Monday, April 20, 2009

PCHR: On Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, Thousands of prisoners continue to suffer in Israeli jails

Ref: 50/2009

Date: 16 April 2009

Time: 11: 30 GMT

On Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, Thousands of prisoners continue to suffer in Israeli jails

Each year the 17th of April marks the anniversary of the release of Palestinian prisoners in the first prisoner swap deal of 17 April 1974. This date is commemorated annually in support of those Palestinian who remain in Israeli custody.

This year, Palestinian prisoners’ day comes at a time when Palestinian civilians are subject to increasingly cruel and inhuman conditions as a result of Israeli human rights violations. In particular, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails continue to be denied their basic rights. Recently, they have been used as political bargaining chips, in flagrant violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Since their occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) have implemented sweeping arrest and detention policies, in an attempt to ensure Palestinian civilians’ obedience and to prevent all forms of resistance. Over nearly 42 years, this policy has resulted in the arrest of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians. Following the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000, IOF intensified this campaign; recent years have seen a steady increase in the number of Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli jails.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ (PCHR) statistics indicate that there are more than 9,000 Palestinians, including 69 women and 248 children, in jails and detention centers inside Israel. The number includes 337 Palestinians who were in prison before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994, while the majority of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were arrested after the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. Approximately 7,500 prisoners are from the West Bank, while there are 1,100 prisoners from the Gaza Strip. The total number also includes 900 administrative detainees.

Palestinian prisoners’ conditions are expected to be worsened in the near future, following the establishment of an Israeli ministerial committee that is dedicated to examining measures aimed at intentionally worsening the conditions of Palestinian prisoners, in order to exert political pressure. Current violations committed by IOF against Palestinian prisoners and their rights include:

· Ill-treatment and poor detention conditions

Palestinian prisoners are detained in below minimum standard conditions. They are detained in narrow, overcrowded and poorly ventilated cells. Israeli jails dedicated for the detention of Palestinians lack necessary sanitation facilities, and Palestinian prisoners are denied access to personal cleanliness and hygiene. Israeli prison administrations do not provide enough food, in terms of quantity and quality, for the Palestinian prisoners. Detained Palestinian children and patients do not get food suitable to ensuring their physical wellbeing.

· denying visitation rights

IOF deny Palestinian prisoners their visitation rights via the imposition of different conditions that hinder or prevent visits of Palestinian families to their relatives in Israeli jails. These conditions include: linking visitations with the overall security situation, requiring that prisoners must not be security prisoners and that persons applying for visits must not have a security record, requiring that visitors be first-degree relatives and that brothers or sons applying for visits must be under the age of 18. Since 6 July 2007, families in Gaza have not been able to visit their relatives in Israeli jails.

· Medical negligence and denial of healthcare

Due to poor detention conditions, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are suffering ill health. Israeli jails lack specialized medical personnel and clinics. Israeli prison administrations have consistently refused the provision of medicines and medical equipment necessary for the treatment of some sick prisoners. In addition, these administrations ignore the dietary requirements of some detained patients.

· Torture

IOF subject Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons to numerous instances of torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Apart from using poor detention conditions as a means to exert psychological pressure and cause physical weakness, IOF also mistreat Palestinian detainees in order to extract confessions. Known methods include: preventing detainees from meeting with their lawyers, beatings, verbal abuse and insults, threats, the use of Shabhah, sleep deprivation, forcing detainees into the ‘frog crotch’ and the ‘banana’ positions, tightening handcuffs and shackles around hands and legs, suspending by legs, and so on. The isolation of prisoners in poorly-ventilated solitary confinement cells, where they are denied visitation rights and contact with other prisoners, is one of the cruelest punishments applied to Palestinian prisoners. Solitary confinement cells are narrow, poorly ventilated and highly humid; conditions that facilitate the spread of diseases.

· administrative detention:

IOF hold Palestinian detainees for long periods without bringing them to trial or informing them of the reasons for their detention. This is a flagrant violation of detainees rights to: fair judicial proceedings, an adequate defense, to be informed of charges against them, and the right to be brought to trial. These periods of administrative detention may be renewed indefinitely. Administrative detention orders are not limited to new detainees; these orders may be applied to prisoners who have ended their terms. Prisoners may thus be forced to stay in detention for indefinite periods, in some cases past their initial release date.

IOF violations of Palestinian prisoners’ rights constitute serious violations of International Humanitarian Law. In particular, ill-treatment of prisoners, denial of visitation rights, medical negligence, torture and administrative detentions are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the protection of civilians in times of war, and against the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

On the occasion of the Palestinian prisoners’ day, PCHR highlight a number of pressing issues:

· Israel closed the military court at Erez and transferred Palestinian prisoners’ cases to a civil court in Beersheba following its (contested) announcement of an end to Isralie occupation of the Gaza Strip, while the Israeli law provides for the prosecution of non-residents in the court of the Capital. This is illustrative of Israel’s continuing efforts to deny Gaza prisoners’ their legal rights, including their right to select their lawyers and the right that prisoners’ families attend their trail session.

· Israel issued or amended legislations to ensure that Israel’s internal security service can detain “suspected” Palestinians for long periods without bringing them to trial. To ensure applying imprisonment sanctions on civilians from Gaza, Israel issued the Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Powers - Special Provisions for Investigating Security Offenses of Non-Residents) Law, 5765 – 2005. This Law grants the internal security service broad powers to detain Palestinian “suspects” and extend their detention periods without trials. In addition, Israel amended its Penal Code no. 5737 of the year 1977 and added amendment 6a, relative to imprisonment sanctions imposed on Gaza prisoners to the Law Extending the Validity of the Emergency Regulations (Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip) of the year 1967. Furthermore, Israel began to utilize the contested “illegal combatant” concept with respect to Gazan prisoners. The use of this concept grants the Army Chief of Staff the power to issue an arrest warrant against whoever it considers an “illegal combatant”. Classification criteria is determined by the Army Chief of Staff and the disclosure of evidence is not required.

· Recently, Israel established a ministerial committee aimed at intentionally worsening the conditions of Palestinian prisoners. The committee will examine a number of potential measures, including reducing the monetary allowances transferred to prisoners by their families to supplement living and dietary conditions, restricting means of communication and news sources, reducing family visits and education possibilities, as well as preventing any physical contact between detainees and their families. It is believed that these measures aim to reduce detention conditions to perceived ‘minimal standards’. Worsened conditions may negatively impact on prisoner’s physical and psychological well-being.

· Israel continues to arrest hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, in the West Bank. In addition, during their recent offensive on the Gaza Strip, IOF arrested dozens of civilians from the Gaza strip.

PCHR remind Israel that, as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is legally bound by the terms and provisions of the Convention, which regulates its actions in occupied Palestinian territory.

PCHR also highlight the consequences of the international community’s silence with respect to the treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Such silence serves to effectively endorse violations of International Humanitarian Law, compromising overall respect for the rule of law. There are many actions that the international community can take, if its members have the desire and the will, to ensure Israel’s respect for Palestinian prisoners’ rights. Through its silence, the international community encourages Israel to continue, and even increase, its violations.

In view of the above above, PCHR calls upon:

· The European Union to activate Article 2 of the Euro-Israel Association Agreement, which provides that Israel must respect human rights as a precondition for economic cooperation between the EU states and Israel. PCHR further calls upon the EU to reconsider and backtrack on its decision to lift partnership levels with Israel that was taken in last December.

· The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to fulfill their legal obligations, especially the obligation to ensure respect for the Convention.

· International institutions working in the field of human rights and prisoners’ rights to take action in order to improve the detention conditions of Palestinian prisoners, reduce violations committed against them, and ensure the fulfillment of their rights, as guaranteed under International Humanitarian Law.