Monday, October 20, 2014

Human Rights Committee concludes its review of the report on Israel

The UN Human Rights Committee observes the practice of asking its chairperson to conclude the review of each state party report, with his or her observations about how the discussion went and what seem to be the major areas requiring improvement in a government's human rights practice.   Today marked the conclusion of the Committee's review of the record on Israel. 

Sir Nigel Rodley, chairperson of the Committee, delivered his concluding remarks during the final 10 minutes of the Committee's session. You can view the full afternoon session at the treaty body webcast site

Here are my informal notes of  remarks. He hits especially hard on Israel's self styled interpretations of what legal standards apply to them and how to interpret them.  Areas of concern include torture, interrogations, illegal settlements and home destructions.

Concluding remarks of the chairperson

My thanks to the delegation for coming to this session with a high level group, who have well represented expertise among its members on the subject matters we are reviewing.  It is regrettable that you have run out of time and not been able to give more complete responses.  Part of the problem of running out of time in this two day session was that the prior written responses of Israel did not respond to many of our concerns.  The failure of the delegation to give written responses before this session then made it necessary for the delegation to make oral responses.  Depriving us of the opportunity to ask follow up.

Treaty interpretation principle

The covenant is not a matter of auto interpretation by each state party. This Committee is established to interpret and apply the Covenant. That is reflected in various decisions of the International Court of Justice as well. I noticed two arguments on interpretation made by the delegation that are of particular concern – extraterritoriality and inapplicability of human rights standards to the laws of armed conflict. Both are contrary to our Committee’s interpretation of these matters. The latter issue in particular, on the laws of armed conflict, seems to be a totally unique and unilateral decision of the state party. 


There is also the issue of the settlements.  We are not here of course to judge whether the settlements are illegal or not; that is for other bodies to decide which bodies, it appears, have almost uniformly decided the settlements are not legal. When read together with article 1 and other articles of the Covenant, one can’t ignore that dimension in the human rights violations in the country.  The settlements are in many ways at the heart of the problems being experienced.


Another issue is torture. Still speaking to auto-interpretation, the very fact that the state party maintains the defense of necessity justifies these tactics in some cases, if nothing else contravenes the overwhelming majority view of others on this issue.  I’m also not aware of any aspect of international humanitarian law that allows destruction of homes, as practiced by the government.  The use of force, lethal force, during armed insurrections is also questionable.  I’m encouraged by some of what I’ve heard from your delegation, perhaps that new codes and protocols will be implemented, but listening to Mr. Neumann in this last segment today perhaps you take the position that everything is already functioning well and no improvement is needed.  However, I see some heads nodding that notwithstanding Mr. Neumann’s statements improvements will be implemented. However while a new system may be correct in theory, the key issue is how does it perform in practice.  A system is only as good as it actually behaves.


On interrogations, same thing applies. It is encouraging to hear that there is a genuine independent inspection that will begin to be implemented into procedures, but it still will be important to see what happens in practice under the new system. Bearing in mind that this system is already stacked against the detainees. 15 days of incommunicado detention, even if no extensions of that time period are possible any longer as you have indicated, still 15 days are exorbitant. It creates the potential for serious abuses to occur during that time period. Certainly the information from NGOs, including very respectable NGOs, indicate that even the more moderate interrogation techniques are still being abused; there are so many reports coming forward. It’s hard to believe they are all wrong, or that nothing wrong is happening.  Have there been any prosecutions ever for those responsible for the use of unlawful force in interrogations? 

Suppression of dissent

We understand you are not responsible for violations committed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.  But you are responsible for the violations that are within your control.  Also a lot of my colleagues’ questions have expressed concern about various incidents that seem to indicate that the traditional robust freedom of expression historically enjoyed in Israel, is becoming more and more limited, more repressed.  Critics of government practices are being silenced or harassed in ways not experienced before. 

Finally, please follow up on any questions you did not have time to answer during our session and follow up on any reports or information you promised various committee members during the session.

[end of remarks]


The full report from the Committee will be issued at the end of the session, October 31st.  Consistent with Committee practice, the report will identify a few items to be followed up urgently by the government, within 12 months, and the remaining recommendations to be implemented and reported on in the next periodic report which is usually due in 4 to 5 years. 

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