Dirty tricks to sink Al Haq

March 10, 2016
Sarah Benton

Al Haq waits to meet EU Parliament delegation to discuss human rights situation in the OPT, February 2016

Al-Haq and its staff members targeted by co-ordinated attacks and death threats

Posted by LPHR
March 07, 2016

As reported late last week, the Palestinian human rights organisation, Al-Haq, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation since September 2015 that appears to target their work towards achieving legal accountability for Palestinian victims of serious human rights violations. This escalated in the last month to include anonymous death threats against Al-Haq’s director and its representative before the International Criminal Court.

It is imperative that relevant national authorities take all appropriate actions to ensure that criminal acts targeting Al-Haq and its employees immediately cease. Furthermore, threats against Al-Haq and its employees also constitute an attack on human rights defenders that engages specific protections contained within the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Targeted attacks and context

Al-Haq is an independent, Palestinian non government organisation based in Ramallah in the West Bank, and is an an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists.

In conjunction with three other Palestinian human rights organisations, Al-Haq recently submitted two communications to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC regarding alleged serious crimes committed by Israeli military forces in Gaza in the summer of 2014. The communications were submitted as part of the ICC prosecutor’s preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine; the latest submission was made on 10 February 2016.

Al-Haq reports that one of its employees, a human rights lawyer based in The Hague who is responsible for Al-Haq’s work at the ICC, received several death threats in February 2016 that were directly linked to Al-Haq’s ICC work. These calls were followed by further death threats at the start of this month which were also directed at Al-Haq’s director, Mr Shawan Jabarin.

As Al-Haq further states, these death threats mark an exacerbation of a more recent campaign to undermine their work “[c]oinciding with, and as a result of, the progress achieved at the level of the International Criminal Court and decisions at the EU level regarding the labeling of settlement products.” Al-Haq’s statement details that since September 2015 there have been a series of anonymous attempts to discredit the organisation among its donors and staff through unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, misconduct and misuse of funds. Staff members and donors have also received intimidating phone calls from blocked numbers, and in more recent weeks staff have noted interference in their emails and evidence that their accounts have been hacked.

Al-Haq situates these incidents against a context of various forms of attacks by Israeli authorities since its establishment in 1979, including the arbitrary detention of staff members, the imposition of a seven-year travel ban on its director and raids on its offices by Israeli soldiers. They further assert that they are “convinced that the source of these attacks, as the case was in previous years, is the Israeli side”, and that the appropriate authorities have been notified and are investigating the incidents.

Expressing concern about these recent threats, Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), stated last Friday that:

“Al-Haq is clearly targeted for its critical work in advocating, documenting and monitoring human rights violations in the Palestinian territory. It is fundamental to stand by this pivotal human rights organisation in the face of these attacks to ensure it can pursue its essential activities in the defence of the rights of the Palestinian people”

The Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Al-Haq is an organisation of human rights defenders, and as such its staff are given specific protection under the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The Declaration provides for the support and protection of human rights defenders in their work, and outlines some specific duties of States and the responsibilities of everyone with regard to defending human rights. The recent report of the UN special rapporteur on the situation for human rights defenders summarises these obligations in clear language:

The protection of human rights defenders should be seen in the context of three obligations that international human rights law imposes on States: to respect human rights by refraining from violating them; to protect such rights by intervening through protective action on behalf of defenders against threats by others; and to fulfil them by ensuring a safe and enabling environment for defenders to enjoy their rights and to carry out their activities.

International human rights law obligations and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders clearly provide that all states have a responsibility for ensuring the protection of human rights defenders. This context underlines the imperative need for relevant national authorities to immediately carry out all necessary investigation and law enforcement measures so as to ensure that Al-Haq is able to carry out its crucial work without further criminal threats and harassment.

Al-Haq releases the following statement out of a sense of obligation toward one of its staff members whose life has been threatened in recent days.

Since its establishment in 1979, Al-Haq has faced various forms of attack and smear campaigns by the Israeli authorities, ranging from the arbitrary detention of staff members and the imposition of travel bans to having its offices raided, as well as Israeli newspaper articles targeting the organisation and its Director. Those behind the attacks on Al-Haq have also tried to use various forms of pressure to undermine the work of the organisation and convince our partners not to support us. Al-Haq has always taken these attacks in its stride as a natural consequence to its defense of human rights. Al-Haq has chosen international law as its weapon to challenge the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people because it truly believes that the pen is mightier than the sword.

In recent months, as of September 2015, however, the attacks against Al-Haq have intensified. Coinciding with, and as a result of, the progress achieved at the level of the International Criminal Court and decisions at the EU level regarding the labelling of settlement products, anonymous emails, phone calls and Facebook posts began turning up in an effort to raise questions regarding the administration of Al-Haq’s finances in an attempt to undermine Al-Haq’s funding base and sow discontent and confusion within Al-Haq’s staff members, with accusations of fraudulent activities and lack of transparency.

In their attempt to cover up their source, the attacks claimed they originated from within the Palestinian Authority; a fact categorically refuted by an official statement by the State of Palestine which also confirmed its full support to Al-Haq. All of these attempts have been dealt with openly between Al-Haq and its partners and have ultimately failed to scare Al-Haq’s staff or its partners. When the campaign was still in its early stages an article written by Israeli prominent Israeli journalist Amira Hass appeared in Haaretz newspaper of 23 November 2015 in which the writer shed light on the smear campaign against Al-Haq and questioned the intent and the goals of the people who stand behind it.

Nevertheless the attacks continue unabated. Anonymous emails to donors, followed up by ones to staff, citing non-existent fraud investigations and financial difficulties, all failed to generate any response or damage. This was then followed-up by almost daily direct calls from blocked numbers to partners and staff members in an effort to intimidate, confuse and frighten; all to no avail. These calls claimed to be from Al-Haq staff members, journalists and staff of partner organisations. All came from false domains or persons. Throughout these vicious attacks Al-Haq, supported by its staff and partners, chose not to respond. It is worth mentioning the Al-Haq keeps record of all correspondences that have been received.

Last week, however, the tactics have taken an extreme and dangerous turn with one of Al-Haq staff members receiving death threats. The threats that targeted one of Al-Haq’s staff members and Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of the organization, were from an anonymous caller whose number was blocked with the caller directly connecting the risk to the life of the staff member with Al-Haq’s work regarding the International Criminal Court. The appropriate authorities have been notified and are investigating the case. Al-Haq is confident that the source of these threats will be identified and brought to justice through the course of these investigations.

We are convinced that the source of these attacks, as the case was in previous years, is the Israeli side. This is an institutionalized, planned and very well-resourced campaign – with IT skills beyond any expert capacity. There have been direct attacks on Al-Haq from the Israeli Minister of Justice, Israeli newspapers and Israeli organisations and institutions both at the local level and abroad. These same entities have possibly also targeted Israeli human rights organisations in attempt to derail their work.

In the meantime, Al-Haq will remain steadfast in the face of these attacks and not be distracted or deterred from continuing its work in the pursuit of justice.

© Copyright JFJFP 2022