Occupied Palestinian Territory: Attacks against critics must stop, those responsible arrested – UN experts

Geneva, July 06, 2021.- UN human rights experts* today expressed serious concerns about a number of attacks by security forces against critics of the Palestinian Authority, including the death in custody, reportedly as a result of beatings, of a well-known commentator and opposition candidate.

“Nizar Banat’s death in the occupied West Bank shortly after his nighttime arrest on 24 June by Palestinian Security Forces has all the makings of a criminal act,” said the experts. “Initial reports indicate that he was badly beaten with steel batons during his arrest at home by Palestinian Security Forces. After being taken away by the security forces, he died several hours later in their custody.

“His death must be investigated in a truly impartial and transparent manner and in compliance with the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. If the investigation reveals that his death was a homicide, those responsible must be held fully accountable, regardless of rank or command and full reparations must be granted to the family of Mr. Banat. The findings of the investigation, including the results of the autopsy on Mr. Banat’s body, must be published in full.”

Mr. Banat was a regular commentator on Palestinian social media, aiming his sharp criticisms at a range of figures in Palestinian political life. He raised issues involving allegations of corruption, the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the security relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military and the misuse of public authority. He was also an opposition candidate in the recently-postponed Palestinian elections.

The Palestinian Security Forces have arrested Mr. Banat on a number of occasions. His home in the village of Dura had been recently shot at by unknown assailants, and he had received death threats.

“Mr. Banat’s public criticisms, however harsh, were protected by the basic human rights of freedom of expression and of association,” said the experts. “The Palestinian Authority has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to hold opinions without interference and the freedom to express information and ideas of all kinds.

“The ability for critics to exercise these freedoms and hold governments and public authorities to account is a vital means to measure how much, or how little, public freedoms are enjoyed in the society.”

Following the death of Mr. Banat, demonstrations erupted in Ramallah and other West Bank cities with protesters demanding justice and accountability. The demonstrations were met with – what appears to be – unwarranted and excessive force by Palestinian Security Forces.

“We are extremely concerned with the use of excessive force by Palestinian Security Forces against demonstrators, including allegations of attacks carried out by non-uniformed persons and the targeting of women present in the demonstrations,” the experts said.

Several days before Mr. Banat’s death, Palestinian forces arrested Issa Amro, an internationally respected human rights defender in Hebron, after he wrote a social media posting critical of the Palestinian Authority. He was released the following day. In recent years, Mr. Amro has been regularly harassed, detained and subject to security charges by both the Israeli military and the Palestinian Authority.

“The obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights rest with the competent authority exercising power. Notwithstanding a harsh occupation by Israel, Palestinian civil society has every right to demand that its own political and security leaders live up to their solemn promises to abide by international human rights commitments,” the experts said.

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