EU politicians oppose PA upgrade due to rights violations

"Ubiquitous child labor violations, repression of press freedom" are among abuses cited in objections to PNC's "partner of democracy" status.

By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
October 12, 2011 02:50
4 minute read.
Salim al-Zanoun, speaker of the PNC addresses PACE

Salim al-Zanoun, speaker of the PNC addresses PACE 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

 
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BERLIN – A group of French and Italian lawmakers opposed the Council of Europe’s decision last week to upgrade the Palestinian National Council to the category of “partners of democracy” because of widespread Palestinian human rights violations and a fractured Palestinian government.

The recognition of the PNC means it gets observer status at the Council of Europe.

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The objections, outlined in a two-page letter to the council, was sent in advance of the decision to make the PA the second non-European body to become a partner for democracy. Morocco’s parliament was the first legislature to become affiliated with the council.

The European lawmakers, including Fiamma Nirenstein, vice president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, wrote to the Council of Europe: “We are worried that this well-intentioned upgrading could result in the opposite of what we expect and hope for the future of the Palestinian Authority. The PA is very dramatically divided, from the political point of view, basically into two factions, Fatah and Hamas. In May 2011 there was a controversial pact of reconciliation and now, notwithstanding several disagreements, Mr. Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] is trying very hard to renew it and make it effective.”

The seven lawmakers continued, “But Hamas is listed among the terrorist organizations in the European Union and in the USA; it bases its work on an anti-Semitic and anti-Western charter in which it promises to destroy Israel; it keeps the soldier Gilad Schalit as a prisoner in a secret refuge while nobody, not even the Red Cross, has ever been allowed to get direct information about him; it keeps its population under a heavy Shari’a law.”

In addition to Nirenstein, the letter was signed by Italian lawmakers Rossana Boldi, Marco Zacchera, Giacomo Stucchi and Giuseppe Saro. French legislators Rudy Salles and Roland Blum also signed the letter.

In contrast to the European Parliament in Brussels, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg is a largely symbolic legislative body of 47 members and aims to develop democratic principles and advance human rights. Abbas addressed the council on Thursday, seeking its support for the Palestinian bid to become a member state at the United Nations. The council asked its members – France, Russia, Britain, Germany, Portugal, and Bosnia and Herzegovina – that have seats on the UN Security Council to support Palestinian statehood.

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The seven legislators took the PA’s and Hamas’s human rights record to task in their letter.

“About citizens’ rights: According to the 2010 report of Freedom House, women ‘are subjected to restrictive personal status law, which retain discriminatory provisions related to marriage, divorce, and child custody. Domestic abuse remains a significant problem and violence against women has increased in the recent years... Discriminatory laws and tradition also affect inheritance, alimony, employment opportunities... So-called ‘honor killings,’ which typically involve the murder of women by relatives as punishment for extramarital sex, have also escalated,’” the lawmakers wrote.

“As far as Hamas is concerned, the Islamist organization has incorporated in Gaza the hudud, a seventh- century unified penal code that features punishments as amputations, whipping, stoning.”

According to the letter, “The Palestinian Authority applies the death penalty and, according to Human Rights Watch, at the moment at least 21 persons are waiting in prison for execution. In 2011, there have been three executions and two more persons have been condemned to death. In July 2011, two men have been hanged with the accusation of ‘collaborationism’ with Israel. We must nevertheless recognize that President Mahmoud Abbas has requested from the judges a suspension of the death penalties since 2005.”

The French and Italian lawmakers wrote, “Since the Palestinian law, based on the 1960 Jordanian Penal Code, prohibits homosexual activity, the gay community in the Palestinian Authority has a very hard life, subjected to sanctions and persecutions. Consequentially many gay people run away and seek refuge in Israel.”

The letter outlined ubiquitous child labor violations in Palestinian shops, family farms, factories and enterprises.

The PA’s repression of press freedoms in the West Bank was also cited.

“As for freedom of opinion, we read that in 2006 at least 16 Palestinian journalists have been either killed or wounded by armed groups and PA security forces. Security forces of the PA, writes Human Rights Watch, have arbitrarily detained and sometimes abused many West Bank journalists,” the politicians wrote.

The persecution of Christians “from the Muslim side” was addressed in the letter.

“In Bethlehem, in the last decades, the Christian population has squeezed from 90 to 15 percent. Not to speak about Gaza, where persecutions are on a daily basis and do not stop at murder.”

The legislators decried the “many declarations of the Palestinian Fatah leadership that a future Palestinian state will not admit the presence of any Jews, and we certainly cannot accept this as a good premise for democracy and coexistence.”

When asked if there was a reply from the Council of Europe, a representative from Nirenstein’s office in Italy told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, “There was not a response from the CoE, as this was not an official document, but a spontaneous initiative of MPs. We could have got more signatures, if we started to collect them earlier.”

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