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Israel’s human rights record improves

NEW YORK, Feb. 28 (JTA) — Israel’s human rights record improved last year while that of the Palestinian Authority grew worse, according to the U.S. State Department.

The findings were included in the department’s annual report on human rights, which covered 194 countries.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority “were responsible for serious human rights abuses; however, while there were several marked improvements in Israel’s human rights record in the occupied territories, the self-rule government’s human rights record worsened in several areas,” according to the report.

While noting that Israeli security forces committed a number of human rights abuses against Palestinian detainees, the report cited a “landmark decision” by Israel’s High Court of Justice last September prohibiting the use of a variety of “abusive practices,” including violent shaking, painful shackling in contorted positions and sleep deprivation.

“Following the ruling, there were no credible reports of such abuse by the security forces,” according to the report, which was released last Friday.

The report criticized Israel’s justice system, which it said “often imposes far stiffer punishments on Christian, Muslim and Druse persons than on Jewish citizens.”

It also said the Israeli government “provides proportionally greater financial support to institutions in the Jewish sector compared to those in the non-Jewish sector.”

The report addressed violence against women, which it said continues to be “a problem” in Israeli society.

The government “took few tangible steps to address violence and discrimination against women,” the report said.

It also noted that “while there are no legal impediments to the participation of women and minorities in government, they are under represented.”

The report added that “trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution has become a significant problem in recent years.”

“According to a study by the Israel Women’s Network, every year hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union are brought to Israel by well-organized mafia networks and forced through violence and threats to work illegally as prostitutes.”

The report was harsher toward the Palestinian Authority, saying that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat “continues to dominate the affairs of government” and that members of the Palestinian legislative council complain that they do not have “sufficient influence on policy or the behavior of the executive.”

The Palestinian legal system is also “subject to executive influence” from Arafat and his loyalists, who “hold most senior government positions” in the Palestinian Authority, the report said.

It also charged that Palestinian “security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses during the year,” including “abuse, and in some cases torture, against prisoners and detainees.”

“Palestinian security forces killed three persons in violent confrontations,” the report said. They “used excessive force, and in some cases, live ammunition against Palestinian demonstrators and shot at demonstrators and individuals indiscriminately.”

The report criticized several Middle Eastern nations especially harshly:

• Syria. “The human rights situation remained poor, and the Government continues to restrict or deny fundamental rights.” The Ba’ath Party “dominates the political system” and “citizens do not have the right to change their government.”

Human rights abuses “include reports of extrajudicial killings; the widespread use of torture in detention; poor prison conditions; [and] arbitrary arrest and detention,” the report said.

• Iraq. “The government’s human rights record remained extremely poor. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The government continued to execute summarily perceived political opponents and leaders in the Shi’ite religious community. Reports suggest that persons were executed merely because of their association with an opposition group or as part of a continuing effort to reduce prison populations.”

• Iran. “Systematic abuses include extrajudicial killings and summary executions; disappearances; widespread use of torture and other degrading treatment, reportedly including rape.”

The report also charged that the Iranian government “failed to abide by internationally recognized standards of due process” in the case of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested last year amid allegations that they had spied for Israel and the United States. “By year’s end, judicial authorities had not clarified the charges against the detainees or allowed them access to defense counsel.”

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