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Israel's Supreme Court and International Human Rights Law: The Judgement on ‘Moderate Physical Pressure’

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On September 6, 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, handed down its latest judgement on the question of the use of ‘moderate physical pressure’. The lack of substantial references to international law in the Court's reasoning was notable. The present article examines the possible reasons for the reluctance to introduce international law and goes on to analyse the effects of this reluctance. The analysis finds that the reasons for leaving international human rights norms out are less than compelling and that keeping the necessity defence for interrogators using force against detainees leaves a substantial risk of abuse.

The article goes on to place the judgement in the larger context of Israeli human rights practices. By applying the so-called ‘spiral model’, developed within international relations theory, it is possible to examine linkages between international norms and domestic change. The model allows for an evaluation of what progress has been achieved so far and for suggestions as to which measures are still needed. It is found that the judgement reasonably can be interpreted as a tactical concession and that further progress in efforts to eradicate the use of force against detainees is dependent upon a change in the attitude of the Israeli public. Future efforts should thus be aimed at influencing Israeli public opinion to ensure that torture is eliminated from Israeli interrogation practices.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Law, The European University Institute, Florence, Italy


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