In 2012, the United Nations (UN) granted the Palestinians non-member observer State status. Following this decision, the “State of Palestine” – as officially named in the UN – ratified several international treaties, supposedly to commit itself to comply with human rights and other international legal obligations. One such treaty is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which obligates those countries that have joined the treaty to respect and ensure the protection of fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, equality, and freedom of thought.
But how does one ensure that countries actually comply with their obligations and protect the rights of those under their jurisdiction? This is, in fact, the role of the UN Human Rights Committee, which receives reports from the State parties on the measures they have adopted in relation to the rights contained in the ICCPR. For this purpose, the Committee receives both the report of the state in question as well as documents submitted by organizations that wish to provide more information on the state’s compliance with the ICCPR. After analyzing the information received, the Committee issues recommendations to the state.
This month, it was the State of Palestine’s turn to attend and be examined by the Committee. Last week, the Committee issued its recommendations to the State of Palestine, also expressing its concerns on the numerous human rights violations that appear to be committed by Palestinian authorities.
Among the several human rights abuses highlighted in the Committee’s concluding observations, there is one that has not received enough attention from the international community: detainees are often subjected to torture by Palestinian security forces and intelligence services. The Committee has expressed its concerns “about consistent reports indicating that persons in custody, including in the facilities under the authority of the security forces and intelligence services, are subjected to torture or ill-treatment.”
What is even more alarming is the fact that many of the persons subjected to torture are actually children. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, the national human rights institution established by Presidential Decree and has the function of an ombudsman, informed the UN Committee Against Torture that between 2016 and 2021, they received 4,279 claims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, with 12% of them filed by children (Shadow Report of the Independent Commission for Human Rights on the initial report submitted by the State of Palestine on the implementation of the Convention against Torture, 2022).
The report submitted by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) also provides detailed information on the many cases of torture committed by the Palestinian authorities. Most individuals subjected to torture and inhumane treatment are those who exercise their fundamental rights by participating in peaceful protests or publicly voicing criticism against the authorities and those who are accused of “collaborating with Israel.” As pointed out by JIJ’s report, “these abuses and acts of torture have occurred across various periods, underscoring the fact that they are not isolated incidents.”
What is also concerning is the culture of impunity sustained by the Palestinian authorities. As pointed out by the Committee, only a few complaints of torture are investigated, and almost none of the investigations have resulted in the prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators. The Committee has therefore called upon the State of Palestine to “investigate promptly, thoroughly and effectively all cases of torture and ill-treatment in all places of deprivation of liberty, to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offenses and that victims of such violations receive full reparation and are provided with redress.”
But how does all this effort by the Committee and organizations truly translate into real-life change? Does this have any actual impact on those individuals whose rights are being violated by the Palestinian Authorities? Moreover, the Committee is one of many bodies in the UN that are responsible to oversee and ensure the respect of human rights. Even several bodies were specifically established regarding the rights of the Palestinians, so shouldn’t these institutions also focus on the human rights violations being committed by the Palestinian authorities?
The status of the Palestinians remains a contentious topic, subject to ongoing debate. Palestinian authorities have sought state recognition, which the UN eventually granted. However, this recognition must not be mere rhetoric or a political instrument; it holds the potential to make a meaningful difference. Regrettably, the UN has sometimes been manipulated as a platform for discussions that, under the guise of safeguarding human rights, mask hidden agendas and overlook real abuses.
The UN Human Rights Committee, composed of independent experts rather than states, plays a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of every individual. As a human rights advocate, I remain optimistic that this framework can lead to positive outcomes, hoping that even the State of Palestine, in its pursuit of recognition, will fulfill its obligations and uphold human rights.