UN experts urge Israel to stop harassment of human rights activist Issa Amro

Special Rapporteur Richard Falk.
UN Photo/Jess Hoffman
Special Rapporteur Richard Falk.

UN experts urge Israel to stop harassment of human rights activist Issa Amro

A group of United Nations independent human rights experts today expressed deep concern at the alleged ongoing judicial harassment, intimidation and abusive treatment directed against Issa Amro, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender.

Mr. Amro, a founder of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Youth Against Settlements and Hebron Defenders, was arrested and detained 20 times in 2012, and six times in 2013, without being charged.

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, said Mr. Amro appears to be the victim of a “pattern of harassment” that includes an effort to intimidate him ahead of his participation in June 2013 as an NGO representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where he delivered two statements.

Over the past months, Mr. Amro also received a number of death threats from settler organizations.

“Among the most insidious features of the prolonged occupation of the West Bank has been the high degree of complicity linking the Israeli military administration to the violence of the unlawful settlers against Palestinian inhabitants,” Mr. Falk said in a statement, urging the Government to ensure that settlers do not harass or intimidate Palestinians with impunity.

The experts also highlighted an incident on 8 July 2013, when Israeli soldiers allegedly beat Mr. Amro, taking photos of him on a stretcher and threatening to shoot him. He was hospitalized more than five hours later and summoned to the same police station the next day.

“I am very concerned for Mr. Amro’s life, physical integrity and the psychological toll that this is having on his health and family,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez.

He stressed that there is an absolute and non-derogable ban under international human rights law on the use of torture as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

More recently, on 25 July, heavily armed Israeli soldiers raided the Youth Against Settlements Centre, and allegedly fired on Mr. Amro and three other activists the next day.

“The right to freedom of association suggests that those exercising it are specifically protected from threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.

“Those responsible for these unacceptable acts against Mr. Amro should be held accountable, while members of the Youth Against Settlements Centre should immediately be granted adequate protection.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, added that Mr. Amro faced an “unacceptable campaign of harassment, intimidation and reprisals” that extended to other human rights defenders who peacefully advocate for the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, including by cooperating with UN human rights bodies.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, noted that during his visit to the West Bank in 2011, he had been deeply concerned by the restrictions imposed by Israel on the work of human rights defenders and journalists working in the occupied territory.

“Intimidation through arbitrary arrests risks silencing important voices that inform us about the real situation on the ground,” he said.

“We call on the Government of Israel to make sure that every allegation of torture or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of Palestinians in Israeli custody is investigated in a thorough and transparent investigation and that those responsible are held accountable for their acts,” the experts urged.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are tasked with examining and reporting back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.