Denmark Won't Arrest Envoy Gillon, but Danes United Against Him

Israeli-Danish diplomatic relations are in a crisis a month after the appointment of former Shin Bet security service chief Carmi Gillon as ambassador to Denmark. Diplomatic sources in Copenhagen say they want Gillon to step aside lest the crisis worsen.

Nitzan Horowitz
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Nitzan Horowitz

Israeli-Danish diplomatic relations are in a crisis a month after the appointment of former Shin Bet security service chief Carmi Gillon as ambassador to Denmark. Diplomatic sources in Copenhagen say they want Gillon to step aside lest the crisis worsen.

The scandal broke out a month ago, shortly after Gillon's appointment was announced, when he gave an interview in which he said Israel may have to resume using "moderate physical pressure" as a means to fight terror. Denmark is one of the leading European countries pressing for legal action against torturers, and it is the home of the Danish Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, a leading international lobbying organization against torture and for the rehabilitation of torture victims. A Danish public opinion survey published this week showed that 55 percent of Danes are against Gillon's appointment, while 75 percent regard "moderate physical pressure" as torture.

Israel said yesterday that it still intends to send Gillon to Denmark, despite a warning that he could face arrest there. Justice Minister Frank Jensen hinted earlier this week that Gillon could be arrested in Denmark for violating a United Nations convention against torture. But in a statement issued yesterday, Jensen said Gillon would not be arrested because he would enjoy diplomatic immunity as an ambassador.

"Both countries want to climb down from this tree," said a senior diplomatic source, who added that the best solution would be for Gillon "to give it up."

"Israel understands that the affair is causing damage, and the Danish government wants to get past the entire affair, fearing that it may have to take steps against Gillon," said the source. "Nobody wants this whole complication, but nobody knows how to get over it. Israel doesn't want to look as if it gave into pressure, and especially not on such a sensitive issue, against the background of the Intifada. And Denmark has already confirmed the appointment, so it doesn't want to reverse its decision. Everyone says the solution is for Gillon to simply announce he's withdrawing, and that would make it easier for everyone."

Meanwhile, the tension is rising. Jensen told parliament this week that the state may have to act according to Article 6 of the UN Treaty against Torture and arrest Gillon on his arrival. And because Danish law says that any Dane can ask the police to arrest someone on the basis of the UN treaty, a group led by Danish parliamentarians has already announced that they will ask the police to arrest Gillon. Danish radio reported that the MPs will make the request along with a group of victims of torture from Kosovo, China, Chile, Turkey and various African countries.

According to Jensen's latest statements, the Danish authorities would decline to arrest Gillon, due to his diplomatic immunity. However, Danish courts could yet decide that the UN Treaty against Torture overrides the Vienna Treaty, which grants diplomats immunity.

Either way, the Danish media, backed by human rights organizations there, is not giving up on the story. The justice minister's comments about arresting Gillon appeared on the front pages of the country's leading newspaper, Berlingske, and so did Foreign Minister Shimon Peres's when he told the Knesset that Gillon "is a strong believer in peace" and asked his counterparts in Copenhagen, "is there another way to fight terror? A long time ago a fair solution could have been found to the conflict between us and the Palestinians if not for the violence and terror."

Peres's comments shocked Denmark. "It's shocking that the Israeli foreign minister supports Gillon in his statements about what we regard as torture," said Tue Magnusson, spokesman for the Torture Rehabilitation Center. "We hoped Peres wouldn't support Gillon and his views on torture. But the latest statement makes it even more difficult to solve the crisis."

Human rights groups say they put the issue on the political agenda together with Israeli human rights groups, as part of the fight against torture, not as an anti-Israel move. "We didn't want a diplomatic crisis and we aren't fighting Israel," Magnusson said last night. "We want Israel to come out with a statement against torture and express its commitments to the UN treaty that it signed."

There is also something else the Danes are saying: Gillon and the government should consider the fact that as long as the scandal continues, it becomes a larger, international issue with international ramifications. Human Rights Watch, based in Brussels, has already written to Peres that the latest directives of the European Union on torture could turn the Gillon affair into a Europe-wide matter. In other words, if Gillon does not give up, he will have a hard time finding an appointment anywhere in Europe.

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem reject the Danish criticism out of hand. They say that focusing on Gillon is hypocritical. Denmark, said Foreign Ministry sources, never took action against two former heads of organizations that conducted torture: Yasser Arafat and Vladimir Putin. Besides, said other sources in Jerusalem, "this is a matter of principle. If Gillon is ruled out it's a dangerous precedent that could prevent the appointment of anyone with a military background in the future."

Gillon, in any case, has to present his credentials to Denmark's queen, and she is on vacation until August 7. That gives him some time to make a decision. As far as the Danes are concerned, if Gillon lands in Denmark, he will face a demonstration organized by the Torture Rehabilitation Center that members of parliament from both sides of the Danish house say they will attend.

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