Israel should carefully reconsider the charges it is pursuing against Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro, two United Nations independent experts said today.
Mr. Amro, founder of the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements, is facing trial in an Israeli military court on a number of charges, some of which date back a number of years and have only recently been reactivated.
“On the information available to us, many of the charges against Mr. Amro appear to be directed squarely at his lawful right to peacefully protest against the 50-year-old Israeli occupation,” said the Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, and the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, in a joint statement.
“The non-violent work of human rights defenders must not be disrupted and attacked by the authorities, even under a military occupation,” the experts underscored. “Their rights to freedom of expression and assembly must be respected and protected.”
Mr. Amro and Youth Against Settlements have campaigned against the Israeli military’s shut-down of the once-thriving Palestinian neighborhood around Shuhada Street in Hebron, and against illegal Israeli settlements in and near the city. Their activities have included running a community centre, organizing protest marches and opposing the many restrictions placed by the military on daily Palestinian life, the two experts noted.
The Rapporteurs said Palestinian human rights defenders, including Mr. Amro, have faced a long pattern of harassment, intimidation, discriminatory treatment and physical interference from the Israeli military and settler groups.
Mr. Lynk and Mr. Forst called upon the Government of Israel to strictly abide by international human rights law in its dealings with human rights defenders.
“We are also deeply concerned about the quality of justice available to Palestinians under occupation,” they added. “The Israeli military court system – which all Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to – has a conviction rate above 99%, which raises serious concerns about the system meeting many of the international standards of due process required by human rights and humanitarian law.
“If the Israeli military court convicts Mr. Amro on any of the charges against him, the convictions will be stained by reasonable doubts about the system’s ability to ensure justice,” the Special Rapporteurs said.