Dear Sir / Madam,
As a Palestinian organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq would like to call your attention to the severe travel restrictions that have been imposed on its General Director, and longstanding human rights defender, Shawan Jabarin. Mr. Jabarin’s case is illustrative of the numerous difficulties faced by human rights defenders who volunteer or work with non-governmental organisations in the OPT.
On 23 March 2006, having unsuccessfully attempted to cross from the West Bank to Jordan via the Allenby Bridge, Mr. Jabarin was issued with an Israeli police order requesting that he present himself at the ‘Atsion Liaison Office, between Bethlehem and Hebron, at noon on Sunday, March 26. On the specified day, Mr. Jabarin arrived at ‘Atsion as requested and handed over his ID and the police order. After being forced to wait outside the compound’s gate for four hours, Mr. Jabarin was informed that before he could be granted access he would have to lift up his shirt. After refusing to submit to this humiliating treatment, Mr. Jabarin was told by an Israeli official, “We have your ID and you can go home.” Thus, Mr. Jabarin was forced to leave without proper identification or any kind of document attesting to the fact that his ID had been confiscated. Without his ID, Mr. Jabarin was prevented from travelling within the West Bank. This severely hindered his right to freedom of movement, enshrined in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and consequently disrupted his professional duties and activities for Al-Haq. After repeated efforts to secure its return, Mr. Jabarin finally received his ID in July 2006 following an intervention by the Israeli human rights organisation HaMoked to the Israeli legal advisor’s office.
Since the events described above, the Israeli authorities have refused to grant Mr. Jabarin permission to travel abroad. In October 2006, Mr. Jabarin’s request to travel to a conference in Spain was refused. Similarly, Mr. Jabarin was denied authorisation to travel to Egypt to participate in a conference organised by Christian Aid from 10-15 December 2006. Mr. Jabarin’s appeal against the latter refusal was rejected by the Israeli High Court, which upheld the ban on his travel, based on classified material shown in the presence of one side.
Israel’s practices in regard to Mr. Jabarin violate his fundamental human rights. The Israeli authorities failed to provide Mr. Jabarin with any opportunity to challenge the exit prohibition prior to its coming into force. Also, the decision to prohibit Mr. Jabarin from leaving the OPT is all-encompassing and unlimited in time. It is not limited to a specific place, city or country, and fails to take into consideration the purpose of Mr. Jabarin’s travels abroad, namely the promotion of human rights. It is worth noting that the Israeli authorities have allowed Mr. Jabarin’s exit in the past. Since 1999, Mr. Jabarin has travelled abroad on eight separate occassions. Indeed, as recently as February 2006, the Israeli authorities twice permitted Mr. Jabarin’s exit from the OPT. On one of those occassions, involving travel to a conference in Morocco, Mr. Jabarin’s request was answered in the following terms: “according to the inspection we have conducted … we have no comments concerning permitting the above to exit … according to accepted procedures.” Since then, there has been no change in circumstances that would justify Mr. Jabarin being prevented from travelling to participate in human rights activities outside of the OPT. Consequently, one must question the motives behind the denial of Mr. Jabarin’s right to freedom of movement.
According to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, human rights defenders in the OPT operate under conditions that are absolutely incompatible with international norms and standards of human rights. One of the biggest obstacles to the work of human rights defenders in the OPT is restrictions on freedom of movement. In this regard, it should be noted that Mr. Jabarin’s case is not an isolated incident. Several other human rights defenders have been prevented from travelling to participate in human rights activities outside of the OPT. It is submitted that these Israeli travel restrictions are aimed at preventing the revelation of human rights abuses by Israel, and are used against human rights defenders to deter the defence of human rights. Such restrictions infringe upon the rights of defenders to report human rights violations at the international level. They negatively impact upon the ability of human rights defenders to travel abroad to attend international conferences and other events that would strengthen their knowledge and skills and allow them to raise the issue of human rights abuses in the OPT before a wider audience. On an organisational level, they severely hinder Palestinian human rights organisations’ capacity to use international networks to advocate for the respect of human rights in the OPT.
Human rights defenders play a vital role in promoting and striving for the protection and realisation of human rights at the national and international levels. In the context of Israel’s almost 40-year-old occupation of the Palestinian territory, and the continuing violations of the rights of the Palestinian population, any attempt to impede the ability of human rights defenders in the OPT to function cannot be tolerated. It is only through respecting human rights that a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be found. With this in mind, Al-Haq calls on you to intervene with the Israeli authorities on Mr. Jabarin’s behalf, requesting that the prohibition on his travel abroad be lifted.
Dr. Nizar Ayoub