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Israel must ensure protection for Issa Amro

Israel must fully honour and implement the rights and obligations contained in the UN’s Declaration on human rights defenders, and in particular end the use of criminal, legal and security tools to obstruct the legitimate work of human rights defenders, say two UN experts*.

Their comments come after the latest hearing on 7 April in the case of Issa Amro, a human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group which seeks to end settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance.

“Israel must provide for the protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work and ensure that, if charged with any offence, their right to a fair trial is respected,” said Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, and Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“The case of Issa Amro is emblematic of the sophisticated array of obstacles faced by Palestinian human rights defenders who engage in non-violent activities.”

Mr. Amro was first put on trial in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges dating back to 2010, including incitement, entering a closed military zone, and participating in a march without a permit. He had been taking part in a peaceful protest calling for the re-opening of Shuhada Street, the former commercial centre of Hebron.

“Although the nature of the charges against Mr. Amro is not serious, we fear that the sheer number of them might lead to a severe sentence,” the UN experts said.

“Cracking down on individuals whose work is essential to denouncing violations and creating safe and peaceful societies, sends a troubling message that the Israeli authorities make little effort to abide by international human rights standards, including the right to a fair trial.

“The Palestinian population in parts of Hebron under the security control of Israel has been subject to attacks of increasing severity. Reports of aggression by settlers have been particularly prominent on Shuhada Street and in the Tel Rumeidah neighbourhood, where Palestinian residents live in constant fear of attack.

“We are very concerned that in January 2019 Israel did not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international observer force that was instrumental in efforts to avoid violence – a decision which led to a group of human rights defenders, including Issa Amro, deciding to accompany children to school.”

The UN experts also expressed deep concern about the repressive working environment faced by Palestinian human rights organisations in recent years.

“People living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory need to be able to stand up for their rights without being punished for their courageous advocacy and calls for action. Human rights defenders like Issa Amro should be able to carry out their work without threats, intimidation, or abuse, and the Israeli authorities should stop prosecuting defenders in an attempt to silence them,” the experts said.

The Special Rapporteurs emphasised that Israel should take all reasonable steps to demonstrate respect for the work of human rights defenders in the OPT, and send an unequivocal message that it respects democratic values.

The two Special Rapporteurs, along with other human rights experts, have sent several letters to Israel seeking clarification about Issa Amro’s case.

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