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Former Iraq hostage, assaulted, unlawfully deported by Israel for human rights work, files official complaint

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – Harmeet Singh Sooden, who was held hostage in Iraq for four months in 2005-2006, has filed an official complaint to the governments of Canada and New Zealand and the United Nations for human rights violations committed against him by the Government of Israel in the course of denying him entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Mr Sooden travelled to Israel on 14 June 2008 to work as a human rights defender with International Solidarity Movement (ISM). ISM is an international human rights organisation composed of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals who monitor the human rights situation and protect human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

After declaring the purpose of his visit, Mr Sooden was assaulted and injured, threatened, held in solitary confinement, denied the right to legal counsel and consular representation as well as the right to appeal his deportation order in a court of law, and unlawfully deported on 18 June 2008—all in contravention of Israeli and international law.

Israeli authorities told Mr Sooden that he was being deported because he constitutes “a threat to the security of the State of Israel”.

“The Government of Israel appears to be pursuing a policy of refusing entry to international human rights defenders, particularly ISM volunteers,” says Mr Sooden. “Israel as a sovereign nation has the right to determine who enters its territory. However, unless a State has credible reasons for deporting human rights defenders, one can only conclude that the actual reason is concern that they will defend human rights and publicise human rights violations.” He also adds, “ISM is an integral part of a regional Israeli-Palestinian non-violent movement and is actively contributing to the security of Israel through its efforts to protect human rights in Palestine.”

According to Ms Hina Jilani, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, “Israel’s defiance of international norms has caused serious harm, including killings, to human rights defenders.” She notes in 2006 that ISM “has been specifically targeted, with over 93 volunteers deported in the last four years”. In 2003, the Israel Defence Forces killed American Rachel Corrie, 23, and fatally shot Briton Tom Hurndall, 22—both ISM volunteers.

The Supreme Court of Israel has determined that sustainable security can only be achieved through compliance with the law, including international law. Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled that association with ISM is not a valid reason for denying an individual entry into Israel. Israeli law also guarantees an individual facing a deportation order with the right of appeal.

Mr Sooden, a citizen of Canada and New Zealand, is formally asking the Canadian and New Zealand governments to protest his mistreatment and the denial of consular access, to seek a full explanation for the reasons for his deportation and the cancellation of his deportation order, and to secure an agreement from the Government of Israel that human rights defenders will no longer be mistreated and denied access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He is also asking the United Nations to undertake an investigation into this incident in accordance with its mandate on human rights defenders.

Mr Sooden and three others were kidnapped in Baghdad on 26 November 2005 while participating in an international Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. One member of the group, American citizen Tom Fox, was murdered on 9 March 2006. Mr Sooden and the other remaining hostages, Canadian James Loney and Briton Norman Kember, were freed two weeks later in a military operation.

Mr Sooden first volunteered for ISM in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in 2004.