An NGO told the UN Committee on Torture in Geneva on Monday that while Israel has made certain improvements in recent years, that its apparatus still tortures and abuses Palestinian detainees, as well as shining a new focus on what it says is the same issue with Ethiopian and illegal African migrant detainees – particularly by police.
Neither the Justice Ministry, nor the Police Investigations Department, nor the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) nor the police had officially responded by press time, but representatives of the state are expected to address some of the issues before the committee on Tuesday.
The NGO, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), flagged two issues as being somewhat more novel in a long battle over other issues which has seen fewer changes.
First, PCATI noted that it had achieved some change, noting that state representatives had been unusually attentive to PCATI’s critiques in contacting it on their own to discuss some of the controversial issues before the UN committee.
Issues discussed by PCATI and the state included the absence of a specific criminal law against torture, whether torturing detainees is effective in eliciting helpful information to law enforcement and state’s use of the necessity or “ticking bomb” defense to block investigations of alleged abuse of detainees and the Istanbul Protocol for documenting the physical effects of alleged torture.
Second, PCATI said that while it is still critiquing the Shin Bet’s interrogation of detainees, that it is putting more resources into following police interrogations. More specifically, PCATI said its data shows torture and abuse by police is more likely not only with Palestinians, but also with minorities like Ethiopians and African migrants.
In that regard, the report notes a lack of documenting abuse of migrants in the special detention centers for migrants in the South.
Regarding the report, written and presented to the committee by lawyer Efrat Bergman-Sapir, it focused on five main issues similar to those discussed with the state, but also including enhancing safeguards against torture and abuse and making reparations.
A major issue the report addresses is the initial reviews performed by Jana Modgavrishvili, who took over investigating complaints against Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogators around two years ago, in spring 2014, when investigations moved from being internal to the Justice Ministry.
The report first praises the state and Modgavrishvili’s unit, both for being “civilian, professional, formally independent” and for “efforts made…to ensure a thorough, worthy examination.”
However, the report then slams her unit for using “initial reviews” to replace criminal investigations, for taking too long to perform reviews and for failing to initiate a single full criminal investigation.
It says that “the ‘preliminary examination’ purports to establish the full factual and indeed legal picture while lacking the legal regulatory framework, transparency and accountability of a criminal investigation.”
Although there was no formal state response, the Jerusalem Post recently learned that top government officials would focus attention also on the Shin Bet agent’s side of the story, likely noting that the agent genuinely believes everything he did, he did for the state and that criminally investigating him for his actions that are part of his duties would not be fair.
Further, they would argue that the probability is that most of the complaints, whether from Palestinians, Jews or others, are patently false, and filed by security criminals to strike back at law enforcement and as part of an ideological play to garner global sympathy or to shield the detainees themselves for “ratting” on their co-conspirators. By claiming torture, they have a better excuse for “breaking.”
Finally, they would admit that the “initial reviews” are a kind of criminal investigation, but would cite the High Court as having approved the special procedure not requiring the full criminal investigation formally.
Further, the report says that the average time for decisions about criminal investigations under the new unit, while somewhat improved, is still 23 months, which it says is far too long.
Instead, PCATI recommends that all initial reviews should take only three months and all decisions on whether to open a criminal investigation should be made within 10 months.
Further, PCATI says that there is too much bureaucracy and too many layers of approvals for deciding on whether to open a criminal investigation and that Modgavrishvili should be able to authorize one on her own.
In the past, the state has responded to allegations of undue delay by either say PCATI’s timeframes are unrealistic or citing a backlog of older cases that the new unit inherited which have slowed it down combined with a spike of cases following Operation Brothers’ Keeper in summer 2014.
All of these issues are exacerbated by the lack of a single criminal investigation, says the report.
In the past, top government officials have not explained the lack of a single investigation, but they have told the Post that the number of criminal investigations should not matter if the initial reviews are properly performed.
Regarding the lack of a specific crime against torture, the report says that the state’s position is that it has other laws and High Court of Justice rulings which sufficiently outlaw torture even if there is no specific anti-torture law.
It also says that the Ciechanover Commission (headed by former foreign ministry director-general Joseph Ciechanover) is working on drafting a new bill to eventually specifically criminalize torture.
PCATI slams these arguments, arguing that existing defenses do not address detainees’ mental suffering, carry an inadequate penalty of three years in jail, have an unreasonably short statute of limitations and do not prohibit all kinds of abuse which international law criminalizes.