Monday, April 20, 2009

Al Mezan on Prisoners Day



Palestinian Prisoners Day
Al Mezan Calls for Efforts to Expose Israeli Violations, Secure the Release of Prisoners and Defend their Human Rights

This year, Palestinian Prisoners Day falls on Friday 17 April 2009. This day is an occasion on which to remember the suffering of thousands of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons; deprived of their freedom as a result of their struggle for the right to self-determination. On this day, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been detained by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) since 1967 are also remembered. This day is in fact a call for action and solidarity with Palestinian detainees, and a call for the grave and systematic violations perpetrated against them to be exposed.

There are currently around 9,500 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, of whom 360 are children and 67 are women. Over 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since the 1967 occupation of Palestinian lands. To date, 196 Palestinians have been killed or died inside Israeli prisons, including 39 prisoners who died as a result of medical neglect.

This year, Palestinian Prisoners Day comes at a time when the Israeli authorities are escalating their grave violations of the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights standards; in particular the UN Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners and those Deprived of their Liberty. At a 29 March 2009 session, the Israeli government took a decision to intensify arbitrary measures against Palestinian detainees, including the implementation of further discriminatory practices between detainees on the basis of political affiliation. The decision was based on the recommendations of a ministerial committee formed by the Israeli government for this purpose in March 2009.

These new harsh measures constitute a further violation of Israel's legal obligations as an occupying State under IHL and international human rights law (IHRL). Further, these measures rescind rights fought for by Palestinian prisoners while inside Israeli prisons and detention centers over the course of many years. Several prisoners have died in this struggle to attain basic rights.

The new arbitrary measures can be summarized as follows: preventing detainees from following the news in order to isolate them from the outside world; prohibiting the receipt of money required to purchase the basic necessities which Israel fails to provide despite having a legal obligation to do so; preventing new categories of detainees from receiving family visits, a measure previously limited to a category of detainees from Gaza; and increasing pressures aimed at forcing detainees to wear orange prison uniforms.

The Israeli authorities discriminate between detainees by concentrating their efforts to exert pressure on detainees, particularly on those affiliated with the Hamas movement. The Israeli authorities also repeatedly transfer detainees between detention centers in order to divide them, and prevent detainees with different political affiliations, or detained in different prisons, from forming coordinated positions.

This escalation in arbitrary measures is just one further episode in a context of ongoing and systematic violations perpetrated by the IOF against Palestinian detainees. The violations start from the moment of arrest, which itself is often arbitrary; that is, lacking cause or legal justification.

Palestinian detainees are not guaranteed a fair trial, and especially since the Israeli authorities started to categorize Gazan detainees as 'unlawful combatants'; a status which enables the Israeli authorities to detain Palestinians without charge for an indefinite period of time on the basis of 'secret' information which the detainees cannot use to defend themselves. Further, administrative detention, that is, indefinite detention without conviction, continues. In essence, these measures, which have been legalized by Israeli courts, enable the Israeli authorities to detain any Palestinian, for any reason, and for any time period without bare minimum protections.

Palestinian detainees are also subjected to torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment, and are prevented from receiving family visits. Further, they are detained in conditions which violate the bare minimum standards for the treatment of detainees: facilities do not provide adequate protection from weather conditions; and are wholly inadequate in terms of space, lighting and sanitary facilities.

The Israeli authorities also deny sick detainees medical treatment, and the meals provided are poor in quality and insufficient in quantity, leading to health problems associated with malnutrition. The Israeli Prison Administration also fails to meet its obligation to provide adequate clothing and cleaning materials. These practices have been given a legal cover after a ministerial committee decided to escalate arbitrary measures against prisoners in March 2009, as mentioned above.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights will continue to represent and defend Palestinian detainees, and expose the violations perpetrated against them. However, Al Mezan notes that the efforts of human rights violations will not succeed unless Palestinian political unity is restored; the issue of Palestinian detainees held by Israel is prioritized; and Arab and international efforts are taken to exert pressure on Israel to halt its grave and systematic violations of the rules of IHL and human rights standards.

Al Mezan calls on civil society organizations, local and international human rights organizations, and political parties to take serious action to:

  • Expose IOF violations of the rules of IHL and especially the 'Unlawful Combatants Law'
  • Take action to halt the use of the 'Unlawful Combatants Law,' which constitutes a grave violation of international fair trial standards.
  • Take action to ensure the IOF upholds its legal obligations to provide all the needs of detainees, and especially healthcare, and family visits and contact; and to protect them from ill treatment and torture
  • Work for the urgent release of children, women and those detained without charge or trial, as a first step towards the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons and detention centers