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UN rights office calls for halt on use of military courts to try civilians in Gaza

20 April 2012 – The UN human rights office today expressed serious concern that the de facto authorities in Gaza continue to issue death sentences and carry out executions, especially since many of the sentences are handed down by military courts against civilians.

“We reject the use of military tribunals to try civilians in Gaza, a practice which seriously undermines fair trial guarantees,” said the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, at a press conference in Geneva.

“Death sentences should never be issued under these circumstances, where the defendant does not receive all the procedural guarantees of a fair trial. Individuals sentenced to death must be guaranteed the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law,” he added.

According to OHCHR, since the beginning of this year, the de facto authorities have delivered or upheld six death sentences, one of which was delivered in absentia. Three men were hanged earlier this month and at least one other faces imminent execution by firing squad.

Information gathered by OHCHR indicates that defendants in Gaza are routinely not granted regular access to their lawyers, and the military courts often rely on confessions made under duress and/or torture.

“We urge the de facto authorities in Gaza to cease using military tribunals to try civilians,” Mr. Colville said. “We also note that due to the current intra-Palestinian political division it is not possible for defendants’ rights to a fair trial to be fulfilled.”

In particular, Mr. Colville added, the Palestinian Basic Law requires that the President of the Palestinian Authority ratify all death sentences – however, none of the executions in Gaza has fulfilled this legal requirement.

“With regard to the death penalty, the de facto authorities’ judicial system applies a completely different set of laws to those under the recognized judicial system in the West Bank,” he noted.

Under international law, the death penalty is regarded as an extreme form of punishment which should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, after a trial that meets international standards.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has previously urged the de facto authorities in Gaza to impose a moratorium on executions.

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