PALESTINIANS’ right to due process guarantees have been violated for 57 years, UN experts said on 3 July, denouncing the lack of fair trial in the occupied West Bank since June 1967.

On 7 June 1967, the Israeli military commander issued three proclamations concerning the military’s executive, security, public order, and judicial authority in the occupied West Bank. These provisions were later amended into Military Order No. 378, which established military courts.

“In the occupied West Bank, the functions of police, investigator, prosecutor, and judge are vested in the same hierarchical institution – the Israeli military”, the experts said. The Order establishes vague procedural instructions and broad powers to military forces for the conduct of proceedings.

“This military system has served to control many aspects of Palestinians’ daily lives, including public health, education, and land and property law. It also criminalises many forms of political and cultural expression, association, movement, nonviolent protest, traffic offences, and other acts that might be considered methods for opposing the occupation and its policies”, the experts said.

“This translates into a situation where military judges in military courts consistently provide legal and judicial cover for acts of torture, cruel and degrading treatment against Palestinian detainees carried out by their colleagues in the armed forces and intelligence agencies. It also makes legal defence impossible”, they said.

Under international standards, guarantees of fair and public trial include the independence and impartiality of the courts and require that the judicial system is not dependent on the discretion of any branch of government, particularly the executive and armed forces.

“The dual court system set up in the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law, has furthered legitimisation of the occupation and illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, through a militarily enforced, draconian penal system that is only applied to Palestinians without due process guarantees”, the experts said. “We are especially disturbed that Palestinian children are subject to this abusive system.”

“This system also turns a blind eye to settler violence and criminality, allowing it to grow and remain in impunity”, they said.

“Since the beginning of the occupation, the Israeli military has either taken part in or failed to protect Palestinians from violent settler attacks in the occupied West Bank, including, extrajudicial killings, forced displacement, property damage, destruction and unlawful appropriation, discrimination, harassment, and threats.”

Public scrutiny of these proceedings, and access to information about the harsh treatment of Palestinians in military courts and leniency towards illegal settlers is extremely limited given the media censorship exercised by the Israeli military, the experts said.

Israeli military courts allow the military prosecutor to request a prohibition order against Palestinian detainees, preventing them from meeting with their lawyers for a total period of 60 days. This practice denies detainees the right to confer with legal counsel, especially during the interrogation process, the experts said. When part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population, severe deprivation of physical liberty can amount to a crime against humanity.

The experts were concerned that an order posted by the Israeli military on its website on 29 May transferred responsibility for dozens of bylaws at the Civil Administration – the Israeli body governing in the West Bank – from the military to pro-settler officials led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. The experts recall that annexation is absolutely prohibited under international law.

“We call on Israel as the de facto occupying power, to repeal Military Order No. 378 and related laws and regulations, dissolve the military court, and ensure the right to fair trial in the occupied West Bank”, the experts said.

The experts have been in contact with Israel about these concerns.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights