The Supreme Council of the Sharia Judiciary issued a circular on Sunday containing four articles of travel restrictions on different categories of unmarried persons in the Gaza Strip. Many groups have expressed shock at the circular such as the Palestine Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) which termed it a “grave mistake that must be reversed.”
The first article prohibits a father from traveling with his minor children who are in the mother’s custody without the consent of the custodian, thereby accounting for child and custody of the mother. However, the second article allows fathers to travel with minor children where they have divorced their wife and she has married another man, and after he obtains permission from a court of the first instance according to the procedure laid down in a previous circular issued last year. According to the Euro-Med Monitor, this article is problematic as it has the potential to deny a mother the right to see her children even when they are not in her custody and consequently contravenes a previous circular by the Council that was issued in 2010. It has termed the travel restrictions as a clear violation of the right to move under the Palestinian Basic Law and international conventions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Further, the third and fourth articles impose restrictions from traveling without the consent of an elder or a guardian, generally on citizens above the age of 18 and specifically, on unmarried women. The third article relates to all persons above 18 years and states that a “child” above the age of 18 may be prevented from traveling by a lawsuit filed before the competent court “by one of his parents or his grandfather or father” if such travel could result in “absolute harm.” The fourth article further specifically restricts unmarried females, regardless of age, from traveling without their guardian’s permission and permits a guardian to “prevent her from traveling if there is absolute harm in her travel or if there is a pending lawsuit requiring a travel ban.”
The articles are thus considered violative of the equality provision under Article 9 as well as the right to move and travel under Article 11 of the Palestinian Basic Law. It further creates uncertainty due to the vague meaning of “absolute harm,” which has the potential to be interpreted in a manner restrictive to human rights. Groups such as the Euro-Med Monitor and the PCHR have also highlighted that the role of judicial circulars is to interpret laws and not create new laws, which is rather the legislature’s prerogative under Palestinian Basic Law. They have accordingly called for the “immediate withdrawal” of these circulars to promote respect for human rights and equality.