The undersigned Palestinian human rights organizations condemn in the strongest terms the attack on the civilian court compound in the Gaza Strip, and the break-in by members of the so-called “Higher Justice Council” formed by the dismissed government into the office of the President of the Higher Judicial Council and President of the High Court.
These attacks and actions are illegal and contradict the Basic Law of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Human rights organizations call upon the dismissed government to immediately rescind the illegal decision to takeover the civilian judicial system in the Gaza Strip.
These organizations hold this government fully responsible for undermining and destroying the Judicial Authority in order to establish illegal judicial bodies that are not independent.
Facts and information derived from sources in the Higher Judicial Council indicate that at approximately 13:00 on Monday, 26 November 2007, members of the “Higher Justice Council” Abd El-Ra’ouf El-Halabi (President), Adel Khalifa (member), and Omar El-Borsh (member) went to the Court Compound and med the Deputy Chief Justice Yehia Abu Shahla.
El-Halabi informed Abu Shahla of the following: All judges and staff in the civilian court system in the Gaza Strip are to be under his instructions in his capacity as the President of the Higher Justice Council.
Demanded receipt of the keys of the office of the President of the Higher Judicial Council in order to carry on with his work in the office.
Abu Shahla replied that their decision and status are illegal, that what they are doing is a violation of the law and Basic Law, and that he refused to follow their orders.
El-Halabi and his colleagues left Abu Shahla’s office and headed towards the office of the President of the Higher Judicial Council.
They ordered one of the employees to open the office.
A large police force was deployed in the Court Compound.
As a result, judges and staff left the Court Compound and the Higher Judicial Council announced an indefinite suspension of the work of the civilian court system in the Gaza Strip.
Since then, and due to the full understanding of the seriousness of the situation, human rights organizations exerted extensive efforts to save the civilian court system from total collapse, to go back to the situation prior to the takeover, and to neutralize the judicial system from the ongoing power struggle.
Over the past 10 days, human rights organizations held extensive contacts with the dismissed government including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, the head of the Legal Committee in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and the legal advisor to the Prime Minister.
Human rights organizations received positive signals in the first stage of contacts that led to understandings on rescinding the decision of the takeover and other illegal measures in exchange for the role of human rights organizations in finding solutions to some outstanding problems in the judicial system.
Among these problems are the suspension of executing judicial decisions and collection of court fees.
Human rights organizations contacted the Higher Judicial Council, which agreed to work seriously to resolve the aforementioned problems.
Regrettably, the dismissed government did not respect these preliminary understandings.
It became clear to us that it was not serious in reaching a solution other than its own, and is not keen to rescind its illegal decisions.
Facts on the ground indicate that the Higher Justice Council is in a race against time to solidify its complete control over the judicial system.
This council took over all civilian courts in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, the council sent letters to judges urging them to return to work.
The judges refused to heed this call and all 48 judges as well as court staff are abiding by the indefinite suspension of work.
Human rights organizations affirm that this serious attack is the culmination of a series of illegal steps and measures taken by the dismissed government in Gaza to undermine the Judicial Authority and justice system in the PNA.
The most notable of these illegal steps were: 14 August 2007: Decision of this government’s Minister of Justice to suspend the Attorney-General (AG) from his work under the claim that the legal steps of his appointment were not completed.
This was an illegal decision and no minister has the authority to undermine the AG who is performing his functions in accordance with the law.
16 August 2007: The Executive Force raided the AG’s office in Gaza, attacked the AG and detained him and his assistants.
29 August 2007: appointment of an Assistant-AG as well as new prosecutors illegally.
They have been performing the functions of the AG and his assistants since 29 August.
4 September 2007: Formation of the so-called “Higher Justice Council” by a Cabinet Decision and the approval of this council’s members under the presidency of Abd El-Ra’ouf El-Halabi on 11 September.
This council is illegal and it usurps the authority of the Higher Judicial Council that was formed and is operating according to the law.
The dismissed government has no authority to form the Higher Judicial Council.
Appointment of new judges illegally.
Provocations by security forces against judges and the Judicial Authority.
Prior to these steps and immediately after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip last June, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah decided to suspend the work of the civilian police force and AG immediately, and the High Judicial Council decided to suspend the implementation of court judgments and to stop collection of court fees.
At the time, warnings were issued against these decisions and their serious implications on the justice system and Judicial Authority.
The interests of ordinary citizens are final victims of the decisions to suspend the work of the police and AG.
It was warned then that these decisions will pave the ground for the dismissed government in Gaza to establish alternative judicial bodies.
Human rights organizations renew their strong condemnation of the attack on the Civilian Court Compound in Gaza and: Affirm that the independence of the Judicial Authority is the safeguard of social order and that this independence must be preserved at all times and under all circumstances.
The alternative is the rule of the jungle.
Call upon the dismissed government in Gaza to immediately rescind this very dangerous and illegal stop that is liable to destroy the Judicial Authority.
Fully support the position of the Higher Judicial Council to suspend the work of the civilian courts and fully support the decision of the Bar Association to suspend the work of lawyers.
Hold the dismissed government fully responsible for the result of the collapse of the Judicial Authority, and what that bears in the form of damaging the interests of the citizenry.
Affirm that the process of appointing new judges by the dismissed government violates the Judicial Authority Law despite the fact that these judges passed the tests held by the Higher Judicial Council.
The law states that judges must be nominated by the Higher Judicial Council and appointed by Presidential Decree.
These steps have not been fulfilled.
Remind that the Judicial Authority achieved justice for Hamas on many occasions and in many cases that were key junctures in the struggle for the rule of law against the arbitrariness of the Executive Authority then.
These cases included political detention, closure of newspapers, and closure of associations affiliated with Hamas.
View this new attack as a pre-meditated action that could not have been possible without political cover from the dismissed government in Gaza so as to complete the takeover over the components of the Judicial Authority.
This takeover comes within the context of the political crisis rocking the PNA.
This crisis has created a deep abyss in the components of the Palestinian political system: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.
This will practically lead to the deepen the existing separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the price of which is paid by the Palestinian people and the Palestinian national cause.
Addameer for Human Rights
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights