Human rights in Palestine

“The Judiciary is the Foremost Guardian of Human Rights”

RWI recently held a two-day meeting in Jordan with eight members of judicial institutes in Iraq, Jordan and Palestine as part of the Institute’s programme to enhance the application of human rights standards in Arab courts.

The current three-year programme, which began in 2014, was based on the outcomes of the previous regional programme and constructed around the suggestions of the judicial institutes themselves to actively integrate international human rights standards into their curricula.

The meeting was led by Professor John Cerone, Distinguished Chair in Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, and facilitated by Eman Siam, program officer for the MENA region.

Topics of the first day addressed general introduction to human rights, the place of international human rights law in the international legal system, and the relationship between the international and domestic law. The agenda of the second day focused on best practices in internalising human rights standards.

To learn more, we asked a few question to one of the participants, Judge Fatine Seif, Court of First Instance, Ramallah, Palestine.

What do you believe are the challenges the judiciary faces in the application of human rights standards in the courts of Palestine, and the means to address them?

“The judiciary is the bedrock that guarantees the respect of the rights of individuals, protects and upholds their freedoms; it is the foremost guardian of human rights. Consequently, legal texts by themselves will remain meaningless unless combined with mechanisms to revive those texts and translate them into practical tools. The citizen whose rights are violated should find justice within them without having to refer to courtrooms — that should be his/her last resort.

“Hence the challenge for the judiciary to take on this role. Since the State of Palestine has only recently acceded to the membership of the United Nations, it is still faced with numerous and large obstacles that would hinder it from achieving this national responsibility. Additionally, the ratification of Palestine of the national and regional human rights conventions are quite recent. Palestine is still busy building the project of a national state, its people and leadership are still burdened under the yoke of occupation; and there is no stability, in the legal sense, of its political and economic situation, among others.

“In order to face these challenges, the Palestinian judiciary must persist in playing an effective role in implementing and protecting the law, and in maintaining rights and freedoms. It must stand as an impregnable fortress in the face of any infringement by the executive powers, or any transgression against its independence. It must fight to achieve flexible separation of authority, to uphold the principles of citizenship and belonging based on the foundations of justice, equity, respect of human rights and defense of freedoms with the aim of preserving the independence and integrity of the judiciary.”

What opportunities are available to apply human rights standards in the courts of Palestine and how can they be used?

“The judiciary in many countries implements the international agreements, which constitute part of the state system when ratified. The Palestinian Basic Law, the supreme law, though it did not specify the place of international treaties vis-à-vis national laws, indicated the necessity and obligation to respect and ratify these treaties. The Palestinian Authority is working on ratifying and acceding to these treaties, without delay.

“This entails that a Palestinian judge may derive from their provisions, and may refer and build on them in order to find solutions to the conflicts at hand. It may be done either by the judge directly referencing to these texts and their provisions, or deriving from the spirits of these principles and standards as contained in international human rights treaties, or using them for inspiration when reading and implementing the national texts.”

What do you aspire for this program to achieve on the national as well as Arab levels?

“I hope that the program will achieve its objectives as identified by the parties entrusted with implementing it, the participating states and signatory of its implementation. Those objectives include developing educational material or curriculum for the Palestinian Judicial Institute to be used as a guide and curriculum to educate and establish a legal and practical culture to build the knowledge in the application human rights standards and principles in courtroom proceedings and judicial rulings.

“The said curriculum will focus on explaining the level of coherence between the national legislation and international texts; on identifying the provisions that are missing, vague or unclear in the national legislation. The judge is thus aware of them and capable of interpreting them in accordance with international standards. The judge is able to read them correctly, in line with these interpretations, and consequently to apply them as appropriate, in accordance with these international humanitarian principles.”

How do you see the role of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in supporting the application of human rights standards in the Arab judiciary?

“I would say that I have constantly reiterated my deepest respect for the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, for the great role that it plays, and for bearing much of the cost and expenses to implement it, i.e. supporting the application of human rights standards in the Arab judiciary.

“In all honesty, and without flattery, and based on what I know and hear from my colleagues in Palestine and Jordan, there is a myriad of human rights programs. However, the Raoul Wallenberg program is different and special because it operates based on a clear strategic plan, with specific, clear and realistic objectives on the topic, the duration, the objectives it wants to achieve, and how they will be achieved. It launches the idea of the project within a defined plan, then moves to the next phase, when the previous one has been completed, and so forth, until the objective set is reached, within a frame of questions: What do we want to do? How are we going to do it? What do we want to achieve exactly from this work that we are doing? And finally, we ask: did we succeed? Did we achieve the objective? God willing, we will achieve it.”

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