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UN Watch details torture by Palestinian authorities

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“They arrested me, hanged me from the ceiling, beat me up and interrogated me for five days,” says a gay Gaza Palestinian now living in exile in Turkey.

“Everyone is afraid of everyone. Some have been punished, some have been killed. Others killed themselves,” says another gay man from Gaza.

These are just two shocking testimonies by detainees held in Palestinian custody in the West Bank and Gaza.

These and other revelations of torture at the hands of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas have been included in a jaw-dropping report by human rights watchdog UN Watch and submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture (the Committee).

UN Watch charges that the PA tortures human rights activists, women, LGBTQI+ persons, political opponents, so-called “collaborators” and Palestinians who sell land to Jews.

Another testimony in the report reads, “Never in my life have I seen such brutality. The sounds of people screaming inside the police station, to this day I still hear it.” It’s by Palestinian radio journalist Akil Awadah, who was himself beaten and detained on 5 July 2021 after protesting the death in custody of PA critic Nizar Banat.

According to the report, Palestinians who are accused of “collaborating” with Israel are routinely tortured by both the PA and Hamas. “Torture included beatings, putting out cigarettes on their bodies, pulling out teeth, forcing them into painful positions and abusing their genitals,” says the UN Watch report.

The UN this week addressed these allegations. The Committee which is a subsidiary of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, met to review whether the PA is in compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

At the time of going to print, members were looking into alleged violent interrogations, beatings, the holding of the remains of Israeli soldiers, mysterious disappearances of Israelis, and other torture-related issues. The Committee was also reviewing actions by Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza strip and is routinely accused of torture by international watchdogs.

Palestine is part of the Convention against Torture, which requires members to work to prevent torture. This is the first review of the PA – which signed on to the Convention in 2014 – despite the fact that the Committee is meant to review all parties to the Convention every four years.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said, “Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees held in Palestinian custody in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Prior to this year’s session, Ramallah submitted the required compliance report, which reportedly ignores documented PA abuses or deflects blame onto Israel. For example, the death in custody of critic Banat is reportedly omitted from the PA’s submission to the Committee.

UN Watch legal adviser Dina Rovner presented its in-depth report to the 10-member committee on 18 July, a day before members of the Committe began to fire questions at a delegation from the PA.

While the PA is thought to have touted how it has fulfilled its promises, UN Watch says the PA’s compliance report “seeks to absolve” Palestinian actors of responsibility for complying with the treaty’s prohibitions against torture.

“Instead it points the finger at Israel to deflect attention from the PA’s own record, which is the subject of the UN review,” says Neuer.

According to the UN Watch report, LGBTQI+ people living under PA and Hamas rule suffer “severe persecution and ostracism”. The report also maintains that routine PA torture includes beatings, solitary confinement, feet whipping, threats and taunts, and forcing detainees into painful positions for extended periods.

The report cites several incidences of the torture of activists, including how in May 2021, PA security forces arrested dozens of activists and students considered critics. They were reportedly taken to the infamous Jericho prison known as the “slaughterhouse”, where they were accused of “stirring up sectarian and racial strife” and subjected to torture.

Neuer says,  “Hamas in Gaza also routinely employs torture.” The report lists documented examples where Hamas security forces severely beat protesters and subjected them to torture.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on donors to cut off funding to PA security forces and urged the international criminal court to investigate. The HRW says Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip systematically torture critics in detention, a practice that could amount to crimes against humanity.

The report alleges that Palestinian security forces “use solitary confinement and beatings, including whipping their feet, and force detainees into painful stress positions for prolonged periods, including hoisting their arms behind their backs with cables or rope, to punish and intimidate critics and opponents and elicit confessions.”

HRW’s report comes a year after the death of Banat, whose family say security forces stormed his residence in the middle of the night and beat him with metal batons.

Amnesty International says that the PA has failed to hold its security forces accountable for Banat’s death. Palestinian authorities arrested 14 officers and are trying them in a military court, but have reportedly taken no action against top commanders.

It is understood that the Committee is to review additional reports submitted by American Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Coalition Against Torture, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Clinic on International Human Rights and others.

Neuer says, “We trust that our collection of evidence and harrowing testimonies will assist the UN committee experts when they review whether the PA has followed through on its promises to eradicate the use of torture.” He has called on the Palestinian envoy to Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, to come clean about the PA’s regular use of torture.

The Committee’s conclusions, which will include recommendations for reforms, are due later this month.

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