ICHR strengthens human rights in Palestine
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) has worked for the respect of human rights for nearly 25 years and permeates the legal system in Palestine – among other things, by receiving complaints from Palestinians whose rights have been violated.
Arrests without legal grounds, torture and other inhumane or demeaning treatment are some of the violations of human rights that Palestinians are subjected to by their own state. Activists, journalists and representatives for civil society organisations say that their room to manoeuvre has shrunk in recent years and many of them have been subjected to threats and violence. Freedoms of the press, speech and assembly are limited.
The Palestinian institution for human rights: the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) has worked to change this since 1993. ICHR has the mission to protect, monitor and promote human rights in Palestine. Every year, the Commission receives more than 3,000 reports of human rights violations that mainly relate to police and security forces, but also to other state bodies. The most common reports are about violations of the right to correct legal proceedings (including through arbitrary detention) and of the right to physical security.
“Our objective is for the Palestinian state to protect human rights and maintain its citizen’s dignity. We want laws and policies to be in line with international standards for human rights and people who have had their rights violated should receive redress,” says the Commission’s Director General Ammar Dwaik.
The laws do not follow the human rights
ICHR works for human rights on a broad front. Among other things, the Commission takes up citizen complaints with authority representatives, trains civil servants in human rights, monitors legislation and visits prisons and detention centres. Every year, a report on human rights in Palestine is published that usually has a wide distribution, even internationally.
Influencing legislation is another important task for ICHR. National elections have not been held in Palestine for more than 10 years and the parliament has not met since, which means that laws are made through presidential decree. They often conflict with the international conventions on human rights. Even though Palestine has subscribed to them since 2014, the conventions have not been incorporated into the national laws. ICHR works actively for this to take place. The Commission is sometimes invited as an advising actor in legislative processes, and in the cases where they are not, they take their own initiative to exert influence.
“The fact that the parliament does not work means that the laws are rarely properly discussed and that the citizens are not involved in the process. We therefore do everything we can to affect the legislation so that it takes human rights into consideration,” says Ammar Dwaik.
And the Commission’s work has had an impact on a number of important cases. In spring 2017, for example, a decision was blocked that would prohibit certain citizens from leaving Palestine. Debate can change policy.
ICHR also conducts training and carries out campaigns to highlight various aspects of human rights. Among other things, the Commission has increased awareness of torture and the death penalty.
Creating debate and spreading knowledge of human rights in the public is important, according to Ammar Dwaik. Bringing up the issue of violations of the freedom of speech can, for example, provide redress for journalists or social media activists.
“And when it comes to rights, such as women’s rights or rights for people with disabilities, it is also a matter of policy. Public debate about these issues can lead to policy changes,” says Ammar Dwaik.
Obstacles to work for human rights
At the same time, there is a lot that impedes the commission’s work. The Israeli occupation is an obvious obstacle, but even within Palestine, the political situation makes it difficult to work for human rights. The division within Palestine – between Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza – means that the ICHR works towards two different political leaderships. And the relationship with the government is not always an easy affair:
“There is a tension between us and the government. When we speak openly about violations of human rights, criticise the behaviour of civil servants or laws that do not follow the human rights, of course it doesn’t make them happy. But it’s good, it means that we are doing our jobs,” says Ammar Dwaik.
Sweden has supported the Commission since the beginning with four other countries: Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.
“The support we receive from these countries is essential for us to be able to maintain our activities and continue being independent from the state. It’s also an important political statement for these countries as they, through their support, emphasise the importance of the respect of human rights and the inclusion of human rights into every aspect of society,” says Ammar Dwaik.
In 2009, ICHR was recognised as a national institution according to the UN Paris principles. Around the world, there are several similar institutions. In the Middle East, there are relatively few, however, but there may soon be more. Both in Tunisia and Iraq, the Palestinian ICHR has trained people so that similar institutions will be able to be set up.