Ramallah - Both organizers of and participants in the second Palestinian conference against the death penalty emphasized the need to separate the military from the civil judiciary under all circumstances and the necessity for the amendment of the law in order to limit and reduce the crimes that lead to the death penalty in the Palestinian legislation. The conference also stressed the need for the suspension of the death penalty stipulated in the Palestinian legislation until its final abolishment. It is also necessary to conduct public education campaigns to promote the rule of law and legal culture while inviting journalists, media elites, political and academic elites, advocates and others to contribute to the awareness-raising efforts.
The second Palestinian Conference Against the Death Penalty was held under the slogan "Towards an Effective Palestinian Strategy Against Death Penalty" and concluded its activities on Wednesday.
Ms. Randa Siniora, the Executive Director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), opened the conference with a speech delivered on behalf of the Palestinian Coalition Against the Death Penalty in which she expressed the concerns of both of the Coalition and the Independent Commission for Human Rights, about the issuance of death sentences by military and civil courts.
Ms. Siniora stressed the fact that while no criminal should enjoy impunity from punishment, the capital punishment is contrary to modern criminal policies that are based on reforming rather than taking the life of criminals. After welcoming the participants, she further explained that in 2009 the military courts issued sixteen death sentences, thirteen in the Gaza Strip and three in the West Bank. Although none of these sentences were carried out since they have not been ratified by the President, as stated in the provisions of the law, the fact that the military courts continue to issue death sentences does constitute a violation of the fundamental right to life, a stark violation to Article (6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Military courts lack standards and guarantees of fair trial, and issue their rulings in accordance with the provisions of Paragraph (a), Article (131) of the Revolutionary Penal Code which was issued in 1979 by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
For all of the above, the Coalition and the Independent Commission for Human Rights are gravely concerned about death sentences being issued by military courts, and those sentences issued earlier by civil courts. Hence, the Coalition and ICHR are working against this penalty through various programs and activities that aim at lobbying all active parties to influence Palestinian legislators and decision-makers. This is precisely the objective of the Project against the Death Penalty, which has recently been launched with the support of the British Consulate.
Ms. Siniora thanked the audience and hoped the conference lays the foundations for the formation of an effective Palestinian strategy against the death penalty since many participants are legal experts and human rights activists who have the capacity to influence decision makers into abolishing this penalty.
In his speech, the President of the Military Court, Honorable Ahmed Al-Mobayed, argued that the death penalty applies as long as it is in force, and therefore is obligatory for the judge to rule for. Judge Al-Mobayed asserted that the Court does not legislate or create penalties but applies what is already stated in the laws. Anti-death penalty institutions should focus on pushing for legal amendments and refrain from criticizing the courts, whether military or civilian, since they are judicial authorities only.
He further explained that the military justice is a specialized form of judiciary rather than an exceptional one, and constitutes a part of the Palestinian justice system. The military court does take into account in its trails all international guarantees granted to the defendant including providing defendants with one lawyer or more, and allowing the presence of journalists during the trials. He noted that in case of the absence of a defense lawyer, the court is obliged to appoint one at its own expense.
ICHR advocate, Mr. Musa Abu Dhaim, presented statistics on the 16 death sentences issued as of the beginning of 2009 until today, of which 13 are issued in Gaza and 3 in the West Bank, all of which were issued by military courts. It is likely that the number of death sentences would rise in the coming period. However, Abu Dhaim also clarified that the death sentence cannot be carried out except only after ratification by President Mahmoud Abbas, in accordance with the provision of Article (109) of the Amended Basic Law. Since the establishment of the PNA in 1994, 92 death sentences were issued of which only 14 were carried out, while in the Gaza Strip they were executed on the ground by armed militias or individuals after the beginning of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip. As for charges leading to the issuance of death sentences, they included: collaborating with the enemy, treason, homicide, and the diversion of Palestinian land to Israelis.
Mr. Essam Aruri, representative of the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid, presented the mechanisms and strategies of the Palestinian action against the Death Penalty. He stated that in the cases where punishment was executed, whether formally or extra-judicially, public pressure played a critical role in execution, which as a result had sometimes led to the fall of innocent victims. Mr. Aruri stressed the need to upgrade the popular culture especially with respect to the idea of "revenge", and called on the media, educators, and human rights institutions to assume active roles in the promotion of all forms of awareness and education on the death penalty.
The second panel was moderated by Mr. Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of Al-Haq and included a presentation by Mr. Ronald Frederick, representative of the Geneva Center for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DECAF) entitled "The Jurisdiction and Mandate of Military Judiciary in International Experiences".
Dr. Ahmed Al-Barak, Director of the Public Prosecution and the Judicial Training Unit, presented a paper entitled "The Jurisdiction and Mandate of Military Judiciary in International Experiences". In addition, via video conference with Gaza city, Advocate Mervat Al-Nahhal, representative of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, presented a third paper on "The legality of Trying Palestinian Civilians Before the Military Judiciary". The fourth contribution was provided by Advocate Nasser Al-Rayes, the legal Advisor of Al-Haq, which included a paper on "Victims Rights and Legal liability Arising from Trial of Civilians before Military Courts".