Baghdad, Iraq

11 December 2012

Secretary-General's message to International Conference on Solidarity with Palestinian and Arab Prisoners and Detainees held in prison of the Israeli Occupation Authorities [delivered by Mr. Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General f

I am pleased to greet the participants in this League of Arab States conference, which takes place at a crucial time in the history of the Middle East.

Last month, the United Nations General Assembly decided to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status.  The position of the United Nations has always been clear. An independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security is long overdue, and paramount for the stability of the entire region and beyond.  The resumption of meaningful negotiations to achieve this vision remains our collective priority.

I am deeply concerned by Israel’s announcement of 3,000 new settlement units in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.  Settlements are illegal under international law.  Should plans materialize in the so-called E-1 envelope, it would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution.

I visited the region during the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and witnessed the serious consequences of the lack of a permanent and comprehensive resolution of the conflict.  All concerned have a responsibility to solidify the ceasefire brokered by Egypt by addressing humanitarian needs, ending the Gaza closure, preventing arms smuggling and achieving intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

There is also a pressing need to preserve the viability of the Palestinian Authority.  I welcome the Arab League decision aimed at providing financial support, which is essential for peace and stability.

At the same time, numerous issues on the ground require urgent attention, including the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention facilities. I have repeatedly expressed concern about this issue. While the number of prisoners has declined, the total still includes approximately 4,660 individuals, including an estimated 200 minors.  More than 210 people remain in administrative detention.

Administrative detention should be applied only under clear parameters and in exceptional circumstances, for as short a period as possible and without prejudice to the rights guaranteed to prisoners. Those detained must be allowed to challenge their detention and, in the absence of formal charges, should be released without delay. The United Nations continues to raise their situation with the Israeli authorities. I call on Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Arrests of elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the forcible transfer of some from East Jerusalem to Ramallah are also of concern, including with respect to the broader implications for the human rights of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem. The release of Palestinian prisoners to the Palestinian Authority would be an important gesture.

I have repeatedly expressed my deep concern for the health and well-being of Palestinian prisoners, including those who had undertaken a hunger strike in the spring. The agreement reached in May, brokered by Egypt, was a positive step that led to family visits -- the first since 2007 -- and to a commitment to end solitary confinement and limit the use of administrative detentions. However, implementation of the agreement has been uneven, and I take this opportunity to stress the importance of comprehensive adherence to it. I remain concerned about the health of five hunger strikers, including two long-term strikers. And I am especially concerned by reports that Israel continues to use solitary confinement, including against Palestinian children. Last April, the UN international conference recommended ending the isolation of Palestinian prisoners, and I repeat that call today.

Creating new political momentum between Israelis and Palestinians towards the two-state solution is essential. The absence of a political horizon makes each day more uncertain, and creates a risk that the sides will become even more polarized. We must create positive dynamics in every aspect of Israeli-Palestinian relations, including on the important issue of Palestinian prisoners.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to continuing our work together towards the just and lasting peace which remains our shared goal and priority.