As reported late last week, the Palestinian human rights organisation, Al-Haq, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation since September 2015 that appears to target their work towards achieving legal accountability for Palestinian victims of serious human rights violations. This escalated in the last month to include anonymous death threats against Al-Haq’s director and its representative before the International Criminal Court.
It is imperative that relevant national authorities take all appropriate actions to ensure that criminal acts targeting Al-Haq and its employees immediately cease. Furthermore, threats against Al-Haq and its employees also constitute an attack on human rights defenders that engages specific protections contained within the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Targeted attacks and context
Al-Haq is an independent, Palestinian non government organisation based in Ramallah in the West Bank, and is an an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists.
In conjunction with three other Palestinian human rights organisations, Al-Haq recently submitted two communications to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC regarding alleged serious crimes committed by Israeli military forces in Gaza in the summer of 2014. The communications were submitted as part of the ICC prosecutor’s preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine; the latest submission was made on 10 February 2016.
Al-Haq reports that one of its employees, a human rights lawyer based in The Hague who is responsible for Al-Haq’s work at the ICC, received several death threats in February 2016 that were directly linked to Al-Haq’s ICC work. These calls were followed by further death threats at the start of this month which were also directed at Al-Haq’s director, Mr Shawan Jabarin.
As Al-Haq further states, these death threats mark an exacerbation of a more recent campaign to undermine their work “[c]oinciding with, and as a result of, the progress achieved at the level of the International Criminal Court and decisions at the EU level regarding the labeling of settlement products.” Al-Haq’s statement details that since September 2015 there have been a series of anonymous attempts to discredit the organisation among its donors and staff through unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, misconduct and misuse of funds. Staff members and donors have also received intimidating phone calls from blocked numbers, and in more recent weeks staff have noted interference in their emails and evidence that their accounts have been hacked.
Al-Haq situates these incidents against a context of various forms of attacks by Israeli authorities since its establishment in 1979, including the arbitrary detention of staff members, the imposition of a seven-year travel ban on its director and raids on its offices by Israeli soldiers. They further assert that they are “convinced that the source of these attacks, as the case was in previous years, is the Israeli side”, and that the appropriate authorities have been notified and are investigating the incidents.
Expressing concern about these recent threats, Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), stated last Friday that:
“Al-Haq is clearly targeted for its critical work in advocating, documenting and monitoring human rights violations in the Palestinian territory. It is fundamental to stand by this pivotal human rights organisation in the face of these attacks to ensure it can pursue its essential activities in the defence of the rights of the Palestinian people”
The Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Al-Haq is an organisation of human rights defenders, and as such its staff are given specific protection under the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The Declaration provides for the support and protection of human rights defenders in their work, and outlines some specific duties of States and the responsibilities of everyone with regard to defending human rights. The recent report of the UN special rapporteur on the situation for human rights defenders summarises these obligations in clear language:
The protection of human rights defenders should be seen in the context of three obligations that international human rights law imposes on States: to respect human rights by refraining from violating them; to protect such rights by intervening through protective action on behalf of defenders against threats by others; and to fulfil them by ensuring a safe and enabling environment for defenders to enjoy their rights and to carry out their activities.
International human rights law obligations and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders clearly provide that all states have a responsibility for ensuring the protection of human rights defenders. This context underlines the imperative need for relevant national authorities to immediately carry out all necessary investigation and law enforcement measures so as to ensure that Al-Haq is able to carry out its crucial work without further criminal threats and harassment.
Dearbhla Katharine Minogue