GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. human rights experts questioned Israeli officials on Tuesday about hundreds of allegations of torture of Palestinian detainees by security forces, which they said had not been investigated in recent years.
The United Nations Committee against Torture, composed of 10 independent experts, also challenged an Israeli delegation about the alleged existence of a secret detention and interrogation facility known as “Facility 1391.”
Israel defended its record at the session, which continues on Wednesday afternoon, but did not address the issue of a secret center. The Jewish state is among seven countries in the dock at a three-week session being held through May 15.
“Every complaint alleging inappropriate treatment toward prisoners and detainees is investigated and seriously considered by the competent authorities, and if there is legal basis, criminal or disciplinary procedures are taken,” said Shai Nitzan, deputy state attorney for special affairs at Israel’s justice ministry.
Four cases examined by an independent inspector had resulted in disciplinary measures, and several had resulted in “general remarks to ISA (Israel Security Agency) interrogators,” he said.
Fernando Marino Menendez, a committee member from Spain, noted that the Convention against Torture, ratified by Israel, specifically stipulates that there is no justification for carrying out acts of torture, even in times of war or emergency.
He also voiced concern that there was still no crime of torture defined in domestic Israeli law that reflected all the provisions set out in the pact which entered into force in 1987.
Some 600 complaints of alleged ill-treatment or torture were brought between 2001 and 2006, but none had been followed up, he said, citing information from activists and media.
Felice Gaer, an American expert on the committee, asked why interrogations by the Israel Security Agency were not recorded either on audiotapes or on video. She suggested that a reason complaints were decreasing was that there had not been a single criminal investigation into any such cases.
Other committee members raised the alleged existence of the secret detention and interrogation facility and cited a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court which had upheld that no investigations could be conducted against activities there.
The committee, which last scrutinized Israel’s record in November 2001, cited “numerous allegations” at the time that Israeli police and security officials tortured or mistreated Palestinian detainees, and urged it to prevent abuses.
Separately, a team of U.N. rights investigators looking into Israel’s invasion of Gaza in late December, led by former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, is meeting all week in Geneva ahead of a planned trip to the region, officials said.
According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed in the fighting in the Hamas-run coastal strip. Israel disputes those figures.
“The Gaza Strip is controlled by a murderous terrorist organization which acts unceasingly to strike at the State of Israel and its inhabitants, violating every possible rule of international law in its violent acts, which are directed indiscriminately toward civilians,” Nitzan said on Tuesday.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Ralph Boulton