The United Nations human rights chief urged the Palestinian Authority on Thursday to ensure the safety of protesters, after security forces and supporters of PA President Mahmoud Abbas attacked demonstrators over the weekend.
The protests erupted after an outspoken critic of the PA died, shortly after his family says he was severely beaten by security forces who arrested him. The PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-controlled West Bank, has grown increasingly autocratic and unpopular in recent years.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said Palestinian security forces had used force against initially peaceful protesters, “including beating them with batons and firing teargas and stun grenades.”
The statement said she was concerned about “the presence of large numbers of non-uniformed people acting in a seemingly organized and coordinated manner” with the Palestinian forces.
“During one of these protests, one of our staff members monitoring it was punched and pepper-sprayed by a person in civilian clothing,” Bachelet said. “Many people, including journalists and human rights defenders, were similarly assaulted.”
She said women appear to have been singled out, whether they were protesting, reporting for the media, or were just bystanders, with many reporting being sexually harassed.
There was no immediate comment from the PA. More protests are expected this weekend.
Bachelet called on authorities “to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly,” and said that the security forces must “provide safety and security for the exercise of human rights.”
“Any unnecessary or disproportionate use of force must be promptly, transparently and independently investigated,” she said.
PA security forces arrested Nizar Banat, who was known for his scathing social media presence criticizing the Palestinian leadership, in a raid early last Thursday morning in Hebron. According to his family, Banat was “viciously beaten” by PA officers before they dragged him away.
Banat’s death sparked protests in Hebron and Ramallah over the weekend, with thousands calling for an end to Abbas’s rule.
Even though the protests have diminished over the last two days, the PA is preparing for their potential return, following the conclusion of a commission of inquiry into Banat’s death. Justice Minister Mohammad Shalaldeh announced on Tuesday night that he had handed the commission’s findings to prosecutors.
Banat’s family has already said they will not accept the inquiry’s results. Both the Banat family and a prominent Palestinian human rights group withdrew their representatives from the body, leaving only the Justice Ministry and the Palestinian Authority intelligence services to carry out the investigation.
“We do not accept a crippled, hollow committee, most of whose elements represent the Palestinian Authority,” the Banat family said in a statement on Monday.