Corona and Human Rights: What is ACRI Doing?
This page is periodically updated with our activities relating to the COVID-19 crisis, focusing on our work:
1. Safeguarding Democracy and Basic Rights
2. Protecting Civil Liberties
3. Protecting Social Rights
4. Defending human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
We are monitoring the government actions to halt the spread of the virus in order to ensure that the damage to human rights is substantive, proportional, for a fit purpose, and as limited as possible, and working to secure the rights of vulnerable populations during the crisis.
Safeguarding Democracy and Basic Rights
14 Mar. 2020: In response to the announcement by the Prime Minister of the plan to use technological means to track COVID-19 patients through their cell phones, ACRI issued the following press release: “To the best of our knowledge, patients have been cooperating with the authorities to reveal the places they visited. We have not heard of a phenomenon whereby people are lying or concealing details. Even if we assume that here and there someone may prefer to “forget” a meeting, the marginal benefit that will come from the location data cannot justify the grave violation of the right to privacy. The danger with COVID-19 is not only the virus itself, but concern that during the efforts to overcome this threat, we will lose our basic values as a free and democratic society.”
15 Mar. 2020: We joined a group of experts on the issue of privacy who contacted the Prime Minister, Health Minister, Attorney General, and the head of the Privacy Protection Authority and demanded that the government act transparently and publish full information about the plan to use technological means as part of the struggle against the spread of COVID-19. Among other aspects, we asked the authorities to clarify what means will be used, under what authority, and by what body. We emphasized that in a democratic society, limits apply to the use of draconian measures even in a state of emergency – indeed, precisely in such conditions these limits are particularly important.
16 Mar. 2020: About 90 minutes before the new Knesset was sworn in, the Subcommittee for the Secret Services held a discussion on the powers of the Israel Security Agency (ISA, “Shabak”) and the possibility that the agency will be empowered to undertake technological monitoring of Israeli citizens due to the COVID-19 crisis. We issued a press release urging the committee not to act rashly in granting such extensive powers to the ISA. We noted that the ISA was empowered to attend to state security; extending its authority to an overly civilian matter creates a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope. Such a step should only be taken after extensive discussion, and not in a short process immediately before the Knesset is dissolved.
18 Mar. 2020: Submitted petition to the High Court of Justice against the emergency regulations and the executive branch bypassing the Knesset to authorize the Shin Bet to track civilians during the crisis.
19 Mar. 2020: The High Court of Justice issues an interim order, calling for a Knesset committee to meet and decide on the issue by Tuesday, March 24th, otherwise nullifying the regulations.
23 Mar. 2020: Along with Adalah, we submitted to the HCJ our objection to the State’s request to cancel the HCJ temporary injunction in respect of the emergency regulations authorizing the police to obtain, without a warrant, location data of the infected with the intention of enforcing quarantines.
24 Mar. 2020: A Foreign Affairs and Security Committee was convened to oversee the emergency regulations in Knesset. The government decided to expand the Shin Bet’s authority according to a mechanism set out in the Israeli Security Services Law, and the decision must now be approved by the Intelligence and Secret Services Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, set to discuss the issue on Thursday, March 26.
Justice Minister’s Authority to Declare a Special State of Emergency
14 Mar. 2020: We asked the Attorney General to clarify to the Justice Minister that he is not permitted to exercise the authority granted to him in the regulation to declare a special state of emergency. Such a declaration entails the canceling of all court proceedings, with the exception of urgent cases. We noted that such authority must be regulated solely in primary legislation, including the creation of a network of breaks and balances ensuring the autonomy of the judicial authority.
Freedom of Speech and Protest
19 Mar. 2020: We appealed to the Police Commissioner to demand that the police cease handing out tickets and blocking protesters from arriving (in their cars, due to Corona) to the demonstration against anti-democratic emergency measures outside of the Knesset, falsely claiming that ithe protest itself was illegal.
Demanding separation of powers
19 Mar. 2020: Submitted a position paper and appealed to the Speaker of the Knesset regarding his silencing the Knesset during this critical time.
22 Marc. 2020: Appealed to the Attorney General requesting that he demand of all authorities to act only within their given powers.
Protecting Civil Liberties
Translating Critical Information into Arabic
17 Mar. 2020: We contacted the Employment Service and the National Insurance Institute, together with the Ma’an workers’ organization, and demanded that the authorities provide an Arabic translation of the online forms for requesting unemployment benefit, and allow applicants to complete the forms in Arabic. The lack of unemployment benefit forms in Arabic violates the right to a dignified existence of dozens, if not hundreds, of workers who are Arab citizens and residents. The problem is particularly serious for residents of East Jerusalem who have been forced to take unpaid leave due to the spread of COVID-19.
18 Mar. 2020: Appealed to the head of the Public Broadcaster to provide real-time Arabic translations during the nightly news bulletin updating about the crisis situation. The request was accepted and implemented.
31 Mar. 2020: Appealed to the Minister of Health and Director General of the Ministry of Health to publish the trajectories of Arab residents and citizens infected with Corona to their website and phone app in both Arabic and Hebrew.
Requesting Additional Coronavirus Testing Stations in Arab Communities
29 Mar. 2020: Appealed to the Ministry of Health to open "drive-through" stations to check for Corona in Arab cities and demanded an increase in medical services and COVID-19 detection tests in Arab communities. According to media reports, only 38 cases of Arab citizens and residents have been reported to date, out of more than 3,800 patients. Among other things, this gap indicates that the concentration of medical resources are based in Jewish localities, while Arab neighborhoods are neglected and left without the provision of essential health services.
Renewing Family-unification permits
18 Mar. 2020: Appealed to Director of the Population and Immigration Authority demanding they automatically renew family-unification permits for Palestinians living in Israel.
Prisoners' and Suspects' Rights
18 Mar. 2020:We appealed to the Attorney General demanding that security prisoners be able to call their families during this time that visits from family and attorneys are not allowed.
19 Mar. 2020: We joined Physicians for Human Rights in an appeal to reduce the incarcerated population to the minimum possible in order to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the health of the incarcerated.
31 Mar. 2020: Wrote to the Attorney General Attorney opposing the extending of suspects' detentions in the case that the suspect or witnesses in the relevant case have COVID-19 - an arrangement that is improper and unconstitutional as detaining an innocent person who has not been indicted at a time when he or she cannot be questioned violates the right to freedom and due process.
Protecting Social Rights
Rights of Sheltered Housing Residents
16 Mar. 2020: The Ministry of Welfare guidelines for the COVID-19 period have severely restricted the entry of visitors to the compounds of senior citizens’ homes, but no closure or isolation has been imposed on elderly people living in institutions. Despite this, we have received complaints suggesting that some institutions are imposing a total closure on the residents and prohibiting them from leaving the compound of the senior citizen’s home for any reason. We have contacted the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Welfare, and asked them to clarify to institutions for senior citizens that no coercive restrictions are to be imposed on residents or patients beyond the official guidelines issued by the relevant government ministries.
Freezing House Demolitions in Israel
We appealed to the Ministry of Justice to cease home demolitions in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev along with 23 other organizations. On 24.3.2020 the Ministry of Justice declared it would cease to implement all home demolition orders, with the exception of new illegal buildings, within Israel.
Don’t Cut the Electricity Supply of Debtors
15 Mar. 2020: We contacted the Minister of Energy and the Chairperson of the Electricity Authority and asked them to instruct the Israel Electric Company to suspend the disconnection of electricity due to non-payment, and to order that an uninterrupted supply of electricity be provided for homes where prepayment meters have been installed, even if payments have not been made in the meters.
We explained that during this period most children are at home following the shutdown of the education system. Many people cannot go to work, or their place of work has closed. This may lead to increased consumption of electricity in the home, while at the same time income is falling, particularly for poorer consumers. Moreover, the restriction of non-digital services has created real problems in charging the prepayment meters at post offices and in receiving service from the IEC’s centers and branches. Difficulties in using public transportation add to these problems.
We were pleased to hear that during a discussion in the IEC this morning, the Chairperson of the company order the suspension of disconnections of debtors and the provision of emergency codes for consumers dependent on prepayment meters.
The Rights of Public Housing Tenants
15 Mar. 2020: We asked the Ministry of Housing not to suspend the provision of assistance for eligible residents who were due to renew their eligibility as of the beginning of March, even if the residents cannot complete the renewal process due to their inability to reach the offices or forward documents as in ordinary times. We also asked the ministry not to instigate proceedings for the collection of debts from public housing residents who fail to pay rent, at least until the crisis ends, and to allow eligible persons and residents an adequate and additional period to get themselves organized when this happens.
25 Mar. 2020: Ministry of Housing issued a general directive to mortgage companies to completely cease collecting debts during this time.
Bank Services and Welfare Benefits
18 Mar. 2020: Successfully appealed to Bank of Israel to make services accessible to customers with restrictions on their accounts during this time.
24 Mar. 2020: Along with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa, successfully contacted the supervisor of the Postal Bank and the Minister of Communications demanding that Postal Bank services be adapted to receive customers, especially those receiving welfare benefits.
26. Mar. 2020: The Association for Civil Rights and the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa petitioned the HCJ today, against the Supervisor of the Bank and the Bank of Israel to demand that all banks open all their branches in which cash can be pulled this coming Sunday in order to allow pension recipients to withdraw their money. Tens of thousands of pension recipients cannot withdraw money from an ATM and must physically arrive to a bank branch, but most branches are now closed due to the Coronavirus crisis.
Releasing Money from the Deposit Fund for Asylum Seekers
We joined a request submitted by Kav LaOved and other organizations to the Interior Minister, Finance Minister, and Labor Minister asking them to allow asylum seekers to receive their moneys accumulated in the deposit fund for so-called “infiltrators” in light of the current crisis. Workers who have been dismissed or forced to take unpaid leave over recent days include asylum seekers. Unlike Israeli workers, the asylum seekers are not eligible for unemployment benefit, dismissal compensation (which is deposited in the fund pending the worker’s departure from Israel), or national health insurance. In these circumstances, asylum seekers who have been dismissed or forced to take leave should at least be able to withdraw the money in the deposit fund, part of which is their salary and part of which is compensation deposited by their employer
Appealed to Prime Minister to Develop Aid Package
23 Mar. 2020: Appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to urgently intervene in formulating an emergency aid package to assist those unable to economically survive the quarantine.
Occupied Palestinian Territories
Freezing Home Demolitions
We appealed multiple times to the Attorney General and Justice and IDF Central Command demanding a freeze of home demolitions during this time in which one's home is one’s only refuge from the pandemic and preventing its spread.
As of 30.3.2020, we are still receiving reports of home demolitions in Area C. We have sent another appeal to Central Command on the matter.
Access to Health Care
Appealed with Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights to the Minister of Health and head of Magen David Adom (MDA) to demand that the MDA workers enter neighborhoods in East Jerusalem beyond the separation barrier in order to test residents for the virus and treat those known to be infected.
Along with Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights, we contacted the Ministries of Labor, Security, and Health to demand government oversight for West Bank Palestinian workers stuck in Israel for the next 30-60 days, unable to return to the West Bank since it’s been closed, regarding their employment and their stay here, and to safeguard their rights. We specifically called for bearable accommodation and health care.
30.3.2020 We are pleased that the Palestinian workers forced to stay in Israel for the coming weeks due to the Coronavirus crisis will receive health insurance during their stay. We further demand that the relevant authorities ensure, supervise and enforce sufficient accommodation conditions in order to maintain sanitary health conditions and the basic dignity of the workers, as well.