Palestinian Authority must protect protesters: UN rights chief

Palestinian Authority must protect protesters: UN rights chief
Nizar Banat's death in custody last week triggered days of angry protests in the West Bank that were violently repressed by Palestinian security forces.
3 min read
01 July, 2021
Protesters were violently repressed [Getty]

Palestinian authorities must ensure the safety of protesters preparing to hit the streets again, the UN rights chief said on Thursday, after demonstrations sparked by the death of an activist were violently repressed.

Nizar Banat's death in custody last week shortly after security forces stormed his home and violently arrested him, triggered days of angry protests in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

"The Government of the State of Palestine is obliged to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

"Palestinian Security Forces must act to provide safety and security for the exercise of human rights, including peaceful assembly," she added, asking for a prompt investigation into "any unnecessary or disproportionate use of force. Banat was a 43-year-old known for social media videos criticising alleged corruption within the Palestinian Authority, which activists say has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent.

In the statement, Bachelet welcomed assurances given by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh that Banat's death would be fully investigated and that protesters' rights to freedom of assembly and expression would be respected.

Demonstrators will hit the streets again on Saturday in Ramallah, the statement read.

"Last weekend, we witnessed Palestinian Security Forces using force against initially entirely peaceful protesters, including beating them with batons and firing teargas and stun grenades," Bachelet said.

She expressed particular concern over "the presence of large numbers of non-uniformed people acting in a seemingly organised and coordinated manner with the Palestinian Security Forces."

"During one of these protests, one of our staff members monitoring it was punched and pepper-sprayed by a person in civilian clothing,” she said.

"Many people, including journalists and human rights defenders were similarly assaulted."

"We have also witnessed and received credible reports of specific targeting of women present in the demonstrations - women protesting, reporting for media or merely bystanders," Bachelet said, noting that many women reported being sexually harassed at demonstrations, had their mobile phones confiscated or stolen, and reported being summoned by security forces.

"There have been threats, including death threats, and harassment, including of sexual nature, against them on social media," the statement read.

Meanwhile, an alliance of Palestinian political parties, who also took issue with PA violence towards reporters and protesters at rallies for Nizar Banat, has urged that the Palestinian Authority (PA) government be removed from office.

Read also: UN calls PA's Nizar Banat protest repression 'worrying' as family says not heard from Authority

At a Ramallah media briefing on Wednesday, Omar Assaf of the Palestinian Democratic Rally (PDR) argued that the current government, headed by premier Mohammad Shtayyeh has culpability for what happened and, therefore, should go.

He said: "What has occurred from the [PA's] security services is a shame and a disgrace and is vile."

He suggested that a transitional arrangement could see figures from a wide variety of backgrounds participate in running the country, be they from the Palestine Liberation Organization or elsewhere.

Assaf suggested underrepresented groups including women have a part to play, as do the nation's civic groups.

He advocated that the transitional arrangement last for up to six months to allow for elections to be conducted.

Assaf also took the opportunity to urge that Palestinian security chiefs be relieved of their duties. He contended that anyone implicated in what happened to Banat or other "victims of torture" in the past should be brought to justice.

The PDR is comprised of the five left-wing parties with minor representation in electoral politics.

The group includes the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People's Party, the Palestinian National Initiative and the Palestinian Democratic Union.