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Fayyad concedes PA tortured Hamas detainees

Jan. 4, 2010 8:09 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 6, 2010 10:35 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – Caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad implicitly admitted in a report published on Sunday that Palestinian Authority security forces have tortured Hamas detainees over the past two years.

An Associated Press report on the subject, citing interviews with Hamas inmates, rights activists, Hamas officials and Fayyad himself, said that most torture had ended in October.

Fayyad’s comments, however, amounted to the first time a senior PA official conceded that abuses were committed by the security forces, many of which are trained by the US, Russia, and other world powers.

Fayyad claimed a “dramatic change for the better” in West Bank prisons and said that 43 officers had been jailed, fired or demoted for abusing prisoners. The prime minister denied that torture was ever official policy but admitted past “excesses” that he said stemmed from a flawed culture of revenge.

Some of the torture described in the AP report includes prisoners being “beaten with clubs and cables.”

The report also said that abuse had been so severe that, since 2007, eight detainees have died in jails in the West Bank and 15 in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Fayyad's concession was also the first time a PA official had publicly confirmed that Hamas members are arrested based on their political affiliation alone.

The AP report notes that “Security forces often arrest Hamas activists and hold them for lengthy periods without charge.”

Fayyad himself has repeatedly denied that the PA jails people for political reasons. In an interview with Ma’an in July, he said all inmates in PA prisons were held in accordance with court orders.

In a speech in Ramallah in August, Fayyad said everyone in the PA’s jails “have violated the law in one way or another.”

At its weekly meeting on Monday, Fayyad’s cabinet vowed on Monday to continue reforms it says have eliminated the use of torture in PA prisons.

In a statement summarizing the meeting, the ministers reaffirmed Fayyad’s comments to the AP.

“Security institutions will continue in their efforts to enforce the rule of law in accordance with human rights,” the cabinet said.

“The Council [of ministers] gave its full commitment to the security establishment’s emphasis on standards and principles of human rights in their work and continuation of the process of accountability on the basis of international standards in this regard,” it added.

Abbas denies CIA link

A lengthy report in the UK daily The Guardian in mid-December reported that PA security forces working closely with the CIA routinely abused Hamas detainees.

The Guardian’s report quoted PA officials reporting that between 400 and 500 Hamas are held by the security forces.

In an interview the following week with The Wall Street Journal, President Mahmoud Abbas denied that there was any connection between the PA and the CIA.

Fayyad has in the past pledged to reform the PA security services. The platform of the current caretaker government, which he drafted, contains a promise to ‘modernize and professionalize’ the PA forces.

“These agencies must be subject to the rule of law and to oversight by the legislative and judicial authorities. The Government will continue to apply the law and adopt a code of conduct to hold accountable all security services employees in line with human rights and freedoms,” the platform says.

“Abiding by the principle of judicial independence, we will prohibit politically-motivated arrests and detention that have no legal basis,” it continues.

The arbitrary detention and abuse of Hamas members was also raised in the report of South African jurist Richard Goldstone’s UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict.

The Goldstone report notes that these arrests, and the denial of rights, such as the right to legal representation to detainees, were likely in violation of international law.

"From the information available to it, the Mission finds that there are features of the repressive measures against actual or perceived Hamas affiliates and supporters in the West Bank that would constitute violations of international law," the report concludes. "Furthermore, in efforts to minimize the power and influence of Hamas, the protection and the promotion of human rights have generally been eroded."

"It appears from the information the Mission received that the Palestinian Authority's actions against political opponents in the West Bank started in January 2006, intensified between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, and is continuing until today,” it adds.

Goldstone’s team said it considers detentions on political grounds legally unacceptable for several reasons: “the arrest and indefinite detention (without trial) by security services and under the military judiciary system are in violation of Palestinian law and international human rights law ... the reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment during arrest and detention, and the reports of deaths in detention raise further concerns and warrant proper investigation and accountability.”

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