US State Department: Human Rights Report (March 2020)
[24 March 2020] – On 11 March 2020, the US State Department published its annual country report on human rights for 2019 (the Report). The Report is mandated by Congress and documents human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories. Staff in US embassies around the world compile the information contained in the Report. As in previous years the Report highlights human rights violations by multiple actors in the region and considers the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention.
The State Department again confirmed that Israel applies two legal systems in the West Bank depending on whether a person is Palestinian (military law), or an Israeli settler (civilian law). While military law technically applies to both Palestinians and settlers, applying two systems violates the principal that no State is permitted to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction based on race or national identity. Paradoxically, Israel continues to rely on the Fourth Geneva Convention as the legal basis for applying military law to Palestinians, while at the same time ignoring prohibitions in the Convention relating to settlement activity.
The State Department also confirmed that 80 percent of Palestinians arrested by Israel in the West Bank are detained in prisons inside Israel. This violates provisions in the Fourth Geneva Convention and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibiting the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory. The US has imposed sanctions on Russia for similarly transferring Ukrainians out of Crimea to prisons in the Russian Federation. The forcible transfer of prisoners was designated a war crime following its widespread use in the Second World War. The argument that the West Bank is not occupied territory is inconsistent with Israel’s own assertion that it is occupied for the purposes of prosecuting Palestinians in military courts.
As in previous years, the State Department noted that Palestinian child detainees are: mostly arrested at night in military raids; generally not informed of the reasons for arrest promptly; zip-tied and blindfolded contrary to military regulations; subjected to widespread physical abuse; mostly denied their legal right to speak to a lawyer prior to interrogation; strip searched, threatened, verbally abused and coerced into providing confessions before being sent to military courts for trial. More than two-thirds of these children also report being shown, or told to sign, statements written in Hebrew at the conclusion of their interrogations. Once in custody, Palestinian children are denied telephone communication with their parents.
For a third year running the State Department has omitted all references to “the Occupied Territories” to describe the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. While this development is a departure from international law and UN Security Council resolutions, the shift in policy was confirmed by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, when he issued a statement in November implicitly rejecting the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the conflict by claiming that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law”. While the Secretary of State did not explain how Israel could continue to apply military law to Palestinians if the Convention does not apply, his statement does suggest that the US is no longer committed to a rules-based order or to the principle of non-acquisition of territory by force. This development may have far reaching legal implications beyond the region including in Crimea and the South China Sea.
Also for a third year running, the State Department has applied a different reporting methodology to its Israel/Palestine report compared to the reports prepared for all other states and territories. No explanation has been provided for applying different methodologies but the effect is to limit what weight can be given to all 200 State Department country reports which now appear to be subject to overt political interference.
· 2016 Country Reports (Israel and The Occupied Territories)