THE UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON THE QUESTION OF PALESTINE OPENS IN GENEVA
Focuses on legal and political implications of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons
3 April 2012
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People opened the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine this morning at the United Nations Office at Geneva, in which it heard the message from the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a keynote address by the representative of Palestine. Delegates from governmental and intergovernmental organizations also addressed the Committee.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message delivered by the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Maxwell Gaylard, said that the Middle East Peace Process was at a dangerous stalemate and that obstacles had again prevented the parties from finding sufficient common ground to continue direct talks. Issues on the ground that required urgent attention included the plight of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel; approximately 4,400 individuals including 200 minors. Administrative detention should only occur under clear instructions, for short periods and with full guarantee of rights of prisoners, said Secretary-General and called on Israel to respect its international obligations, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The only way to reach the two-State solution was through negotiations that resolved all permanent status issues, including negotiations on borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem and water. Political momentum in the months ahead was essential.
Abdou Salam Diallo, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that the issue of Palestinian prisoners had returned to the headlines as a result of the courage of the Palestinian prisoners whose hunger strikes had attracted the attention of the international community, including the United Nations Secretary-General. That 4,400 Palestinian prisoners were detained in inhumane conditions was a source of great concern. International law must be applied in order to put an end to the violence to which Israel subjected its prisoners. It was regrettable and an affront to the international community that duly elected Palestinian authorities were still arrested. At the same time, nothing justified attacks against Israeli civilians, and the Committee condemned those attacks.
In his keynote address to the Committee, Issa Quaraqe, Minister of the Palestinian Authority for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that administrative detention had become a rule in Israel, rather than an exception, and the issue of several thousands of administrative detention orders had led to frightening scenarios in Palestine. The Minister said that 4,600 human beings were held in Israeli detention centres, including parliamentarians, children and persons with disabilities. Some prisoners had been on hunger strike for as long as 37 days. The Minister called for the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, for the situation to be referred to the [International Court of Justice], and for the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Israeli’s centres of detention and ensure that all Palestinians held there were treated under international standards. All States should review their cooperation agreements with Israel and freeze them until the State had resumed its international obligations. Mr. Quaraque quoted a Palestinian prisoner who said that “the first day of peace would be the last day of the occupation”.
Representatives of the following governments and intergovernmental organizations took the floor: Lebanon (on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean), Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
The International Meeting on the Question of Palestine will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today to consider legal and humanitarian aspects of the current situation of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails and detention facilities.
MAXWELL GAYLARD, United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and a representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, read out a message by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in which the Secretary-General said that the Middle East Peace Process was at a dangerous stalemate. The year had begun with an encouraging effort led by the Jordanian Government to instigate direct talks between Israel and Palestine, but once again obstacles prevented the continuation of talks. The objective remained the Quartet’s target date for an agreement, which was the end of 2012. In parallel, the Palestinian Authority must be supported to ensure progress on state-building and its dire financial situation. Issues on the ground which required urgent attention included the plight of the approximate 4,400 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, which included approximately 200 minors. The Secretary-General called on Israel to respect its international obligations, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and said that in the absence of formal charges prisoners should be released without delay. He expressed concern over the arrests of elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the forcible transfer of some from East Jerusalem to Ramallah. Such deportations deepened the divide between Israeli and Palestinian societies. To build trust both sides needed to take bold steps, including the release of some Palestinian prisoners to the Palestinian Authority. A viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel was long overdue. The only way to achieve that fundamental goal was through negotiations that resolved all permanent status issues, including negotiations on borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem and water. Political momentum in the months ahead was essential and all must make serious progress towards peace and create positive dynamic in Israeli -Palestinian relations, including on the issue of Palestinian prisoners.
ABDOU SALAM DIALLO, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that for the second consecutive year the Committee was addressing an extremely sensitive issue of great importance to the Palestinians. The issue had returned to the headlines as a result of the courage of the Palestinian prisoners whose hunger strikes had attracted the attention of the international community, including the United Nations Secretary-General. That 4,400 Palestinian prisoners were detained in inhumane conditions was a source of great concern. The case of Hana Al-Shalabi, who spent two years behind bars without being brought to trial, was quite revealing. Freed under a recent prisoner exchange, she had been returned to detention without formal charges. Her hunger strike sparked a worldwide solidarity campaign and yesterday she was exiled to Gaza in a deal to end her hunger strike. International law must be applied in order to put an end to the violence to which Israel subjected its prisoners. At the same time, nothing justified attacks against Israeli civilians, and the Committee condemned those attacks. It was regrettable and an affront to the international community that duly elected Palestinian authorities were still arrested. Mr. Diallo called on the Committee Members to spread an ethical message that was grounded in international law, and to denounce Israel’s misconduct.
ISSA QUARAQE, Minister of the Palestinian Authority for Prisoners’ Affairs, said it was essential that Palestinian prisoners received the attention and assistance they needed. Today’s meeting was held at the time when the situation in Israeli prisons was explosive and when the world had witnessed the inhumane conditions in prisons and constant pressures to which prisoners were subjected. The situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention centres had become untenable, as attested by the significant number of who started hunger strikes. The international community must take action: it must end the state of occupation that violated the dignity of the Palestinian people and ensure respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Statements by Representatives of Governments and Intergovernmental Organisations
Lebanon, also speaking on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, said that the effective action of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean led the United Nations to grant it an Observer Status in 2009. The situation in Palestine could not last; it was illegal and the Assembly condemned it in the strongest terms. The Assembly believed it was imperative to respect the basic rights of individuals and communities and would build upon the conclusions of this meeting to create an environment for concrete actions at a parliamentary level.
Senegal said that the international community must act to enable Palestinian prisoners to be released, reunited with their families and reintegrated into society, in line with international conventions and laws. Everyone was aware that the peace process in Israel was at an impasse and that the situation was explosive, despite the efforts of the international community to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. The representative of Senegal had visited Palestine and heard first-hand terrifying stories of women and children who had been imprisoned in Israeli detention centres. A satisfactory, fair and just solution to the situation of Palestinian prisoners was key to the peace process.
Morocco said there was no solution to the Middle East crisis without a just solution for the Palestinian people, and welcomed the openness of the Committee to hosting not only Governments, but also academics and non-governmental organizations. Morocco further reiterated its support to the right to self-determination of the Palestinian and condemned the practice of land-grabbing. The situation in the Gaza Strip was of concern and Morocco invited Israel to respect the provisions of international humanitarian law.
Tunisia said that almost six decades had passed since the Palestinian people began their sufferance in their fight for self-determination. Tunisia condemned all practices of the occupying power which led to the suffering of the Palestinian people. The situation of Palestinian prisoners was of particular concern and their treatment represented clear violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. There was a need to talk about the right to non-discrimination which was violated in Israeli’s practices.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation representative read out a statement by the President of the Organization, which said the suffering of Palestinian prisoners required attention; they were victims of torture and were treated in inhumane manner by the occupying power. The Organization stood shoulder to shoulder in partnership with the Palestinian people and paid tribute to their courage and perseverance in undertaking hunger strikes, to enable their message to be heard throughout the world. The Organization called on the international community to ensure humane conditions in Israeli prisons and shoulder their responsibility to ensure justice to those from whom it had been stolen.
The Arab League said that actions taken by Israel’s authorities against Palestinian women, men and children could be hardly called humane. Israel resisted all international legislation that had been adopted. The Arab League closely followed the situation and was developing a network to help in building a united front against Israel. The League called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct visits to Israeli prisons and called on Israeli authorities to release all detained children.
Egypt said that the occupying power had committed persistent violations against Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Palestinian political figures were particularly adversely affected and all prisoners, including women and children, were targets of ill treatment and denied their basic rights. Egypt referred to the Gaza Strip and said that it hoped the air raids would stop, and that the cause of the Palestinians would soon enjoy the support of the international community.
Address by the Minister of the Palestinian Authority for Prisoners’ Affairs
ISSA QUARAQE, Minister of the Palestinian Authority for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that Israel had committed many violations of the rights of Palestinian prisoners, including administrative detention and torture, had removed people from their families and denied them medical care. Administrative detention was an ordinary measure used by Israel and often applied as a part of criminal procedures as it required no proof of evidence in the procedure. Several thousands of administrative detention orders had been issued by Israel, and those arrested had been held between one and three years. That detention had become a rule rather than an exception and had led to frightening scenarios in Palestine. The Minister said that 4,600 human beings were held in Israeli detention centres: they were victims of Israeli violations and of a silent war waged on their minds and their souls. Detainees included parliamentarians, children, disabled and other vulnerable individuals. Mr. Quaraqe highlighted the peaceful protests of some Palestinian detainees against the cruel conditions in Israeli detention centres, and said that some prisoners had been on hunger strike for as long as 37 days. Some detainees had been prisoners for over ten years, they had been attacked by guard dogs and attacked in their cells. Their only crime was that they had fought for freedom. The Minister called for an end to the inhumane treatment of detainees. It was up to the Committee today to ensure that values were upheld, that torture was not committed and that rights and freedoms ere fully enjoyed.
Mr. Quaraqe asked human rights defenders how they could remain silent when confronted by abuses and human rights violations in Israeli detention centres, particularly of children. Children in Palestine needed support. The world could no longer keep silent about the situation of Palestinian political prisoners, who were victims of ideology. The right to self-determination was a primordial and key right for the Palestinian people and was a legitimate reason to combat occupation; each person arrested in that fight must be treated as prisoner of war and protected by the relevant international conventions. The Minister called for the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, and for the situation to be referred to the [International Court of Justice] in order to define the obligations of the occupying power. All States should review their cooperation agreements with Israel and freeze them until the State had resumed its international obligations. The International Committee of the Red Cross should undertake visits to Israeli’s centres of detention and ensure that all Palestinians held there were treated in accordance with relevant international standards. In closing, Mr. Quaraque quoted a Palestinian prisoner who said that “the first day of peace would be the last day of the occupation”.
For use of information media; not an official record
Document Type: French text, Press Release
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR), General Assembly, United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
Subject: Human rights and international humanitarian law, Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Legal issues, Peace process, Prisoners and detainees
Publication Date: 03/04/2012