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Palestinian Basic Law: Public Rights and Liberties

On 20 February 2012, the Institute of Law (IoL) at Birzeit University organised a legal encounter on the Palestinian Basic Law: Public Rights and Liberties. Delivered by Mr. Jamil Sarhan, Programme Director at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICRC), the encounter brought together a considerable number of lawyers, law students, and representatives of interested bodies.

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Lina At Tounisi, Coordinator of the IoL Gaza Office, welcomed the speaker and audience. In a briefing note about the Birzeit Legal Encounters programme, Mrs. At Tounisi said that this is the first encounter to be organised in 2012.

Mr. Sarhan explained that the Palestinian Basic Law “comprise a set of principles, values and provisions that determine the form of the Palestinian National Authority and delineate the rules of governance it should apply.” In this context, Mr. Sarhan addressed three major points relating to the Basic Law.
In reference of fundamental rights and freedoms, Article (9) under the Basic Law addresses equality. As a broad concept, equality effectively means that persons should be enabled to exercise their rights and enjoy all political, economic and social rights without discrimination on grounds of religion, colour, language, sex or social status. According to this Article, several laws have been promulgated, including the Law of Adaptation and Employment of Persons with Disabilities. In order for them to exercise their rights, public facilities should be accessible to disabled persons on an equal footing with others. Article (13) under the Palestinian Basic Law prohibits torture. Torture is pain that results from a physical or mental pressure that is exercised by a public authority in order to extract a confession from a person. Any court judgement obtained through torture is null and void. To corroborate the public right to health, Mr. Sarhan argued that the Ministry of Health and relevant Palestinian authorities should (1) provide medical treatment and medicine; (2) provide vaccinations; (3) provide rehabilitation services and respond to citizens’ needs; and (4) raise public awareness on the right to health, including by distributing health pamphlets.

Secondly, the Judicial Authority plays a significant role in overseeing the constitutionality of laws, ensuring that the hierarchy of legislation is consistent both in form and in substance. Currently, the High Court substitutes the Constitutional Court until the latter is formed. The High Court monitors the constitutionality of laws, regulations and bylaws.

Finally, in respect of the current situation of public rights and liberties, Mr. Sarhan asserted that torture practices are widespread throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On average, the ICRC receives 5 – 10 complaints on torture a month. As torture has become to mark a phenomenon, an anti-torture culture should be disseminated to help eradicate this unhealthy situation.

In the ensuing discussion, the audience made significant interventions and raised questions that reflected the reality of the Palestinian society under the state of division and disrespect of the Basic Law provisions.
The legal encounter was organised in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.