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Israel Urged to Prevent Torture - 2001-11-24

The United Nations Committee against Torture is urging Israel to prevent any incidents of torture or mistreatment, citing "numerous allegations" of mistreatment by law enforcement officials of Palestinian detainees. The committee says it is not convinced that Israel has outlawed all forms of torture.

The United Nations Committee against Torture is calling on the Israeli government to take all necessary steps to prevent torture and to put in place effective ways to investigate torture allegations.

Committee Chairman Peter Burns says the 1987 U.N. Convention against Torture does not permit the practice under any circumstances, including war or fighting terrorism.

"Necessity can never be raised, certainly not as an authorization, but not even as a justification," says Mr. Burns. "The convention is clear on its terms that it cannot be raised that way in defense of torture."

Israel's U.N. Ambassador in Geneva, Yaakov Levy insisted his country is fully committed to complying with the Convention Against Torture. Israel argues that it has banned the practice and any complaints are investigated.

Yehuda Shaffer of Israel's Justice Ministry told the committee that Israel uses what he calls "limited physical force," and does not use methods that amount to torture or inhuman treatment of Palestinian detainees.

"We believe that limited physical force applied the way we know it does not violate Article 16 [of the Convention Against Torture], the way we interpret the term, ' inhumane,' and the other terms in that clause," he says. " Even if so, under Israeli law, every assault, every attack, every infringement of the human liberty has to be justified. Every assault, even if it does not amount to a breach of Article 16 is a criminal offense."

A number of human rights groups, including the London-based Amnesty International, cite what they call strong evidence of Israel's use of painful handcuffing and sleep deprivation during interrogations of Palestinians.

Amnesty researcher Liz Hodgkins says incidents amounting to inhumane treatment have increased since the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and violate a 1999 ban by the Israeli High Court of Justice.

"Since the beginning of the intifada in September last year, you are gradually seeing more common and systematic use of these methods, which were banned, against Palestinian detainees who are kept incommunicado detention, that is to say, without access to lawyers and family," she says.

The Committee against Torture acknowledged Israel's security concerns, but criticized its high court ruling that it said left leeway for torture to be used in extreme cases against terrorist suspects.

The Committee also said that very few Israeli law enforcement officials have been prosecuted for their actions.

The 10 independent experts on the U.N. committee regularly examine the application of the Convention against Torture, which was ratified by 126 countries, including Israel.