By Vacy Vlazna
At the low point of the farcical ‘peace’ process stalemate, President Mahmoud Abbas signed, on Tuesday 1st April 2014, letters of accession to 15 multilateral treaties and conventions, (a right gained following Palestine’s upgrade to Observer State status by the UN General Assembly back in November 2012) in defiance of Israel’s refusal to release 30 pre-Oslo prisoners on 29 March 2014.
Instead, once ratified, Palestinians should look forward to a mass release of political prisoners detained by the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by the unelected Mahmoud Abbas.
Al Haq estimates that there are 60 political prisoners in PA detention centres where torture, such as suffered by Osamah Nayef al-Shawamreh, is rampant.
Among the conventions are The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which will have liberating implications for Palestinians living in fear under the oppressive PA regime.
The Convention against Torture requires states to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction,” while Article 3, forbids states to transfer “expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
Compliance with CAT signifies the termination of the PA’s role as Israel’s proxy police force which has for decades provided information on Palestinians to Israeli intelligence agencies generally leading to imprisonment and torture in prisons within Israel. The deportation of Palestinian prisoners to Israel is also a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which is about to be ratified.
The PA, finally, after 20 years of human rights violations against their own people, will be, by its own volition, obligated under international law to ensure the rights of its people as stated in The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR):
“Article 2 1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The official signing of the ICCPR which protects Palestinians from arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ensures fair trials, freedom of expression, conscience, assembly and association as well as the signing of the other treaties and conventions, will, in effect, usher in the Palestinian Spring.
A Palestinian Spring that is decades overdue since the shameful signing of the Oslo Accords, after which Palestinians were doomed to face, not only Israeli violence, but PA Security Forces oppressing them on behalf of Israel and its brutal occupation.
The acceleration of the Palestinian Spring will depend on the empowerment and unity of the whole Palestinian population and this demands groundbreaking change in the status of Palestinian women who are disadvantaged by the double discrimination inflicted on them by both Israel and the PA.
Comprehensively set out in the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network report, Palestinian Women’s Rights in EU-Israel and EU-PA Relations, 2014, are the ways that the PA and Hamas have restricted women’s access to freedom of movement, political participation, decision-making, education, health, employment, and raised the issue of domestic violence including honour killings. Not to mention the stressful burden of caring for the family by wives of prisoners and the anguish of mothers of child prisoners.
The PA’s ratification of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) will vivify the aspirations and rights of Palestinian women;
“Article 3 States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”
By affirming women’s equality, dignity and identity, the CEDAW will empower Palestinian women to ensure their government fulfils the provisions of the convention and dismantle outdated discriminatory laws by formally adopting a unified legal framework, regardless of religious law, that benefits and protects every Palestinian woman.
A Palestinian cheer will be heard around the world when The United Nations Convention against Corruption, included among the 15 applications, is ratified.
The PA’s endemic administrative and financial corruption by its members and institutions is laid out in Sawsan Ramahi’s report which reveals that around two billion dollars in aid monies have been siphoned off. In the future, aid money will go to meet the desperate needs of impoverished Palestinians.
A louder cheer will swell when, under the terms of the convention, stolen assets are frozen and recovered and the criminals stand trial.
Palestine’s application to the 15 UN agencies has triggered Israel’s panic mode compounded by the UNHRC’s condemnation of Israel’s systematic human rights abuses in March.
Israel is flaying about blaming the Palestinian negotiating team for the peace process disaster and imposing the punitive withholding of Palestinian tax monies because it knows that Palestine, as a signatory to the ICPPR, will be able to set in motion legal processes against the state of Israel and as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Conventions is obligated to enforce the principle of universal jurisdiction with regards to the prosecution of war crimes i.e. grave breaches which under Article 147 include,
“wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
Palestinians fearful of the PA’s long history of deception and broken promises, should be reassured that the1st of April marks the first step to unity and freedom because the Palestinian authority will be accountable under international law for its violations of human rights protected in the conventions and accountable to the citizens of Palestine.
In view of the world and in view of the Palestinian people, with a few scrawls of ink on paper, (unwittingly?) Abbas, the PLO and PA have signed away their collaboration with Israel to oppress their own people.
This internal game-changer testifies the pen is mightier than the sword and the rights enshrined in the conventions and treaties are the winds of spring and change for the people of Palestine and Israel.
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters in Sydney, Australia. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.