Israel Continues to Deny Palestinian Prisoners their Basic Rights

Al-Haq, on the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners day, calls attention to the ongoing plight of some 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently detained in substandard conditions in Israeli-administered jails in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

As of mid-March 2005, these prisoners included 126 women and 310 children. Of the current prison population, 434 Palestinians from the OPT have been held for over 10 years, and five have been incarcerated for over 25 years. During the past four and a half years of intifada, there have been 35,000 cases of detention. Currently, 880 prisoners are being held in administrative detention without trial for extended periods of time, in violation of their basic right to due process.

Palestinian political prisoners are denied regular visits from family members and are prevented from having access to lawyers. During rare family visits, prisoners are separated from their visitors by a glass partition that considerably hinders communication. Moreover, prisoners are regularly subjected to humiliating strip searches administered in front of other prisoners, placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, and denied access to adequate health care and food. This takes a particular toll on the 800 prisoners that suffer from severe medical problems. Prison officers also impose discretionary fines as disciplinary punishment.

The substandard condition in which Palestinian prisoners from the OPT are held prompted over 1,600 prisoners to engage in a August 2004 hunger strike to protest the violations of their fundamental human rights.

International law protects the rights of all individuals who are deprived of their liberty, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly states the fundamental principle that these persons must be treated with humanity and respect for their dignity.

The UN Human Rights Committee has affirmed that respect for the dignity of the person deprived of liberty must be guaranteed under the same conditions as those of free persons. Other human rights standards adopted through UN resolutions, such as the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, further outline basic principles applicable in situations where individuals are deprived of their liberty. These legal norms, amongst others, dictate that prisoners are to be allowed contact with the outside world, especially to receive regular visits of family members, have access to medical care, and not be the subjected to discretionary punishment for disciplinary offences, pecuniary or otherwise.

As an occupying power in the OPT bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel must comply with the provisions contained therein, including that prisoners from the occupied territory must not be incarcerated outside of that territory. The Israeli prison authorities are also obligated under the Convention to ensure the safety of detainees and guarantee them adequate living conditions and health care.

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, 177 Palestinian prisoners have died as a result of inadequate detention conditions and ill treatment by the Israeli Authorities. Most recently, 26-year-old prisoner Rasem Gheimat died as the result of a prison fire that indicated lax safety standards at Magido prison.

Although the release of Palestinian political prisoners detained by Israel is vital to the achievement of a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to date only 500 prisoners have been released during the current political negotiation process. The sustained detention of these political prisoners, and the continued violation of their protected rights, must not be ignored by the international community. Nor can the release of Palestinian prisoners and the fulfillment of their basic rights under international law be disregarded in the name of political expediency.

Al-Haq, in observance of Palestinian Prisoners Day, calls for: Israel and the international community to take concrete steps towards ensuring the basic human dignity guaranteed to all prisoners under international law; Israel to promptly provide Palestinians in administrative detention a fair trial in accordance with internationally recognized standards of due process; Israel to immediately release all child prisoners; International organizations with the appropriate mandates to monitor the situation of Palestinian prisoners through prison visits, and exert pressure on Israel to uphold its obligations under international law.

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