Amnesty: Abuses Prevalent Despite Commitment to Peace

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority continue to commit human rights abuses despite their commitment to peace, according to Amnesty International’s annual report on human rights around the world.

Although Amnesty said abuses in Israel have declined, the organization cited concerns about Israeli and Palestinian treatment of dissidents. The report also detailed deaths, tortures and the number of arrests on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s part.

This year’s which examined the record of human rights in 151 countries during 1994, is the first to include the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority was established last year when, under an agreement with Israel self-rule was established in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank enclave of Jericho.

“The situation has not markedly improved,” William Schulz, Amnesty’s executive director, said, referring to Israel and the Palestinians.

“Given Israel’s continued human rights abuses, supplemented by the Palestinian Authority’s, the situation continues to deteriorate,” he said at a news conference last week.

One explanation for the continued abuses is the peace process itself, Amnesty’s Schulz said.

The peace initiative has prompted terrorist acts from those who oppose it, which in turn causes reactions — from Israel or the Palestinian Authority – - that violate the rights of the suspected terrorists, he said.

Israeli officials criticized the report, immediately firing off a four-page statement from the Israeli Justice Ministry, deriding what it termed Amnesty’s “misleading terminology and decontextualized presentations of inaccurate facts.”

The statement gives Israel’s version of incidents listed in Amnesty’s report, puts Israel’s security actions in the context of a country besieged by terrorism and says accusations of torture are the result of Palestinian fabrications

In the report, Amnesty asserted that “Palestinian detainees continued to be systematically tortured or ill-treated during interrogation by the General Security Service, often while held incommunicado.”

Some of the methods of torture included hooding prisoners with dirty sacks, shackling them in painful positions for extended periods, beatings, confinement and sleep deprivation, the study said.

Israeli officials called the evidence on which Amnesty based its conclusions “neither credible nor reliable” and said Palestinians fabricated the incidents to avoid being seen as collaborating with the Israeli government.

“Clearly such false claims of torture are made with a view to slander Israel’s reputation in the international community,” the Israeli statement said.

In a separate statement, the Israel Defense Force lambasted the report and said Amnesty had ignored the terrorist acts committed against Israelis during the year.

The study’s assessment of human rights abuses in Israel contrasted sharply with the State Department’s annual report, released in February.

That report, which also looked at how political prisoners were treated, indicated that Israel’s human rights situation was improving.

While Amnesty’s study dealt primarily with the treatment of prisoners, torture and fair-trial issues, the State Department cast a wider net, examining religious freedoms, freedom of travel, discrimination and workers’ rights.

According to Amnesty’s study, Israel arrested more than 6,000 Palestinian on security issues, down from the 13,000 arrested in 1993. Israeli forces killed at least 82 Palestinians, some of whom died under circumstances that suggest extrajudicial killings, the report said. In 1993, about 150 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces.

The report said that in the occupied territories, “Israeli authorities continued to make extensive use of firearms, arrests and restriction orders confining Palestinians to the territories.”

On the Palestinian side, the authority’s security forces arrested hundreds of Palestinians, many arbitrarily, and denied prisoners access to lawyers or judges, the study said.

Most of those arrested were suspected members of Islamic and other groups opposed to the peace process, the report said.

Palestinian prisoners also reported incidents of torture, the report said, citing beatings as one method.

Also, 15 Palestinians were shot dead under circumstances that suggested that they were unlawfully killed, the report said.

One prisoner, Farid Abu Jarbu’, died at Gaza Prison’s interrogation center. The authority arrested four officials in connection with the death, according to the report.

The report also listed attacks by Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Hamas. About 75 Israeli civilians, 70 Palestinian civilians and 13 members of Israeli security forces were killed in such attacks, the report said.

More than 70 Palestinians were killed by Palestinian groups for “collaborating” with Israeli authorities, the study said.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, arrests of political opponents, holding people without charges, unfair trials and torture were prevalent, according to the Amnesty report.

In Syria, thousands of political prisoners remained detained, many without trials or charges and some after their sentences had expired, the report said. Also, many political prisoners arrested in the past remained unaccounted for, the study said.

The situation was better in Jordan, where 450 people were arrested on security grounds. Most were released, but allegations of torture by Jordan’s General Intelligence Department were reported.

In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of people were arrested for their political or religious beliefs, at least 53 people were executed and the country continued to use amputation as a punishment, the report said.

In Iran, thousands of political prisoners were held by the government. There were continuing reports of torture, political arrests, unfair trials and summary executions, the study said.

Similar abuses took place in Iraq, where torture remained “widespread” and the government developed new punishments, involving the mutilation of criminals, the study said. Also, the Iraqi government detained thousands of political opponents and their families. The fate of some detainees is still unknown.

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