25 June 2009
As a Palestinian human rights organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq regrets once again having to draw attention to the deadly consequences of the pervasive culture of impunity among the ranks of the Israeli military establishment. The lack of accountability for Border Police who have employed excessive force to suppress civilian demonstrations against Israel’s illegal construction of the Annexation Wall in the OPT, is a scenario which has sadly become an archetypal example of this culture of impunity. The wilful killing by an Israeli Border Police officer of an unarmed civilian in Ni’lin village after the conclusion of a demonstration just over two weeks ago is a regrettable illustration of impunity’s slippery slope.
According to Al-Haq’s field information, the circumstances surrounding this wilful killing are the following:
On Friday, 5 June 2009, at approximately 2:30 pm, unarmed Palestinian demonstrators were dispersing after participating in the weekly protest against the construction of the Annexation Wall in the centre of the West Bank village of Ni’lin. The demonstration had been characterised by the use of force by Israeli Border Police against demonstrators, some of whom had thrown stones but who were otherwise unarmed and in no way posed a lethal threat to the policemen. One demonstrator was injured by live fire during the course of the demonstration.
At the conclusion of the demonstration, the Israeli Border Police unit drove away through one of the northern gates in the Wall. Following the departure of the military vehicles, five civilians dispersing from the demonstration approached the area of the northern gate. Unbeknownst to the five, one Border Police officer remained in the area, hidden behind a stone formation (formerly a well). A sixteen-year-old child, Mohammad Misleh Mousa, unwittingly approached the remaining officer, who shot Mohammed in the abdomen from a distance of 40 metres. Thirty-five-year-old Aqel Sadeq Dar Srour ran to assist Mohammad and was also shot in the chest by the officer. Immediately following these shootings and without calling for assistance, the officer left Ni’lin on foot through one of the northern gates in the Wall. Mohammad and Aqel were rushed to Ramallah Hospital. Aqel was pronounced dead upon arrival. Mohammad was hospitalised and underwent several operations and may be permanently paralysed as a result of a bullet’s penetration of his spine.
Any claim that the use of force against Mohammad and Aqel was lawfully employed in the context of a policing operation to quell a demonstration against the Wall and restore law and order must be discounted. The use of force by the police officer in this case cannot be directly correlated to the demonstration. As can be discerned from the fact that all of the Border Police left the area, with one exception, the demonstration was over.
The circumstances also preclude any claim that the Israeli officer acted in self-defence. The use of lethal force against an unarmed person posing no threat and who was completely unaware of the soldier’s presence is unjustifiable and constitutes arbitrary deprivation of life in contravention Israel, the Occupying Power’s, obligations under international human rights law.
Regrettably, the Israeli military’s rules of engagement have promoted arbitrary deprivation of life in the OPT since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in 2000. As the result of an expansive definition of “life threatening”, the rules allow military and security personnel to open fire on Palestinian civilians in non-life threatening circumstances, including situations in which protesters throw stones. Hence, the death and injury of numerous civilians at demonstration flashpoints related to the Annexation Wall, such as the villages of Bi’lin, Biddo and Ni’lin, is a result of Israel’s refusal to reconcile its rules of engagement with its international legal obligations. In highlighting the above, Al-Haq recalls the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Güleç v. Turkey. The ECHR held that despite the demonstrator’s use of stones, firearms and sticks against police officers, these circumstances did not render the resort by Turkish police to powerful live fire absolutely necessary. The resulting death of one demonstrator was therefore found to amount to a violation of the right to life.
Finally, in the case of Aqel, where the unlawful use of force by the officer resulted in death, the fact that live ammunition was employed, targeting sensitive parts of the body and without issuing any warning, strongly suggests ‘wilful killing’. Wilful killing is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention for which the perpetrator is individually criminally responsible.
Al-Haq therefore joins the call by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem for the Israeli Military Advocate General to initiate an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Aqel Sadeq Dar Srour. Further, as a first step towards ending the culture of impunity, Al-Haq calls upon the Legal Advisor to the Israeli military to undertake a systematic review of the rules of engagement with a view to bringing them into compliance with Israel’s obligations under international law.