In January 2005, the Israeli High Court considered a petition for an injunction to stop the Israeli State’s “targeted prevention” policy of deliberately killing Palestinians believed to have taken part in hostilities or belonging to militant groups. At the request of the petitioners, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), a member of the BHRC attended the hearing.
Over the course of fifteen months, seven experienced barristers selected by the BHRC undertook one-to-three month placements in the OPT, working with the Palestinian Bar Association (PBA), Palestinian lawyers, trainee lawyers and law students, the Palestinian Independent Centre for Citizens’ Rights (PICCR), non governmental organisations such as Al Haq, Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, Defence for Children International (DCI), the Ensan Centre for Human Rights, United Against Torture (UAT), the Italian Consortium of Solidarity, and a number of women’s organisations, providing training on human rights and humanitarian law, reviewing procedures for the better identification and documentation of human rights abuses and conducting reviews of existing Palestinian legislation for human rights compliance.
In addition, a number of senior academics and lawyers at the Bar of England and Wales spent a week in Ramallah, providing focused training to lawyers and activists. The barristers who undertook placements in Ramallah were Mr Paul Troop from Tooks Chambers, Mr Tanveer Qureshi from 25 Bedford Row, Ms. Michelle Harris from 1 Pump Court, Ms. Hannah Rought Brooks from Tooks Chambers, Ms. Smita Shah from Garden Court Chambers, Ms. Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh from Matrix Chambers and Mr. Mark Mc Donald from 1 Pump Court.
- Strengthen the capacity of Palestinian lawyers, judges and activists to identify and document violations of human rights, and to prepare effective cases for domestic and international mechanisms.
- To identify through a survey of the laws and procedures in force, the recognition given by the law in force to human rights and the possibilities for legal action against any violation of these.
Production of a handbook for Palestinian lawyers
One of the main outputs of the project was the production of a handbook for Palestinian lawyers. The 300 page handbook, printed in both English and Arabic, sets out the key human rights standards as established in international systems and frameworks, cross-referencing with the provisions of Palestinian legislation mirroring those standards and elucidating the framework within which international human rights can be implemented in domestic courts. The handbook sets out in detail the United Nations Special Procedure system through which complaints against human rights violations committed with the OPT may be made, and describes how to raise internal complaints concerning human rights abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority to the PICCR.
Five hundred copies of the handbook were published in Arabic and one hundred in English. They were distributed by volunteer Committee barristers to all the lawyers attending the BHRC training sessions throughout the West Bank. Copies were also provided on request to numerous national and international NGOs working in the field.
To access the manual please go to Training Manual for Palestinian Lawyers. [English]
Rule of Law Training
The initial project proposal provided for a one-week training programme on international human rights and humanitarian law, mechanisms and remedies, highlighting their applicability to the OPT. However, given the reception received by the first training in Ramallah, coupled with the intense difficulties faced by Palestinian lawyers in moving throughout the West Bank, it was decided – and approved by the FCO – that the training should be taken to the three other main population centres in the West Bank; namely Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem. Due to the security situation it proved impossible to conduct training in Gaza. However, requests were made to the Israeli Administration to secure the attendance of Gazan lawyers at the final training session in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, only one such permit was ultimately granted.
Thus, over the course of the 15 months, volunteer BHRC barristers conducted four three-day training sessions focused on the rule of law with qualified lawyers, trainee lawyers and NGOs in the four main centres of the West Bank previously listed. Speakers from NGOs and international organisations, such as the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UAT, were asked to speak on their specialist areas.
Over 120 members of the Palestinian legal community, including trainee barristers, and members of the NGO community attended the training. The training focused on the role of the advocate in upholding human rights and on domestic and international mechanisms to highlight State non-compliance with human rights obligations. These areas were very new to most lawyers who had not previously engaged with UN Special Procedures or even the complaints mechanism of the PICCR to further their clients’ cases. Participants also learnt how to better document alleged abuses of human rights as they arose, including drafting of affidavits and witness interviewing skills. Particular focus was placed on the increasing use of the principle of universal jurisdiction to challenge in non-national courts gross human rights abuses by the Israeli military and administration. The training finished with case studies focusing on human rights violations committed by both the PA and the Israeli Administration.
At the request of the PICCR, BHRC volunteers undertook a legal review of existing Palestinian laws, assessing their conformity with international human rights standards and making recommendations for change to ensure greater compliance and to enhance the possibility of legal remedies through the local courts in relation to human rights violations. Recommendations were used by the PICCR in their ongoing advocacy and consultative roles. As part of this exercise, BHRC barristers also produced a draft Palestinian police code of conduct, based in large part on the code of conduct for police in England and Wales, to be put forward as a proposed model for the future for the Palestinian police force. The BHRC volunteers also conducted training workshops on legal review attended by members of the Palestinian Legislative Counsel and the legal profession so as to underscore the fundamental importance of the legal review process in the implementation of new laws and to ensure the sustainability of the legal review project after the completion of the BHRC placements.
In consultation with partners on the ground, prisoners’ rights emerged as a key area of concern to lawyers and activists in situ, due to the large numbers of prisoners in Israeli and Palestinian jails. The position of those detained in the OPT had been further exacerbated by the general strike which led to many being held without charge for sustained periods of time, contrary to Palestinian law and to international standards applicable to prisoners.
Prison visits: Volunteer BHRC barristers visited a number of prisoners in the West Bank and met with individual prisoners, including women and child prisoners, who were being detained well beyond the maximum time limits, often without any form of legal representation. By accompanying the BHRC volunteers to prisons and collaborating/organising meetings with relevant officials, in-country partners made a crucial contribution to the project’s monitoring and awareness raising. BHRC barristers were able to assess the situation on the ground first hand and interventions were made to the PICCR in relation to a number of cases of alleged inhuman/degrading treatment which were in turn raised with the appropriate channels in the Palestinian Authority.
Training in prisoners’ rights: Volunteer barristers were also approached by Addameer, one of the leading NGOs dealing with prisoners’ rights, to provide a one day training session focusing on domestic and international standards relating to prisoners and the available use of national and international mechanisms, such as UN Special Procedures to challenge abuses of prisoners’ rights. As a result of the training, Addameer is determined to engage with the UN Special Procedures relating to prisoners strategically and systematically as part of its work and advocacy practices.
Law and Practice in the Prosecution of War Crimes training
Given the increasing use of the principle of universal jurisdiction in courts in the West, including the United Kingdom, to attempt to hold accountable gross violators of human rights and humanitarian law, especially in relation to the occupation in the OPT, volunteer barristers were approached by Al Haq, one of the most established Palestinian NGOs, to provide training on the concept and on the appropriate legal standard for documenting such violations. Approximately 20 attendees, including lawyers, legal researchers and field workers, were trained through lectures and practical case studies in the relevant law and practical tools to collect and analyse legal material on war crimes and crimes against humanity in the OPT, focusing specifically on the relevant techniques for collecting evidence for judicial purposes.
Women’s rights training
BHRC barristers were also approached by a newly established Palestinian women’s rights group, the Palestinian Women’s Research & Documentation Centre (PWRDC), to provide training on women’s rights – jointly with the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights – for a consortium of women’s groups. Attendees at the one day training workshop learned about documentation and UN Special Procedures, particularly the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Posters, leaflets and the last report by the Special Rapporteur were also distributed to attendees for further dissemination.
Death penalty work
BHRC volunteers attended the inaugural meeting of the newly formed death penalty group, set up to consider issues pertaining to the death penalty in the OPT, as part of a wider abolitionist effort throughout the Middle East. They have been asked to remain involved in the initiative to share expertise when required. Volunteers also edited the PICCR publication on the death penalty in the OPT which is due for publication in the near future and will serve as an advocacy tool as part of the death penalty initiative.
BHRC volunteers attended the Ofer Military Court on a number of occasions at the request of NGOs whose clients’ cases were before the court. Local lawyers explained that the presence of an international observer often gives them greater confidence that the prosecuting authorities and the presiding judge will behave in a more professional manner with them and their clients. A paper was also produced for information and advocacy purposes, setting out fair trial standards and standards for the treatment of prisoners, particularly juveniles, in the legal and penal systems. Barristers also attended the Israeli High Court at the invitation of local NGOs for the hearing of a petition regarding the Separation Wall. Repeated and ongoing requests for BHRC volunteers to observe trials reinforced feedback about the perceived usefulness of such trial observations.