Respecting basic rights, putting an end to the detention of citizens in contravention to the law, and opening transparent, effective and serious investigation into violations, guaranteeing redress and reparations for abused citizens;
- Integrating human rights conventions, to which the State of Palestine acceded, into the Palestinian legal system, and publishing them in the Official Gazette, and implementing them on the ground at policy and legislative levels;
- Taking expedited action to put in place policy and legislative procedures and measures to counter violence against women as well as domestic violence, and to adopt an integrated legislative system, including the Law on Family Protection from Violence, to protect women against violence and to take effective measures to eliminate incitement and hate speech in the Palestinian society.
- Promulgating a presidential decree as soon as practicable to set a date for national presidential and legislative elections, to restore the legislative activity, including oversight and law-making roles, and to maintain the separation of powers.
 Palestine News and Info Agency (WAFA), “Shtayyeh: No citizens would be arrested against the backdrop of freedom of expression”, 4 September 2019, available in Arabic at: https://wafa.ps/ar_page.aspx?id=zGWbDoa860455141722azGWbDo