HRW accuses Israel of rights violations

In annual report on rights abuses, group charges Israel with using unnecessary lethal force.

Nakba Day protesters on Lebanon border 311 (R) (photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
Nakba Day protesters on Lebanon border 311 (R)
(photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “serious human rights violations” in its yearly report on human rights abuses released on Sunday.
The report charged IDF soldiers with using “unnecessary lethal force” in repelling demonstrators who attempted to infiltrate Israel’s border fences with Syria and Lebanon on “Naksa Day” (the anniversary of the Six Day War) and “Nakba Day” (the anniversary of Israeli independence) protests in May and June, respectively.
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Human Rights Watch attributed 37 deaths to IDF military strikes in the Gaza Strip and policing operations in the West Bank.
The report decried the continuation of the blockade of the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of “hindering the rebuilding of Gaza’s devastated economy.”
In the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Israel demolished a record number of Palestinian homes “imposed severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, continued to build unlawful settlements, and arbitrarily detained peaceful protesters, including children,” according to the report.
HRW also slammed Palestinian groups in Gaza for launching “hundreds of rocket attacks at Israeli population centers in 2011, killing two civilians and seriously injuring at least nine others.” It added: “Indiscriminate mortar attacks seriously injured at least four civilians in Israel.”
The report also mentioned the Eilat terror attack saying, “Egyptian attackers whom Israel claimed operated in coordination with armed groups in Gaza crossed the Egyptian border and killed six Israeli civilians.” Two soldiers were also killed in the multistage terror attack.
The report accused Hamas authorities in Gaza of carrying out three judicial executions in 2011 after unfair military trials, and allegedly torturing scores of detainees, some of whom died in custody.
HRW charged the Palestinian Authority with “arbitrarily” detaining Hamas supporters in the West Bank who supported the Arab Spring movements and reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. It also accused the PA of arresting journalists critical of its policies and employing torture.
The report also attacked Western democracies, charging that they should overcome their aversion to Islamist groups that enjoy popular support in North Africa and the Middle East, but encouraged those groups to respect basic rights.
HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in the group’s annual report that the past year’s Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings across the region have shown it is vital for the West to end its policy of backing “an array of Arab autocrats” in exchange for supporting Western interests.
The West should also be more consistent in supporting pro-democracy forces in the Arab world and elsewhere, he said in HRW’s 690-page report on human rights abuses worldwide.
“The international community must... come to terms with political Islam when it represents a majority preference,” he said. “Islamist parties are genuinely popular in much of the Arab world, in part because many Arabs have come to see political Islam as the antithesis of autocratic rule.”
“Wherever Islam-inspired governments emerge, the international community should focus on encouraging, and if need be, pressuring them to respect basic rights – just as the Christian-labeled parties and governments of Europe are expected to do,” he said in the introduction to the report.
He added that the international community “should adopt a more principled approach to the region than in the past. That would involve, foremost, clearly siding with democratic reformers even at the expense of abandoning autocratic friends.”
Islamist blocs have emerged as major political forces in both Tunisia and Egypt.
Speaking at a news conference in Cairo to launch the group’s report, Roth criticized Egypt’s military for trying to “to carve out an exception to democratic rule for its area of power and interest.”
“There has been a tendency by [Egypt’s] military recently to feel it has a duty to suppress any demonstration and that’s wrong. That’s not democracy,” Roth said.
HRW praised the United States and European Union for their tough stance on the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal crackdown on protesters, which eventually led to a UN Security Council authorization for military action to protect civilians.
The NATO intervention in Libya’s civil war led to Gaddafi’s ouster and death at the hands of rebel forces.
After initially hesitating over Syria, Roth said the United States and EU imposed sanctions on President Bashar Assad’s government for a crackdown on pro-democratic demonstrators that has killed at least 5,000 civilians, according to UN figures.
“Elsewhere, however, the Western approach to the region’s uprisings has been more tentative and uncertain,” Roth said.
HRW said Washington was reluctant to abandon Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, seen as key to maintaining regional stability and peace with Israel, until his ouster is a foregone conclusion. It then hesitated to press Egypt’s ruling military council to hand power over to an elected civilian government.
France was equally reluctant in Tunisia, Roth said.
“Similarly, Western governments imposed no meaningful consequences for killing protesters on the government of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they viewed as a defense against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said.
They also failed to take a strong stance against Bahrain, partly out of “deference to Saudi Arabia,” which dislikes the idea of a democracy near its shore and worries that Iran is meddling in the Shia-majority nation of Bahrain, Roth said.
Western democracies “said little when monarchies have taken anti-democratic actions, such as the adoption of new repressive laws in Saudi Arabia and the imprisonment of five democracy activists in the United Arab Emirates,” he said.
The Arab League has also been inconsistent. Even worse has been the African Union, which he called “shamefully complacent.”
Roth also criticized Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted UN Security Council resolution on Syria in October that would have condemned the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and threatened Damascus with possible sanctions.
Moscow’s and Beijing’s “partners in indifference” on Syria were Brazil, India and South Africa, which along with Russia and China comprise the powerful BRICS emerging-market bloc.
Reuters contributed to this report.