Human rights group head: Elections free and fair
Saturday February 25, 2006 20:37 by Translated by Rami Almeghari
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is considered to be one of the most important Gazan human rights centers, that work on disclosing the Israeli practices against the Palestinian people.
The PCHR was in the news recently for putting some Israeli ‘war criminals’ on trial.
Interviewed by Wissam Affifa of the Palestine News Network
In interview with the Palestine News Network (PNN), the PCHR’s head, Mr. Raji al-Sourani, talked about the said Israeli practices as well other issues, like the recent Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
Questioned about any role the PCHR has taken in the recent elections, Mr. al-Sourani said that observation of the elections was on three levels; the legal, the campaigning and the voting day: aiming at ensuring free, independent balloting by the Palestinian population, starting from voting and ending with the ballot verification.
The PCHR has invited a number of concerned international parties to take part in the elections observation process, including international state agencies, legal observers, the Euro-Mediterranean Network and a Canadian center, al-Sourani added.
He pointed out that the PCHR, in cooperation with the said observing bodies, took a significant observation role, including notes and critiques, showing respect and appreciation for the Palestinian Elections Commission, for the organization’s independence and transparency.
As for election campaigning, al-Sourani believed that in the campaigning process there were several violations, like the tearing down of rivals' posters by some locals.
However, al-Sourani maintained, that such things did not affect the electoral process transparency, making clear that while the ruling party, Fatah exploited governmental facilities in its campaigning, and Hamas, Fatah’s largest rival, used mosques apparently for the same purpose, yet no flagrant violations took place.
al-Sourani noted that the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC), as a respectable transparent body, along with an ‘army’ of local observers, party representatives, and international monitors representing various concerned bodies and human rights centers, spread throughout 60 different regions, contributed to fair elections.
He believed that the Palestinian elections were being observed more than any other elections in the world, and that ‘forgery’ was very difficult to be found, amidst the observers’ and the Palestinian people’s keen desire to have transparent, democratic and fair elections.
When asked about other, non-election related issues, al-Sourani commented on the kidnapping of foreigners in the Gaza Strip, which took place prior to the elections. al-Sourani indicated that such abductions have been carried out by a handful of criminals, apart from ‘our history and culture’, in order to create the impression that the Gaza Strip is unstable and lacks security, which he says is untrue.
The second reason for the abductions, al-Sourani maintained, is to take international attention away from the Israeli practices and crimes across the Gaza Strip, in particular, and the occupied Palestinian territories in general.
He further clarified that the absence of UNRWA’s international staff and the Red Cross International staff, as well as the lack of foreign journalists, are the direct causes behind the abductions. He also pointed out that due to the Palestinian local political factions’ persistence, they were able to hold the elections on time, despite such kidnappings.
He pointed out that he met with the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy, following reports of the European Union’s reluctance to dispatch its own observers in light of the abductions, calling on him to work out possible UN observers as well as to push for the return of UNRWA’s staff, a matter that would create an atmosphere of comfort for the sake of smooth democratic process.
As for the role of legal institutions in the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council, al-Sourani believed that the incoming Council should play a role in drafting laws that serve the Palestinian people irrespective of their various categories and in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The incoming legislators should also take an effective control role with respect to the executive authority performance as well as the follow-up on public political concerns, al-Sourani said.
With regard to the PCHR’s recent activities, especially in terms of pursuing Israeli war criminals, al-Sourani pointed out that the Israeli judicial system has been legally covering the Israeli systematic crimes against the Palestinain people.
However, such issues can not be submitted to international legal organizations, unless they are first filed through the Israeli court system, and this is being done by the PCHR in cooperation with respectable Israeli lawyers, he added.
He made clear that filing such cases is highly financially costly, while funders (mainly non-Arabs), face a great deal of trouble with the Israeli government.
With regard to the PCHR’s work in this area, Mr. al-Sourani made clear that there are many lawyers from Switzerland, Britain and U.S.A, who contributed, jointly with the PCHR, to the case against Israeli officials involved in war crimes against the Palestinian people.
The Israeli 'war criminals' indicted included the Chief of Israeli Intelligence, Avi Dekhter, Comander of the Gaza Strip, General Doron Almogh and the then Israeli Chief of Staff, Shaol Mofaz, al-Sourani elaborated.
He also praised Himer Androz institution, a British legal firm and the American Institutional Rights Center, saying that in a time when Israel is ‘exerting unprecedented pressure on some European countries’, most Arab states keep silent.
Questioned whether pursuing Israeli occupation generals legally can be effective, Mr. al-Sourani believed that using humanitarian international law adds one more dimension to the Israeli-Arab conflict (the legal dimension), a matter that proved helpful in the case of the Apartheid Wall that Israel has constructed in and through the West Bank.
He confirmed that bringing some Israeli names into international legal arenas, like the case with Binoche and Milosovitch, is a ‘great achievement’.
Despite the PCHR’s role in placing international pressure on Israel, the PCHR has not so far received any threats, as it is mainly based on international legal standards and a determination to ‘forgive’ all that has been done against the Palestinian people.
Asked whether there are other future steps the PCHR plans to take regarding the issue, Mr. al-Sourani was quoted as saying, “We are not taking a political position, as the issues involved are related to human rights victims, not to political positions or truces.”