25 April 2006
UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Philip Alston Questions Israel's Conduct in
October 2000 Investigations
On 27 March 2006, Professor Phillip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, issued his report to the 62nd Session of the Commission on Human Rights in which he raises concerns over Israel's failure to properly investigate the fatal shooting of 13 Palestinian citizens in Israel during the October 2000 protest demonstrations.
As the legal representative of the Committee for the Victims' Families, Adalah has submitted material concerning the October 2000 killings, the official Or Commission of Inquiry, which inquired into these events, and the Ministry of Justice's Police Investigation Unit's (“Mahash”) failure to conduct complete and independent investigations into the killings to Prof. Alston in his capacity as a UN Special Rapporteur.
In the report, Prof. Alston documented his correspondence with the State of Israel between September 2005 and January 2006 regarding outstanding concerns of excessive use of force and police impunity regarding the October 2000 killings. Specifically, Prof. Alston wrote to question Mahash's decision to close its investigation into the deaths without issuing a single indictment, despite the Or Commission's conclusions and recommendations issued in 2003. The UN Special Rapporteur's report noted that the Or Commission specifically found police officers and commanders responsible or culpable for individual deaths as a result of orders to use snipers and live ammunition against unarmed protestors, in addition to not taking adequate steps to prevent the demonstrations from escalating into clashes between protestors and police.
Prof. Alston challenged the reasons given by Mahash to justify its decision to close the investigation: Mahash claimed that individual cases either lacked sufficient evidence or that the circumstances of the case called for the degree of force used by police officers. The report also questions Mahash's claim that the lack of sufficient evidence in certain cases was due to the lack of cooperation of the victims' families, especially in their refusal to consent to the state's request to exhume some of the bodies of the deceased for autopsy. Prof. Alston points out that this claim is dubious as Mahash did not issue indictments in cases where autopsies were performed, yielding significant physical evidence, and that, after five years, the condition of victims' bodies would not provide substantial or conclusive physical evidence. Furthermore, Prof. Alston writes that Mahash's claim that its investigations found that officers and commanders in question used necessary force contradicts the findings of the Or Commission, which deemed the use of live ammunition and snipers against unarmed demonstrators unjustified in every instance.
Prof. Alston stated that the failure of Israel to hold individuals accountable for the October 2000 killings, especially considering the substantial evidence uncovered by the Or Commission, runs contrary to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Principle 9 of the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.
In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur wrote in a letter sent to the government in September 2005 that, “Five years after the fatal shooting of 13 Arab men by Israeli police forces and after a commission of inquiry set up by your Excellency's Government concluded that the use of force in these cases had been excessive, a decision has been taken by the Government not to hold anyone accountable for their deaths.” The letter insisted that there should be an aggressive review of the decision and that the families be provided with the right to challenge the decision, and asked for the state to respond detailing how it intends to proceed with the appeal.
In its response to Prof. Alston's letter, in January 2006, the state reported on its decision to assign the Deputy State Attorney the responsibility of re-examining Mahash's decision to close the investigations.
Adalah notes that the state's response to the Special Rapporteur neglects to mention Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's inappropriate endorsement of Mahash's report, which undermines his objectivity in this matter. Further, Adalah notes that the impartiality of the Deputy State Attorney is questionable as his supervisor, Eran Shendar, was the Director of Mahash during October 2000 and bears the main responsibility for Mahash's omissions and failures to investigate the killings immediately after the events.