Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Allegations of West Bank torture increase

Financial Times


"Naiema Abu Ayyash’s worst fears were confirmed this month when she finally managed to visit her husband in Jericho prison.

Badr Abu Ayyash, 42, a farmer and local politician in the west Bank, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security unit on September 14. Aside from two brief and apparently supervised phone calls, his family was denied all contact with him.

“He looked very different,” said Ms Abu Ayyash, a mother of four. “He could hardly walk. He had difficulty breathing and was very thin. When he shook my hand, I noticed that he had no strength at all.”......

There is evidence that a significant number of detainees are tortured during interrogation. The most common form of abuse is known as Shabeh, in which detainees are handcuffed and bound in stress positions for long periods.

Claims of torture and abuse by members of the Palestinian security forces are not new. There has, however, been a sharp rise in reported cases, leading Human Rights Watch to remark last month that “reports of torture by Palestinian security forces keep rolling in”. The New York-based organisation also bemoaned the “rampant impunity” of officers allegedly involved in the abuses.

Many analysts and observers fear that life in the west Bank is taking on an increasingly authoritarian hue. “I feel real concern that we are reaching the level of a police state,” says Shawan Jabarin, the director of al-Haq, a Ramallah-based human rights group.

It is a concern shared by Randa Siniora, the director of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, the ombudsman responsible for processing complaints against Palestinian officials. Her commission received more complaints about torture in the west Bank in October than in any month since mid- 2009. “We are looking at a very gloomy situation,” she said. “I am afraid that this [problem of torture and abuse] will become systematic.”

Groups such as al-Haq, which once only documented human rights abuses by Israeli authorities, say they are spending an increasing amount of time on cases in which Palestinians abuse their fellow countrymen.....

Human rights groups say almost all were arrested without proper warrants and held, contrary to Palestinian law, without the assent of civilian judges or prosecutors. Many were denied access to lawyers and family members. In several dozen cases, including that of Mr Abu Ayyash, the Palestinian High Court of Justice ordered an immediate release – only for its decision to be either ignored or circumvented by the security apparatus.

For governments in Europe and North America, the worsening human rights situation poses a thorny political dilemma. Many of them provide generous financial support to the PA and regard Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, as an indispensable ally.

The US, fearing an Islamist takeover of the west Bank, has provided much of the training for Mr Fayyad’s security forces.

Some western diplomats say the harsh tactics will spark a popular backlash and undermine the PA. “This is of concern to us,” says one European diplomat. Human rights abuses threaten not only to “damage the long-term legitimacy and credibility of the Palestinian Authority” but raise difficult questions for donors: “If we are building a police statewhat are we actually doing here?”......"

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