Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

ASSAF's advocacy work with the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT)

Date: 2.5.16

In March 2016, a shadow report was submitted to the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) by ASSAF and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). The report was written in collaboration with the International Human Rights Clinic at the Hebrew University.

The report mainly focuses on the breach of Israel's obligation to identify and rehabilitate torture victims among asylum seekers in Israel, by virtue of Article 14 of the Convention. The report describes how thousands of asylum seekers who arrived in Israel after being tortured in Eritrea, Sudan and torture camps in Sinai, now live with severe physical and psychological trauma, inflicting major harm on their health and daily functioning.

The report shows that despite all available information about torture in their home countries, and torture camps in Sinai - the State of Israel has not yet created a legal or administrative mechanism to identify and rehabilitate the victims of torture, unlike victims of trafficking and slavery. As asylum seekers who lack legal status in Israel, torture victims do not have any access to proper medical care or social rights.

Accordingly, the shadow report highlights Israel's obligation to create a mechanism that can identify victims of torture, based on the Istanbul Protocol on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and humiliating punishment. In addition, the report stresses the obligation to ensure that asylum seekers have access to medical care and rehabilitation, as do victims of trafficking and slavery.

In addition, the report discusses Article 3 of the Convention, Israel's breach of its obligation to the Non-Refoulement of Palestinians who flee Gaza and the West Bank to a place where they will be in danger of torture. The report stresses that Israel must allow the Palestinians to stay in Israel as long as their asylum request is being examined, and to make sure that their requests will be examined thoroughly, under a regulated procedure.

 

In May 2016, Michal Pinchuk, the executive director of ASSAF, presented the report and its conclusions at a meeting of the UNCAT) in Geneva. In addition to presenting the report in front of the committee, Michal worked together with the IRCT on advocating the report to the Committee. This included one-on-one meetings with two of UNCAT's rapporteurs on Israel: Prof. Jens Modvig and Ms. Sapana Pradhan-Malla; both showed not only a great interest on the issue but also complimented ASSAF’s work on it. As a result of our intensive work to advocate the report to the Committee, UNCAT incorporated ASSAF's recommendations in their official observations on the fifth periodic report of Israel.

In UNCAT's observations on Israel the Committee express deep concern about the lack of identification and rehabilitation for torture victims seeking asylum in Israel and recommends to establish a mechanism that will identify and rehabilitate victims of torture that do not qualify as victims of trafficking . Additionally, The Committee emphasizes the state's obligation to identify victims of torture as early as possible, and to "ensure that specialized, holistic rehabilitation services, including medical and psychological assistance, are available and promptly accessible to all victims of torture and ill-treatment" (Para. 49).

This is a great achievement for ASSAF, especially because this is the first time the issue of identification and rehabilitation for victims of torture in the context of Israel, is raised before the Committee. UNCAT has published its comments about Article 14 just a few years ago, and has until now made only a few decisions or recommendations related to these issues.

Other recommendations of the Committee relating to asylum seekers in Israel:

  • The State party should ensure that the detention of persons entering its territory irregularly is only used as a last resort, when determined to be strictly necessary and proportionate in each individual case, and for as short a period as possible.
  • Guarantee in practice that all asylum seekers have access to efficient refugee status determination procedures that include a thorough examination of the merits of each individual case under article 3 of the Convention.
  • Guarantee that all asylum seekers have access to independent, qualified and free-of-charge legal assistance during the entire asylum procedure;
  • Refrain from removing any person from the State party without previously conducting a thorough risk assessment of situations covered by article 3 of the Convention.
  • Ensure that relocation agreements with third countries are transparent and establish effective guarantees against refoulement and post-return monitoring mechanisms.

UNCAT's recommendations will definitely be useful for our ongoing and laborious struggle for victims of torture and refugees rights. We hope that UNCAT's recommendations will be an important milestone on the way to a real improvement in Israel's policy towards asylum seekers victims of torture.

 

Read the full recommendations of the committee