GENEVA (16 June 2022) – UN human rights experts* today denounced Israel for abusing counter-terrorism laws to target and silence human rights defenders, after a Israeli court found Gaza aid worker Mohammed el-Halabi guilty of financing terrorism.
The conviction of the former program director of the World Vision office in Gaza was a flagrant violation of Israel’s obligation to respect the right to a fair trial and due process, as well as its obligation as a power occupier under international humanitarian law, the experts said.
“Mr. el-Halabi’s trial demonstrated a grave disregard for fair trial guarantees, including the extensive use of secret evidence against him, restricted communication with his lawyer, the lack of time and the obstacles posed to the preparation of his defense and the inability to try him without undue delay,” they said.
“The conviction of an aid worker for a serious violation of the right to a fair trial and for baseless charges of “terrorism” is further evidence of Israel’s gross misuse of counter-terrorism measures to suppress the voices of rights defenders. humans.
On June 15, 2022, Israel’s Beersheba District Court convicted Mr. el-Halabi of 13 terrorism charges, including membership in a terrorist organization and embezzlement of humanitarian funds to finance terrorist activities.
Mr. el-Halabi was arrested in 2016 by Israel’s Shin Bet security service after being accused of diverting millions of dollars in humanitarian funds to armed groups in Gaza. He was held on the charges for six years.
“During his detention, he was allegedly subjected to ill-treatment, solitary confinement, coercion and coercion into making a confession, which may amount to torture,” they said. said the experts. “Mr. el-Halabi has always maintained his innocence. An independent audit carried out on World Vision found no evidence of embezzlement,” they said.
Experts say Mr. el-Halabi was under extreme pressure to confess and agree to a plea bargain during his prolonged detention. “A confession extracted from Mr. el-Halabi under the threat of physical violence flagrantly deviates from international human rights standards and should have been inadmissible as evidence,” the UN experts said.
Mr. el-Halabi is just one of 4,700 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. His case seems emblematic of a trend whereby human rights defenders and aid workers are detained by the Israeli authorities for prolonged periods and subjected to different forms of pressure to admit their guilt in the absence compelling evidence, with the aim of restricting their human and humanitarian rights. work. Earlier this year, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about “the widespread practice of arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinians, including journalists, human rights defenders man and children” in Israel.
“This practice of arbitrary arrests and detentions is an integral part of the prolonged military occupation, which subjects Palestinians to oppression and deprives them of any sense of human rights and dignity,” the experts said. .
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has also stated that, in certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.
“These cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinians in Israel, including that of Mr. el-Halabi, warrant a prompt, independent, impartial, effective, thorough and transparent investigation,” the UN experts said. “We call for Mr. el-Halabi’s conviction to be reviewed promptly, independently, impartially and thoroughly on appeal in a process that respects and protects his fair trial guarantees. We also call for his immediate release on bail, pending appeal.
The experts have already expressed their concerns to the Government of Israel regarding the case of Mr. el-Halabi. The Israeli authorities did not respond.
Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
Special rapporteurs are part of what are called special procedures of the Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations human rights system, is the general name for the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific national situations or issues themes in all regions of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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