GENEVA (12 November 2020) – Israel must release a former Gaza aid worker who has been in prison for more than four years without a verdict, or immediately grant him a fair trial, UN human rights experts* said today.
Mohammed el-Halabi, the former Gaza director of the World Vision charity, was arrested by Israeli security forces in June 2016 on allegations that he diverted millions of dollars in development funds to armed groups in Gaza, charges he denies, and which audits have not substantiated.
“Mr el-Halabi’s arrest, interrogation and trial is not worthy of a democratic state,” the experts said. “Israeli authorities must grant him the full rights of a fair trial, or else release him unconditionally.
“What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians,” they said.
Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, questioned him for 50 days after his arrest without allowing him access to a lawyer. El-Halabi says he was tortured, deprived of sleep and hung from a ceiling during this time. His lawyer says the Israeli prosecutor repeatedly offered him a plea deal, but he rejected it and maintained his innocence.
“It’s particularly disturbing that the prosecution is relying upon confessions allegedly obtained by force while he was denied access to a lawyer, and on testimony from undercover informers,” the experts said.
Since his arrest and imprisonment, el-Halabi has attended more than 140 court hearings, some behind closed doors. His lawyer has been prevented from reviewing Israeli prosecution evidence, or was given only limited access with secrecy restrictions.
“These fundamentally unfair practices stain the justice system of any state,” the experts said. “We demand that Israel adhere to the requirements of the international rule of law.”
The international rule of law requires that an individual who is arrested must only be detained if there are reasonable suspicions that she or he has committed a recognised crime, and the charges and the evidence must be clearly laid out so defendants know what they have to answer. Comprehensive audits of the financial records by World Vision failed to turn up any misappropriation of funds or wrongdoing. The Australian government, which also audited the funds that it had donated to World Vision for the Palestinian territories, did not come across any irregularities.
Under the international rule of law, a defendant is entitled to swift access to a lawyer and to timely criminal proceedings that are fair and impartial. Any defendant must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, and is entitled to cross-examine witnesses and to present her or his own witnesses.
“Even in security trials, these fundamental rights must be respected,” the experts said. “Unfortunately, Mr el-Halabi has been put in the position where he is required to refute allegations against him without knowing the details or who the accusers are. Keeping him in the dark like this shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, and is a fundamental violation of the right to a fair trial.”
(*) The experts:
Mr. Michael Lynk,
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967;
Ms. Agnès Callamard,
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;
Mr. Nils Melzer,
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
Mr. Diego García-Sayán,
UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page: Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
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