High Court: Military Investigations into Killing of Civilians Are Essential in Protecting the Right to Life

Israeli soldiers in Awarta (photo via Wikimedia Commons).

The High Court of Justice rejected the B’Tselem and ACRI petition because it became redundant, but stressed: the army must investigate every case in which killing of Palestinian raised suspicions of breach of law.
On Sunday (21 August 2011), the High Court of Justice (HCJ) rejected a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and B’Tselem, in which they demanded that the Judge Advocate General (JAG) order the Military Police to launch an investigation into an incident in which Palestinian citizens who did not take part in the fighting were killed. The HCJ justices ruled that the petition became redundant after the JAG changed the investigations policy in April 2011, instated in light of the drop in hostilities. According to this new policy, the Military Police Investigation Unit (MPIU) will launch an investigation into every incident in which a Palestinian who was not participating in the fight was killed in the West Bank. The petition was filed in October 2003.
In her verdict, HJC President Dorit Beinisch stated: “Defending the right to life obligates the [IDF] combat units to exercise a wide variety of operations and avoid others. The petition before us deals with the duty to investigate deaths after the fact. The very fact that such an investigation is held has implications for the right to life, as it enables, first and foremost, arraignments in appropriate cases, and holding those who deviate from the law accountable. Furthermore, a criminal investigation is forward-looking regarding the duty to protect life. It deters potential future offenders, prevents debasement of the right to live, and contributes to an attitude respecting the rule of law. It should be stressed that there is no duty to investigate every death; only deaths that are suspected to have resulted from wrongful behavior must be investigated, particularly when there is concern that the law has been violated and a criminal offense perpetrated. This duty applies both in times of peace and in wartime.”
Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, remarked upon hearing the verdict that “Our petition was filed 8 years ago and the last discussion in this matter was held some 5 and a half years ago. It is not clear why the HJC waited so long before it ruled on the petition, particularly in view of the fact that even President Beinisch stressed that the main issue here was defending the lives of Palestinian citizens who are not involved in the fighting. It is a shame that after such prolonged litigation, the HCJ chose to settle for a change of policy, which the JAG announced several months ago, without ruling on the disputed issues that were extensively discussed before it. This means that should the JAG decide to downgrade his policy again, ACRI and B’Tselem will have to file a new petition against it and start the entire process from scratch.”
B’Tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell said in reaction: “The petition was rejected, but our struggle for changing the investigations policy was successful. That change was attained not only thanks to our operations at the HCJ, but also thanks to 10 years of intensive struggle during which we filed hundreds of demands that investigations be launched in specific cases, while conducting public activities to promote the change of policy. Launching an investigation was, of course, just the first hurdle. We need to make sure that the investigations, once launched, are conducted efficiently, professionally, and transparently. To this end, we will continue monitoring the process of the investigations.”
Since the JAG announced the investigations policy changed, three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in two separate incidents. In both cases, the Military Police Investigation Unit started an investigation shortly after that. B’Tselem is monitoring the progress and results of these investigations.
The full verdict (in Hebrew) on the HCJ site.
The original petition (in Hebrew), on the B’Tselem site.

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Categories: The Occupied Territories, Use of Force

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