GENEVA (26 January 2021) – UN experts* said today Israel must immediately stop using its array of military security tools to obstruct the legitimate and indispensable work of human rights defenders.

Their comments come after an Israeli military court convicted Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group which opposes settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance.

Amro was convicted of six charges on 6 January 2021 related to his human rights activities between 2010 and 2016. The experts said they fear he will be imprisoned when he is sentenced on 8 February, 2021.

“This is part of a clear and systematic pattern of detention, judicial harassment and intimidation by Israel of human rights defenders, a pattern that has increased in intensity recently,” the experts said. They said Israeli authorities had arrested Amro numerous times, with the aim of silencing those who would defend the human rights of others.

“Rather than prosecuting human rights defenders, Israel should be listening to them and correcting its own human rights conduct. Israel must obey its international obligations to provide protection to human rights defenders,” the UN Special Rapporteurs said.

Amro was convicted of three counts relating to participation in demonstrations without a permit. Another two counts relate to obstructing security forces, which concerned alleged refusal to accompany Israeli law enforcement officers during arrest. As well, he was convicted of assault for allegedly pushing a settlement guard in 2010.

His conviction appeared to be politically motivated, the experts said.  “This conviction is part of a pattern where Israeli military law is used to restrict and penalise Palestinians for exercising their inviolable political and civil rights.”

The experts said convicting Amro for participating in demonstrations without a permit is contrary to new developments in international human rights law. “The failure to notify authorities of an upcoming assembly does not in itself render the act of participating in the assembly as unlawful.” 

They said Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. The UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment on Article 21 states that a failure to notify the authorities of upcoming assembly, where required, does not render the act of participation in the assembly unlawful.

Amro was first put on trial in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges dating back to 2010, including incitement, entering a closed military zone, and participating in a march without a permit. He had been taking part in a peaceful protest calling for the re-opening of Shuhada Street, the former commercial centre of Hebron.

“The Israeli military court system in the West Bank is deeply flawed and has been repeatedly used to silence human rights defenders. The system follows a vague interpretation of offences and military orders fail to clarify what conduct can result in criminal offence,” the experts said.

The Special Rapporteurs and other human rights experts have sent several letters to Israel seeking clarification on Issa Amro’s case.

ENDS

* The UN experts: Mr. Michael Lynk (Canada), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Note: Read Michael Lynk’s March 2017 report on the challenges faced by human rights defenders in the OPT.