STATEMENT BY ISRAELI REPRESENTATIVE AT 18TH SESSION OF UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
7 MAY 1997

(Communicated by Justice Ministry Spokeswoman)

Following are excerpts from remarks delivered by Ms. Nili Arad, Director General of the Justice Ministry and former head of the High Court of Justice Division, State Attorney’s Office, on Wednesday, 7.5.97, to the 18th Session of the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture, in Geneva, Switzerland.

"As you all know, Israel is in the midst of a peace process with the Palestinians. The signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO has given rise to a great deal of opposition amongst extremist groups on both sides. The process prompted an unprecedented outburst of atrocities on the part of Palestinian terrorist organizations, which began to carry out acts of terrorism within the State of Israel, in order to shatter the peace process. Terrorists were dispatched to carry out suicide bombings, in which many people were killed and injured. These facts are very relevant to our discussion. One cannot deal with the subject of Israeli interrogation methods without making reference to the background to the interrogations currently being carried out and their objections.

(…)

Since September 12, 1993, when the Declaration of Principles was signed, until today, 214 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks in Israel and the territories; of these, 143 were civilians, and 71 were members of the security forces. A hundred and fifty one Palestinians were killed in these attacks.

In the same period, 1,343 Israelis were injured as a result terrorist attacks; of these, 669 were civilians and 674 were members of the security services. Two hundred and thirty-nine Palestinians were injured as a result of terrorist attacks.

This critically difficult situation presents the State of Israel with a very real dilemma; on the one hand, the State is duty bound to protect the lives of its inhabitants and citizens Jews and Arabs alike from the treat of terrorism and its murderous consequences. In order to foil acts of terrorism, it must maintain an efficient and dynamic investigative machinery capable of preventing, or at least limiting, such attacks in the future. On the other hand, the State is also duty bound to respect basic human rights, including those of terrorists under investigation even when the persons concerned have been responsible for causing death and devastation. The State of Israel tries, as best as it can, to find a balance between these two obligations. Our objective here today is to present you with the way this balance is effected in the area of interrogations.

The State of Israel categorically deplores and prohibits the practice of torture, including, of course that against persons under interrogation. Torture is prohibited under Israel Law. Even if there were no statutory provisions prohibiting it, the State of Israel would honor the universal prohibition on the use of torture, for the State of Israel is founded on the values of the biblical prophets whose legacy to mankind is the basis of moral law, central to which is the need to respect all men, and to refrain from causing harm to any man’s dignity, life or person. These historic Jewish values are enshrined today in the Israeli constitution and include a prohibition on the use of torture.

This prohibition on torture is absolute. As a result, and despite the current predicament of the State and the pressing need to fight terrorism, investigators are never, and never have been, authorized to use torture, even if its use might possibly prevent some terrible attacks and save human lives.

Likewise, as stipulated by Article 16 of the Convention, it is absolutely forbidden to use cruel, inhuman or degrading methods of interrogation.

That said, in interrogation whose object is the prevention of acts of terrorism, investigators are permitted, in certain exceptional cases, to uses methods which would be normally regarded as unacceptable in regular interrogations in Israel. While we realize that these methods are unpleasant, none of them come anywhere near what would constitute torture under the UN Convention, nor can they possibly constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Israel has made explicit declarations to this effect in reports presented to its Supreme Court ad to this Committee. Consequently, we hold that the State of Israel complies with the terms of the Convention.

Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the very openness, the wide judicial review and the overall open democratic nature of the Israeli system have worked to its detriment. The review of GSS interrogation methods which is carried out by the various State authorities, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, often raise issues which, in other countries, are never discussed and are never brought out into the open.

The very fact that in Israel, the review is carried out, both in real time by the Court and ex post factum by the other authorities, has an extremely constructive aspect. It strengthens our adherence to the rule of law, and it carries both an educational and a public message the essential need to respect a person’s dignity, whoever the person may be.

Procedures which are taken to scrutinize the work of the investigators ensure that there are proper mechanisms in place for ensuring that investigators do not go beyond the bounds of the legal and do not use banned methods during interrogations particularly those methods that might be tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Furthermore, over the last few years there has been constant judicial review of GSS interrogations. This judicial review is exercised in "real" time, that is, while the interrogation ongoing. This is a relatively new development, and to the best of our knowledge, it is unique. Any person under interrogation who believes that banned methods are being used is entitled to petition the Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice. (…)

If the court finds that methods have been used against the person under interrogation which constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, it may be assumed that the Court will grant the petition and ban the use of such prohibited methods. We would like to emphasize that the right to submit a petition directly to the Supreme Court applies not only to the citizens and residents of Israel, but also to residents of the territories.

Despite the relative novelty of this procedure, and despite the fact that in no other country known to us does the court admit such petitions, the Israeli Court has opened its doors to deal urgently and immediately with such petitions, challenging the legality of methods used during a GSS interrogation. The Court does so out of recognition of the importance of protecting human rights.

Under these restrictions and scrutiny, the work of the investigators has helped avert a great many disasters. Through the work of the investigators, some 90 plans for carrying out large-scale terrorist attacks have been foiled at the last minute in the past two years, as noted in paragraph 24 of the special report:

"…Among these planned attacks are some 10 suicide bombings, 7 car bombings: 15 kidnappings of soldiers and civilians and some 60 attacks of different types including shootings of soldiers and civilians, hijacking of buses, stabbing and murder of Israelis, placing of explosives, etc."

The prevention of terrorist acts is a top priority for the State, and tremendous importance is attached to the saving of lives as a result of the work and the success of the interrogators. But as noted all along, no less a priority to the State of Israel is to protect universal values, amongst which is the value of preserving human dignity.