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Israel: UN experts alarmed by potential reinstatement of death penalty for “terrorism offences”

24 February 2023

GENEVA (24 February 2023) – UN experts* today expressed grave concern that the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation will vote on a private member’s bill to reinstate the death penalty for persons defined as “terrorists” next week.

“The reinstatement of the death penalty is a deeply retrogressive step. More so when, on the face of it, the punishment will apply against minorities living within the State or those who live under the 55-year military occupation and rule,” the experts said.

The proposed legislation defines such persons as those who “intentionally or out of indifference cause the death of an Israeli citizen, when the act is carried out from a racist motive or hate to a certain public … and with the purpose of harming the State of Israel and the rebirth of the Jewish people in its homeland.”

The UN experts said that the proposed law further entrenches two classes of criminal law in the State. “One class which privileges and protects Israeli Jewish citizens of the State and one which further targets, marginalises and undervalues the lives of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory—and their fundamental rights to non-discrimination and self-determination,” they said.

Two United Nations Working Groups and seven Independent Experts have trenchantly identified human rights and humanitarian law deficiencies in the Israeli Counter-Terrorism Law 5776-2016 and related regulations and orders (OL ISR 6/2022). The experts clearly identified that these overarching terrorism laws and regulations—including their sentencing provisions—suffer from a lack of legal precision, infringe on critically important rights and appear not to meet the required thresholds of legality, necessity, proportionality, and non-discrimination under international law.

“We are deeply concerned that counter-terrorism laws are already applied arbitrarily and undermine the fundamental guarantees of international humanitarian and human rights law with respect to counter-terrorism efforts,” the experts said. “The proposed law merely exacerbates these challenges.”

According to the experts, the fact that the Bill proposes that if the crime occurs in the occupied Palestinian territory such punishments will apply in military court, even where there is a lack of judicial unanimity on the appropriate punishment is deeply worrying, the experts said. “It also raises significant due process and fair trial challenges, as well as the potential arbitrary deprivation of life,” they said, underlining that the trial of civilians in military courts per se raises serious concerns in guaranteeing the right to equality and a fair trial and is permitted only under exceptional circumstances.

“Human rights violative practices and legislation do not make any country safer or more secure, but rather create the conditions that produce and sustain violence,” the experts warned.

They urged the Israeli government to abandon the Bill that appears discriminatory and pull back from undermining the rule of law in the use of a penalty that the international community has pledged to abolish.

* The experts: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Ms. Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The experts 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: Israel

For more information and media requests, please contact Karen Reyes Tolosa ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

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