|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Israeli Security Pretext for Arbitrary Detentions of Palestinian Political
Prisoners, United Nations Meeting on Question of Palestine Told
Palestinian Prisoners, Israeli Institutions that Incarcerate Them
Symbol of Oppression to Which Entire People Subjected, Delegate Says
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
VIENNA, 7 March — The United Nations Meeting on the Question of Palestine this afternoon turned its attention to the bleak situation and conditions of confinement for Palestinians in Israeli prisons and detention facilities, as it continued its examination of the urgent need to address the political prisoners’ plight.
The oldest such prisoner, now 84, had been confined for 33 years, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, Qadura Fares, told a cross-section of representatives of Governments and parliaments, intergovernmental organizations, lawyers, civil society, and United Nations agencies, during the two-day Conference in Vienna. The youngest prisoner was 11. The occupation authorities, he said, presently detained more than 350 children and imprisoned 37 women.
The captives were held in 27 prisons, one detention centre and one Israeli Army camp, none of which complied with international standards in terms of space allotted to each prisoner, lighting, ventilation and health facilities, he said, describing a practice of “regular, continuous and comprehensive” torture, suffered by 90 per cent of prisoners. Israel was the “only country in the world to have legalized torture”, he said.
For four years, Israel had prevented the families of the 700 prisoners from the Gaza Strip from visiting their children, he said. Thousands of close relatives of prisoners in the West Bank, and those who lived outside Palestine, also had been prevented from visiting their children on the grounds that that would constitute a danger to the occupying State. Moreover, the occupation authorities had withheld the bodies of more than 350 Palestinians who had died in detention, refusing to return them to their families for the traditional burial.
Addressing his remarks to the history, scope and conditions of imprisonment in Israeli prisons and detention centres, human rights lawyer Roberto Garreton, member of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, said detainees accused of affecting the security of the Israel Defence Force or of Israelis in general were a presumed security risk, when in fact they were only protesting, assembling, demonstrating, writing, thinking or praying. “Is that a crime?” What happened to the exercise of the rights and freedom of assembly, association, thought and opinion? he asked.
He said detention was considered arbitrary when it was impossible to invoke any legal basis whatsoever for the arrest, when the person was arrested for exercising a protected right to speech or assembly, or when the violation of the right to a fair trial was particularly egregious.
In all the detentions, the operative word was “security”, he said, asking whether Palestinian citizens living in the occupied areas enjoyed security, particularly security against being arbitrarily detained. Every person must have the security of not being arbitrarily detained and, in the case of detention, must enjoy the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other instruments accepted by States to ensure the greater security of their citizens. “Reality would indicate just the opposite,” he said.
In terms of numbers, said Fabrizia Falcione, Project Manager, Women Human Rights Unit, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Jerusalem, Palestinian female political prisoners and detainees “almost disappeared” in the face of thousands of Palestinian male political prisoners.
“UN Women”, she said, “deems it essential to give voice directly to the Palestinian female political prisoners with the aim of allowing parties to urgently address their situation, conditions of imprisonment and protection gaps.” She described the physical and psychological concerns for Palestinian female political prisoners. An inmate released a few months ago told her: “No matter how hard I try to describe the cell to you, I cannot. It is like an underground grave.”
The brunt of the infringement of cultural and religious norms from arrest through imprisonment was disproportionately borne by women, she said. There were reports of ill treatment of women prisoners by prison guards, both male and female, and punishments, as well as violations of women’s right to privacy were also alleged. Untried Palestinian women political prisoners were detained and placed among convicted criminal offenders. That allowed Israeli prison guards to threaten and humiliate the Palestinian women through verbal and physical abuse.
Disruption of family and social relations also had severe psychological repercussions, she said. Family visits were theoretically permitted twice a month, but were drastically restricted because prisoners were incarcerated outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory. So, trips to and from the prison took around 10 hours, due in part to movement restrictions and policies. No physical contact, including with children, was allowed during the typical one-hour visit through a thick-glass divider. Physical separation between mother and child under the guise of “security” had a severe impact. Palestinian female prisoners from Gaza were completely denied family visits.
Taking up the situation of Palestinian children, lawyer Iyad Misk, Coordinator of the Legal Unit, Defence for Children International — Palestine Section, Jerusalem, said the children were routinely arrested at checkpoints, in the street and, most commonly, in their homes. There had been some 1,000 instances of juvenile imprisonment in 2010, most of them in Jerusalem and the areas along the separation wall. By the end of last year, more than 200 juveniles had remained in detention. Every year, some 700 West Bank Palestinian children, under age 18, were put on trial in Israeli military courts, interrogated and imprisoned by the Israeli Army. More than 7,500 had been imprisoned since 2000.
He said that when a child was identified, he or she was often hit, kicked and then blindfolded and placed in the back of a military vehicle. In most cases, the child confessed to spurious charges during the first two hours of interrogation. It was common for the child to be given a statement of confession written in Hebrew, a language that very few Palestinians understood. Defence for Children International was concerned at the number of young child prisoners, aged 12 to 15, tried under the Israeli military court system. During detention, which lasted from a few hours to several months, children were often subjected to various forms of torture and degrading and cruel treatment.
“It should be noted that torture and abuse are not the exception”, he said, “but are a deliberate technique used on hundreds of prisoners, especially children, of whom 90 per cent are subjected to brutal torture before being brought before official interrogators or transferred to official detention or interrogation centres.” He touched on several forms of torture and an analysis done by his organization on incidents of mistreatment. Also significant, he said, was that in 81 per cent of the cases documented by Defence for Children International — Palestinian children had made confessions under coercive interrogation, and in 32 per cent of those cases, the confession had been written in Hebrew. Moreover, the interrogation sessions had been conducted without a lawyer or family member present.
In closing, he said that every year, between 150 and 200 child detainees were represented and defended in military courts. In 2010, 163 child detainees had been defended in military courts, and of those, only 14 had been released on bail. The rest had been held in prison until the end of their court proceedings. “This demonstrates the lack of due process with regard to legal representation. The defence of children is, in most cases, conducted while the child languishes in prison.” That, in turn, made the defence attorneys reluctant to prolong the proceedings by examining witnesses and presenting arguments, and predisposed them to accept the plea bargains that were offered in order to avoid lengthy proceedings that would leave the child in prison longer than the sentence offered in the plea.
Hailing from Tel Aviv, Niv Michaeli, Intervention Coordinator, Prisoners and Detainees Project, Physicians for Human Rights — Israel, said that most of the obstacles facing Palestinian inmates in their attempt to obtain their rights — in particular the right to health — were the result of systemic failures that harmed Israeli inmates as well. Those included long waits for appointments and operations; prison physicians with inadequate expertise; subordination of the health services to the security services; lack of transparency and oversight; and lack of social and mental health services, including psychotherapy.
The combination of poor quality treatment and ineffective oversight among prison medical services led to unfortunate consequences, he said. Further, the psychological damage caused by the violence, torture and solitary confinement of inmates was not being sufficiently addressed by the mental health services. The problem was not only misdiagnosis, but also that prisoners received only psychiatric medications, and not psychotherapy. Palestinian prisoners did not have access to social workers, except in isolated, unusual cases. Female Palestinian inmates were subjected to all of those problems, compounded by inadequate gynaecological services.
During the lively exchange of views that followed, a representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted a more general approach to the problem at hand, declaring that the larger tragedy persisted because of the “lax” measures taken against Israel, whose crimes were “clear”. Double standards and the absence of justice defied international law and left the perpetrators “scot-free” to do what they wished. That was no basis for peace and security, and an end to the occupation. If there was a chance to “tell off” the perpetrator, there was always someone to defend him.
The latest vote in the United Nations Security Council was a good example of that, he said. The arrest by Israel of thousands of Palestinians and their submission to all kinds of violence was a gross violation of international law and to the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Those practices were prohibited by international law. The Israeli prisons were teeming with the elderly, the sick and the very young. For decades, Palestinians were detained without trial, under a procedure Israelis called “administrative arrests”.
It was time to deal seriously with those and other violations, he declared, urging that the file on the prisoners be opened at the international level, especially by the International Court of Justice.
Venezuela’s delegate called for the speedy release and integration into Palestinian society of the political prisoners, especially bearing in mind the terrible circumstances at the prisons and detention centres, which included torture, delay in due process, denial of visitation and other violations of fundamental human rights. He also encouraged Israel to put an end to its settlements policy in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, and reiterated his country’s strong condemnation of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law to which the Palestinian population of Gaza had been subjected.
He said his country was profoundly indignant about the continuous assaults committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, including the “criminal blockade” of Gaza and the attack against the “freedom flotilla”. Venezuela also rejected the Israeli policy of breaking up Palestinian territory via the illegal separation wall, and demanded that the occupying Power withdraw without delay from occupied Arab territories, and halt all violations. The negotiations process must be reactivated, with the aim of achieving a lasting and fair peace in the Middle East and the establishment of a Palestinian State. He hoped the current international Meeting would contribute to that goal.
Since the question of Palestine had become a “permanent fixture” on the United Nations agenda, the Philippines, its representative said, worried that the issue was sometimes dealt with in a “ritualistic and mechanical” way, thereby “losing the freshness and urgency that it truly deserves”. Among other concrete measures of support, the Philippines last month co-sponsored draft Security Council resolution S/2011/24 entitled “Israeli settlements activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, as a clear manifestation of the country’s solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The Philippine’s delegate strongly encouraged the resumption of direct talks between the Palestinians and the State of Israel. Only with the establishment of an independent and viable State of Palestine would the Palestinian people fully attain their rightful place in the community of nations.
The Jordanian Government was interested in all efforts to pursue a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East, its representative told the Meeting. It was crucial now to come to grips with the status quo and launch a peace process in a fixed time frame to achieve specific commitments, she said. The Palestinian commitments should be accompanied by an Israeli commitment to end the occupation and immediately cease colonization activities, including what was generally referred to as “natural growth”. She hoped the recommendations stemming from the Meeting would advance the process in that direction.
Lebanon’s delegate asserted that the Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli institutions that incarcerated them were a symbol of the oppression to which a whole people was subjected. Arbitrary detention measures were a pretext to ensure Israeli security. It was terrible that certain States truly believed those assertions. The Lebanese had suffered similar circumstances during Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. She hoped that the Palestinian prisoners would someday be released, and her country supported every effort in its pursuit. Palestinian detentions should receive the attention it deserved.
All parties concerned, emphasized China’s representative, should settle the conflict through political and diplomatic means with the goal of establishing an independent State of Palestine in peaceful coexistence with Israel. China urged the Israeli side to take a responsible approach to the peace talks; lift the Gaza blockade; and take solid steps to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people by, among others, respecting rule of law and strictly following due process, releasing Palestinians in detention and settling the question of political prisoners through dialogue, including issues of prison conditions, facilities and family visitation.
A question by a representative from the Palestinian Return Centre, London, concerning the appeals process for the political prisoners and the categories to which Mr. Garreton had referred in his remarks was clarified by the expert. Mr. Garreton called for more cases of arbitrary detention of Palestinians to be referred to the Working Group. An expert scheduled for an upcoming plenary, Shawqi Al Issa, offered comments during the afternoon discussion.
The United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine will reconvene Tuesday, 8 March, at 10 a.m. in plenary to consider the legal aspects of the arrests and detentions.
* *** *For information media • not an official record