Posted Monday, August 20, 2001

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[Amnesty International] has already passed two reports to Danish Justice Minister Frank Jensen documenting the extent of torture carried out by the Shin Bet security service during Gillon's term as director.

Sunday, August 19, 2001 Av 30, 5761 Israel Time: 04:16 (GMT+3)

What is going on in the state of Denmark?

Opposition to the appointment of Ambassador Carmi Gillon reflects Denmark's recent wave of hostility toward Israel

By Nitzan Horowitz

COPENHAGEN - The first signs appeared months ago. It was hard to miss them. The "Scandinavian" volunteers from Denmark disappeared off the edge of the grassy lawns of Israeli kibbutzim. The harsh images on television and the front pages of the newspapers prompted the young people to head for other destinations after high school and during semester breaks. The kibbutz, once a model of idealism and fulfillment that Scandinavians admired, has lost its luster. In the past, the "Danish Kibbutz Friends" sent over about 1500 volunteers a year; this year only 50 went to Israel. The organization has closed its doors and suspended activities. "Now, young people feel that by working on kibbutzim they are supporting a system that represses and tortures Palestinians," is the explicit explanation offered by a member of the organization.

Gillon"Ani medaberet rak ktzat ivrit," (I only speak a little Hebrew), giggled one of the demonstrators in front of the Israeli embassy on the day that the new ambassador arrived. She was not there to express her support for Gillon. "I had a great time in Israel. My parents also volunteered on kibbutzim when they were my age. Before going to Israel I didn't know so much about what was going on there. But I saw what you are doing in the territories and I came back here feeling sympathy for the Palestinians. Israel is behaving very poorly." This, in a nutshell, is the key to understanding the turnaround in Danish public opinion toward Israel, and the public protest against Gillon.

The signs are visible everywhere. Israel Square (Israels Plads) is a well-known landmark in Copenhagen. A few months after the Intifada began, the left-wing Green-Red Alliance put forward an unanticipated proposal in the city council - renaming the inner part of this square Palestine Square (Palestines Plads). "It would be good if Copenhagen could show that Israel Square and Palestine Square can in fact exist side by side," said Mikkel Warming, a member of the alliance.


Copenhagen mayor Jens Kramer Mikkelsen was unenthusiastic. "I don't think we should use the streets of Copenhagen as a tool for implementing our foreign policy." City engineer Soren Pind, responsible for the Danish capital's squares and streets, was just as lukewarm. "It's a bad idea," he commented. "It's liable to be viewed as an unfair attack on the State of Israel. In any event, it is a pointless political initiative, because it won't be passed by the council."

The entire square still bears the name of Israel, but the icy winds in Denmark have not died down. Even the Danish Red Cross, which by its mandate is supposed to maintain strict neutrality, took a surprising step and expressed harsh criticism of the settlements and of human rights violations in Israel. "It may very well be that in so doing we are violating a few of our principles, but we did it after a great deal of thought," said Jorgen Poulsen, chairman of the local Red Cross chapter. "I don't think it would help friends of Israel at all if we failed to honestly respond to what we clearly see is going on now in Israel."

The Danish organization described Israeli policies as creating a system "very similar to apartheid. Closure prevents children from going to school; patients cannot reach hospital, agricultural plots are destroyed, and Palestinians cannot use certain roads and regions that have nothing to do with security considerations." Danish Red Cross officials are especially perturbed by the fact that ambulances are not given free access through roadblocks.

The dwindling number of friends of Israel in Denmark are responding. "This is a prime example of the one-way attack on Israel," claimed Arne Melchior, the Jewish former transportation minister who is related to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior. "When the secretary-general of the Red Cross visited Chechnya he refused to condemn Russia, even though everyone knows that Russian soldiers raped and murdered local residents on a daily basis. It's not the job of the Red Cross to take sides in a political dispute, but that's exactly what it is doing here."

The Red Cross isn't convinced. "We would be betraying our principles if we remained silent," stated the organization's president, Freddy Karup Pedersen. "It is our duty to be concerned with the well-being of victims of the conflict, and we can help only if we report on the situation in certain areas in Israel."

As for Arne Melchior - he had been one of the few individuals in Denmark to come out in Gillon's defense, but under pressure of public criticism he withdrew and joined his parliamentary colleagues in recommending that Israel not send him to Copenhagen.

Amnesty International to publish names

The new wave of international laws, which are causing sharp changes in the way human rights organizations operate, has also affected Amnesty International. The veteran organization has announced a new policy: it will place its archives at the disposal of governments, to help them put human rights violators on trial. Gillon is the first target. "We intend to use Gillon as an example," freely admits Anne Fitzgerald, at Amnesty's London headquarters. So far, the organization has released the names of victims of tortures and other violations of human rights. But from now on, Amnesty intends to publicize the names of the people responsible, from heads of government and army commanders down to the junior ranks that actually carried out the violations. "Most countries of the world have ratified the UN convention against torture, so there is no doubt that they are obliged to carry out investigations and take legal measures against the violators," says Fitzgerald.

The organization has already passed two reports to Danish Justice Minister Frank Jensen documenting the extent of torture carried out by the Shin Bet security service during Gillon's term as director. The material is hard to read. It focuses on the meaning of "moderate physical pressure." The reports refer to detainees whose heads were violently shaken from side to side. In one instance, Amnesty alleges that this caused the death of a 30-year-old Palestinian man.

The Danish government refuses to put Gillon on trial, citing his diplomatic immunity. Amnesty claims that in any event an investigation should be held. "Gillon's diplomatic immunity does not prevent the government from holding a full investigation, which might provide a firmer legal basis for putting Gillon on trial as soon as he is no longer protected by immunity," says Lars Normann Jorgensen, the local director of Amnesty International.

Other activists in the campaign exhibit a more cautious approach. They would like to avoid legal challenges to Gillon's immunity. "The tactics are supremely important," explains a renowned Danish activist. In his opinion, lodging a police complaint against the new Israeli ambassador is a risky gamble. Those who initiated it want the court to decide - for the first time - to arrest and convict an ambassador who enjoys full diplomatic immunity. "Even if the people in favor of it are trying to help, such a move could cause damage to our struggle."

His analysis: "There is only the slightest of chances that a Danish court will rule that, despite his diplomatic immunity, Gillon can be placed under arrest on the basis of the convention against torture. On the face of it, human rights activists have nothing to lose: they assume they have a slight chance of winning a precedent-setting verdict in their favor, as a direct continuation of the British verdict in the Pinochet case, as well as recent developments in Belgium. However, they are not taking into account the repercussions of a ruling against them. If the court decides, as expected, that Gillon's diplomatic immunity rules out any trial, it would be "a step backward, echoing loudly around the world, that would send us back to square one of the campaign, despite all of the very substantial breakthroughs of recent years. And Denmark, which led the war for the anti-torture treaty, would be supplying the precedent for bypassing it. We mustn't take this risk."

When China puts on the pressure

If Carmi Gillon were Chinese, he wouldn't be facing very many problems in Denmark. In the Gillon affair, the human rights organizations lobbied all of Denmark's political parties - inside and outside the coalition - to oppose the acceptance of the Israeli ambassador. Massive pressure was brought to bear, playing on the engrained ethos in Scandinavia of protecting human rights. However, the same kind of pressure, directed at another visitor to Denmark, did not achieve any such results, because it met with an overwhelming opposing pressure.

The case in question involved Taiwan's President Chen Shui-Bian, who was invited to Copenhagen to be awarded an international peace prize by a liberal organization. Evidently, President Chen will not be coming: The Danish government has refused to grant him a visa. No deafening protests were voiced in the political arena. Danish Foreign Minister Mognes Lykketoft made it clear that the government would stand by its refusal. "There's nothing we can do about it," reasoned the minister. "The European Community has a common policy on visa matters, which forbids us from issuing a visa to senior government officials from Taiwan."

Really? The European Union does indeed have certain policy guidelines, but Denmark, like other members, does not hesitate to stray from them. As for the visas - one of the objectives of the common policies is to grant full freedom of movement within Europe to an individual after he enters a member state. But even if the other countries of the EU object to hosting leaders from Taiwan, Denmark could have nevertheless issued the visa: there is, after all, little fear that the Taiwanese president would try to sneak into another country after visiting Denmark.

The refusal to receive him has to do with something else: Chinese pressure. Beijing, which is led by the people responsible for the massacre in Tiananmen Square, has succeeded in persuading most countries of the world to boycott Taiwan. The long arm of China extends all the way to the Scandinavian fortress of liberty and freedom. Which leaves the organization that wants to bestow an award on President Chan looking around for another country willing to host him.

Torture in Denmark?

Denmark is a small and civilized country that respects human rights, but it is not perfect. The Gillon case inevitably focuses attention on events within Denmark. The outcome is somewhat surprising. The most recent report on human rights filed by the U.S. State Department cites three unpleasant phenomena in the pastoral Scandinavian land: commerce in women for purposes of prostitution; an increase in xenophobia; and solitary confinement.

The American report stresses that Denmark had rejected the common European policy of imposing a minimum eight-year prison sentence on individuals convicted of trafficking in human beings. Denmark claims that its sentences are sufficient. The U.S. State Department disagrees, and cites the following example: Last spring, a man in Denmark was convicted of smuggling in several women from Colombia for the purpose of coerced prostitution. He was sentenced to an eight-month prison term, even though it was his second conviction for the same offense.

The attitude toward foreigners is also a cause for concern. The American report notes that the flow of refugees and immigrants exacerbates the tension between Danes and the foreigners. Last year, Danish Interior Minister Karen Jesperson hit on an original idea: immigrants convicted of crimes would be sent to one of the isolated North Sea islands that are under Danish sovereignty. The proposal was enthusiastically received by the public.

The most surprising point raised in the same American report concerns what is sometimes considered to be a form of torture. Denmark, which led the international campaign to formulate the convention against torture, was served with a reprimand last year by the UN commission that oversees implementation of that convention. The commission criticized widespread resort in Danish prisons to holding prisoners in solitary confinement. The government quickly moved to redress the wrong: the percentage of prisoners held in isolation declined from nearly 10 percent in 1999 to less than 4 percent in 2000.

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