The Human Rights Defenders Fund
by Shelly Danosh
- May 24, 2017
- 8 mins story
1. What is the situation of HRDs in your country? Has there been any change over the last few years?
There is no proper public debate about the status of human rights defenders in Israel, and about the rights and obligations associated with this status. Law enforcement agencies, primarily the police, attach no importance to the array of rights given to human rights defenders, which is specifically intended to allow them to carry out their activities. Instead, it often seems that police and military forces on the ground as well as their prosecution arms consider criminal law a legitimate tool for constraining human rights defenders and interfering with their actions. In many cases, courts too choose to ignore the principles of freedom of expression and the role of defendants as human rights defenders.
In recent years, enforcement agencies have shown an increasingly repressive approach toward legitimate, lawful actions by human rights defenders in Israel and in the OPT, and there is a discernable trend toward using false charges and criminal measures to constrain their activities. Many defenders who take part or play a leading role in demonstrations are criminalized as law breakers. They are often arrested without committing an offense, ordered to stay away from the scene of the struggle as a condition for release and indicted. In the OPT, Israeli activists are removed from locales where regular demonstrations take place in order to prevent partnerships with Palestinian activists and Palestinian defenders
are exposed to criminalization measures such as administrative detention and criminal prosecution under security legislation in military courts.
The military and the police conduct false arrests, mostly in routine demonstrations in known locales in Israel and the OPT in order to weaken local leaderships who promote non-violent popular struggles for human rights. Enforcement agencies sometimes attempt to prevent completely legal demonstrations and rallies by using arrests, allegations or indictments on light offenses such as “illegal assembly”. The most extreme measure for criminalizing non-violent activities by human rights defenders are indictments, which result in lengthy criminal proceedings and have serious long-term impacts on the lives of defenders, even if the proceedings end with lenient penalties or acquittals.
Arrests and indictments have a chilling effect on human rights defenders and others in their vicinity and may prevent them from participating in actions and in public debates. Those who fall victim to legal proceedings are forced to devote a considerable amount of time and resources into defending themselves, at the expense of resources meant for their activities. In addition to the direct impact on operations, these criminalization measures undermine the legitimacy of organizations and individuals to promote public causes, weaken the human rights movement in the relevant territory and undermine democracy and the rule of law. Criminalization also has serious financial consequences for both individuals and organizations and impacts their ability to continue to engage in human rights activities, and the targeting of leaders and key activists has broader repercussions for the communities from which they hail and for civil society at large.
2. What kind of support does your organisation/network offer to HRDs?01:46 The HRDF was founded in 2011 to provide HRDs with the support they need to fend off attacks on their bodies, persons and work, and to carry out their activities more safely and effectively, thus mitigating the “chilling effect” mentioned above.The Fund’s main activity area is the provision of legal aid to HRDs who face different forms of legal persecution, ensuring that HRDs can continue carrying out their activism knowingthat they have support.The HRDF further provides lawyers with professional tools, to strengthen their capacity to provide top quality defense that carries the Human Rights language to the courts. This alsoincludes the induction of new lawyers into the field, in order to diversify the group of lawyers who can effectively protect HRDs.The HRDF offers trainings and legal tools for activists to encourage the use of non-violent protest, allowing activists to better plan and execute activities, and decrease therisk involved.Lastly, the Fund engages in international advocacy, working with NGOs, INGOs and representatives of the international community to disseminate information on the work ofHRDs, the threats they face, and support they require.
3. Tell us more about one or more examples how your work has impacted and helped HRDs?01:14 Zehave Grinfeld, an Israeliactivist for public housing, is also involved in the struggle of Palestinianprisoners in Israel. She was arrested during a demonstration in supportprisoner Muhammad Allan while he was on hunger strike, and indicted for riotand for “offending a public officer”.Zehavawas provided legal representation by the HRDF. Following lengthy negotiations,in February 2017 an agreement was reached between her legal defense and thestate. Zehava was convicted of riot, acquitted from insulting, and receivedprobation. The state insisted that a large fine would be imposed on Zehava, butdue to her lawyer’s insistent objection, the court ruled against imposing afine. Thisis yet another case of misuse of criminal law against HRDs in Israel.