Collective Punishment Violates International Law
Jerusalem, August 10, 2008 – The Israeli government should reject plans to resume the demolition or confiscation of the homes of alleged terrorists, Human Rights Watch said today. These measures would violate international legal prohibitions against collective punishment, as they affect the owners or inhabitants of the homes who have no involvement in terrorism.
The call follows an order issued on August 6, 2008, by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to demolish the home of Alaa Abu Dhein, a 26-year-old Palestinian who killed eight people during a gun attack on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem in March. The house concerned does not belong to Abu Dhein but is occupied and owned by his relatives. Barak’s order marks the resumption of demolitions of homes after a three-year lull and comes in the wake of two separate attacks in which Palestinian men used bulldozers to attack people in July on the streets of Jerusalem.
“The assault on Mercaz Harav seminary and the more recent bulldozer attacks were appalling, but Israel shouldn’t respond by trampling on basic rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The house demolition measures would violate international law because they punish people who are not even accused, let alone convicted, of a crime.”
Israel had abandoned the policy of house demolitions in 2005, when a panel of its own military experts rejected it, after concluding the policy was ineffective for tackling terrorism and possibly counterproductive. But there have been mounting calls by senior government officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to resume the practice after the bulldozer attacks, which killed three people and wounded scores more. There is no evidence that the men involved in either attack had ties to militant groups.
Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs military occupations, forbids the demolition of houses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories except where “absolutely necessary” for military operations. In addition, such demolitions punish family members and others living in the building solely for residing in the same home as an alleged terrorist. Under Israel’s policy, the fact that the owner of the building is neither the alleged terrorist nor related to him does not protect him from demolition of his property. Therefore such demolitions violate article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits punishing someone for an offense that he or she had not personally committed, and forbids collective penalties.