Friday, August 10, 2012

New Israeli Regulation Bars Some Non-Citizens from Filing Lawsuits

Child of a migrant worker in Israel, photo via Global Post
 The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that the Israeli Justice Minister has signed a new regulation requiring an Israeli ID or a foreign passport number to anyone wishing to file a lawsuit. If true, this law would seem to flagrantly violate many international human rights norms by preventing stateless persons, refugees and asylum seekers from having their day in Court.

Just to refresh your memory, the 1954 Statelessness Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, touches on the topic at article 16. 
Article 16: 1. A stateless person shall have free access to the Courts of Law on the territory
of all Contracting States.
2. A stateless person shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also discusses access to Courts in several articles (see, e.g. Art.6-10), and the sentiment of right to legal personhood is echoed continuously throughout the human rights cannon. In other words, Israel could not possibly have failed to notice that a law like this would raise eyebrows, to say the least.

When pressed, the government has responded that,
"amendments were purely technical in nature, and ensured that litigants in possession of an Israeli ID number or foreign passport specified those details on court documents so that court registrars could be certain that they were dealing with the correct individuals.

“The regulation does not alter therefore the current legal situation regarding the basic right to access the courts,” wrote Dr. Peretz Segal, head of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Counsel department. (JPost)
Hmm. So either we have a regulation that would prohibit Palestinians, who de facto do no often possess a government-issued passport, along with a host of other non-citizens, from accessing basic Court procedures, OR we have a meaningless administrative hurdle that does not change the law. If so, why pass it in the first place?

After a few days of back and forth with the government (while Israel steadily garnered increasing attention from the media for this rule, see here, here and here) the Justice Ministry has agreed to review the rule, but is sticking to the story that this does not change anything, really.

Au contraire, says the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, among others.
Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel warned Neeman the regulations will immediately deprive Palestinian residents of the territories, migrant workers and stateless individuals who have no passports the right to file claims in Israeli courts. ..."Technical matters become fundamental when they specify explicitly who will not be able to file claims in court."
Hopefully the negative attention this rule has attracted in advance of its debut in September will force the Israeli government to reconsider whether this is a step they really want to take. If not, I predict we will see continuing major action on the subject in the Fall. 

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