Invitation to prepare a comprehensive security plan with clear responsibilities for all parties in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
The Civil Forum for Promotion of Good Governance in the Security Sector held a discussion on the role of security and police forces in the elections
Ramallah – The Civil Forum to Promote Good Governance in the Palestinian Security Sector held a discussion on the role of security and police forces in the elections. The Zoom-supported meeting was attended by representatives of the Central Election Commission, Ministry of Interior and Police Department in addition to other oversight organizations and stakeholders. It aimed to learn about the development and preparedness of security arrangements during the elections.
Participants in the session discussed the guidelines and legal framework regulating the role of security and police forces throughout the electoral process. All these frameworks invite the security forces to remain neutral during the elections and to abstain from intervening while focusing on keeping law and order, and equal and non-discriminatory treatment. It is important to have a public accountability policy with clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of the security forces that is transparently known to citizens. It should be noted that the law vests the protection of security during the electoral process to the Palestinian police forces and no other security agency.
Preparation of a comprehensive security plan with establishment of joint operations room and training of security forces on important steps to ensure the success of the elections
The Forum advised the Ministry of Interior, being the entity to which the police forces (entrusted with keeping order during the elections) are affiliated, to start comprehensive planning to prepare for the elections. The plan should include a risk assessment in addition to needs assessment of security in consultation with the Central Election Commission and other stakeholders. It is necessary to devise a comprehensive security plan with clear distribution of responsibilities, defined leadership and administrative hierarchy that is consistent with the responsibilities assigned to each administrative level. It is also necessary to agree on central coordination mechanism (joint operations room) to facilitate communication among different parties and coordinate responses between the Central Elections Commission and the Ministry of Interior. Comprehensive training is needed to cover the operations pertaining to the role of the police and other security forces during the elections in addition to issues related to democratic policing, respect of human rights, best security practices during the election. The Forum also recommended that the CEC prepares a manual for the police on how to act during the electoral campaigns, voting and shorting of ballots. CEC also needs to publish booklets on the procedures applicable to the organization of electoral campaigns with focus on the activities that require police approval or coordination.
Devise a health protocol during the elections and refrain from exploiting the state of emergency as a political tool to restrict freedoms
Furthermore, the Forum called for the adoption of a balanced policy to preserve public peace and order on the one hand while avoiding the imposition of any unjustified restrictions on basic rights and freedoms on the other. The security forces should also act and respond to the state of emergency during the elections, especially as COVID-19 continues to affect the population. However, they should not use this state of emergency as a political tool to restrict rights and freedoms related to the elections. It is necessary to establish coordination between the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders at CEC and security forces to prepare a special protocol applicable during the election process with clear provisions regulating the different electoral phases, more specifically the elections day.
Early voting of security forces
Participants also discussed the early voting of security forces, and considered it an advanced step that aims to enable security agents exercise their constitutional right to elect then focus on the protection of the electoral process. Laws explicitly prescribe that security officers shall be presents outside the ballot stations and administrative building throughout the elections day and specify their duties to preserve a secure and peaceful environment. There is also the need to establish security measures during the sorting and counting of votes and secure the buildings, staff and voting material. The security of candidates and voters must also be protected through appropriate security measures applied equally to all parties and campaigns premises.
Complaints, grievances and challenges mechanism after the election day
To ensure the integrity of the elections, security must be protected in the adjudication of potential complaints and challenges via measures to protect candidates and voters in a fair and timely manner. The purpose is to enable elections committees and courts to perform their duties without any barriers, pressure or intervention. This may require securing sensitive elections material and safe handling of grievances through official legal channels or comprehensive consultation mechanisms rather than resistance and hindrances. Although progress has been made in the handling of complaints submitted to the security forces, there remain many problems related to the complaints departments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including: public unawareness of the existence of these units, unexperienced staff to handle complaints, weak citizens’ trust in these units, poor reporting experience on the complaints’ outcome, complaints units staff need legal training and practical training on complaints follow-up. Furthermore, some of these units are understaffed and do not have all the logistic requirements they need for their work.
Regarding the ambiguous handling of cases related to the military, the Forum proposed that the Independent Human Rights Commission advise and guide citizens who wish to file complaints relating to the role of the security forces during the elections. This requires additional efforts by stakeholders to disseminate complaints mechanism to the public and raise their awareness of how to submit complaints on the behavior of security forces during the election. It is also important to raise security agents’ awareness of the electoral offenses and crimes. The Forum called on stakeholders, including the Ministry of Interior and Police Department, to report on their activities to competent authorities after the elections and to publish these reports through an appropriate mechanism to citizens.
CEC: It is necessary to standardize references of security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Mr. Hisham Kuheil, Executive Director of CEC, commented that CEC has not witnessed any systemic policy relating to the conduct of elections with the security forces. The cases previously handled were individual cases and were solved directly with the Ministry of Interior. Khueil confirmed that CEC devises procedures according to the law and coordinates with the police forces. A central operation room will be established at national and district levels. Coordination will be established with the Ministry of Civil Affairs to secure movement of material and individuals and with the military liaison to coordinate elections in and around Jerusalem.
Kuheil also announced that CEC approached the Ministry of Interior to devise a coordination mechanism between the West Bank and Gaza in order to have a single security reference at national level and standard plans for both regions.
Kuheil also announced that CEC is preparing a code of honor consistent with the health protocol and the state of emergency to encourage Palestinian voters participate in the elections safely. All parties must comply with these codes. CEC is simulating the electoral process in a polling station in the West Bank and another one in Gaza.
Kuheil also mentioned an MOU between CEC and IHRC to create a free and fair electoral environment and provide for equal access to media, dissemination and disclosures. He also mentioned an agreement with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation to provide equal time and access to all electoral lists and programs. He explained that prior to staring the electoral propaganda, it is allowed for PBC to mention the names and numbers of lists, ages of participants, lists gender distribution. It is however forbidden to start promoting and electoral program before Friday 30 April 2021.
Ministry of Interior: Preparation and training of police officers to supervise the elections
Dr. Ghassan Nimr, Official Spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, announced the creation of a control room at the Ministry to follow up on incidents and ensure comprehensive coordination among security forces including the Palestinian Military Liaison. He explained that the security of the elections is the responsibility of the police forces but the Ministry manages the assigned operations rooms.
In his comment, Nimr explained that the MoI has established lists of regional police officers assigned to supervise the elections. The officers, including 450 police women, received the necessary training but up to date, no orders have been received to organized the elections under a single authority, under the umbrella of MoI.
The Civil Forum will continue its interventions to contribute to all training and awareness activities to security forces in the West Bank and Gaza. It will also play its role in overseeing the elections and holding security forces accountable to their role.