Palestinian Prisoners Day Marks Increase in Torture, Ill-treatment and Administrative Detention

Fair Trial, Impunity/Accountability, Independence of the Judiciary, Israel / OPT, Justice and the Rule of Law, Statement

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On the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners Day, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) express their concern over the worsening conditions of Palestinian prisoners whose plight occupies a central role in Palestinian society and remains key to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

EMHRN and PHR-I call on the EU and its Member States to take concrete steps to address the wide range of human rights and humanitarian law violations faced by Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

Israel’s detention of more than 5,820 Palestinian “security prisoners”[1] has dire repercussions  for the social fabric of Palestinian society and political situation. Over almost five decades, an estimated 20% of the Palestinian population and 40% of the male population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been detained under Israeli military orders. This includes all layers of Palestinian society, including women, children, political leaders and journalists, as well as Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel[2]. Over the past four years, an average of 3.5 % of the total number of Palestinian “security prisoners” were citizens of Israel.

Torture and ill-treatment on the rise

This year, Palestinian Prisoners Day is marked by rising allegations of torture and cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, coupled with a sharp increase in Israel’s use of administrative detention.

In 2014, 59 instances of torture were reported, a fourfold increase from 2012. 51 of these cases occurred in the second half of 2014 which witnessed an escalation in the brutality of torture methods used by the Israeli Security Agency. Torture and ill-treatment are widely and systematically employed with total impunity. Israel has failed to define or prohibit torture as a crime, or ensure accountability of its security and prison authorities.

Palestinian minors are particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment during arrest, interrogation and detention. Between 500 and 700 minors are prosecuted in Israeli military courts each year, most commonly for the “security offense” of stone throwing. Until today, none of the 860 torture complaints filed since 2001 have led to a criminal investigation. The failure to report incidents of torture, coupled with documented systematic medical negligence of Palestinian detainees is especially worrying[3].

Increasing use of administrative detention 

In February 2015, there were 424 Palestinians held under administrative detention orders – more than double the 181 held at the same time last year.  Israel’s consistent use of administrative detention is a blatant violation of article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – as repeatedly underlined by the UN Human Rights Committee – and Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the right of appeal.

Under Israeli law, administrative detention can be ordered for vaguely formulated security reasons in a highly classified manner, denying detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense. Labelling Palestinians as “security prisoners” allows Israel to use its administrative detention policy to disrupt certain political activities or processes opposed to the occupation. This blurs the line between peaceful and militant action, often criminalizing the former. A case in point is the targeting of several Palestinian Legislative Council Members. Most recently, Palestinian Legislative Council member Khalida Jarrar was arrested and placed in administrative detention for a period of six months. Like the majority of Palestinian prisoners, Khalida was transferred from the Occupied Palestinian Territory into Israel in violation of Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s policy of administrative detention allows it to detain people without charge or trial for unlimited renewable periods of one to six months. Gaza residents, arrested and detained under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law are accorded even fewer protections and can be held for an unlimited period of time without charge or trial.  This violates legal safeguards under international law and must be abolished. When tried, Palestinian prisoners are brought before military courts lacking impartiality and fair trial standards. The EU has taken clear positions on the inadequacy of using military courts to try civilians and has called on its partners to halt this practice in other contexts, including EgyptJordan and Morocco. The EU should be consistent in its calls on all its partners in the European Neighborhood.

The role of the EU

While in recent years the EU has increasingly addressed violations of prisoners and detainee rights in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) progress reports on Israel, the issue is not comprehensively addressed within the European institutions. The issue of Palestinian prisoners and detainees remains largely unaddressed in the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, the EU’s most authoritative body dealing with foreign relations.

Moreover, when referring to Israel, the EU adopts weaker language and recommendations than in other contexts. For example, the EU refrains from regularly calling for the release of human rights defenders as political prisoners and from clearly condemning the illegal use of administrative detention.

While EMHRN and PHR-I welcome the EU’s call on Israel to address the issue of children in military detention and its mention of the lack of criminal investigations into torture complaints in its 2015 ENP Progress Report for Israel, the EU should also highlight the inadequacy of military courts to judge all civilians, not only minors.  Concrete recommendations should also be put forward to address Israel’s systematic use of torture and ill-treatment.

Given the centrality of the prisoners in dynamics of peace-making, EMHRN and PHR-I urge the EU and its Member States to call on Israel to:

  1. Comply with its human rights obligations towards the occupied Palestinian population, as set forth in the ICCPR and the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT);
  2. End the practice of administrative detention and the use of secret evidence in administrative detention proceedings in accordance with the Fourth periodic review of Israel;
  3. Cease the trial of Palestinian civilians before military courts, in accordance with EU statements on other countries, and in line with UN Human Rights Council Resolutions;
  4. Conduct effective, prompt, impartial, independent and thorough investigations into all cases of injuries and deaths of Palestinian detainees and prisoners held in Israeli custody and ensure accountability;
  5. Prohibit torture, including psychological torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by incorporating into its legislation a definition of torture that is fully in line with article 7 of the ICCPR and CAT, and ensuring that the law provides for penalties commensurate with the gravity of such acts as called for in the Concluding Observations on Israel’s compliance with the ICCPR;
  6. Abide fully by the prohibition on transferring prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory into Israeli territory.

[1] The terminology “security prisoners” is used by the Israeli authorities to refer to what they argue are prisoners charged for having committed a security offence against the State.

[2] In Israel, Palestinian-Arab citizens are brought before civil courts. However, like residents of the OPT who are tried in military courts, they can also be categorized as “security prisoners” by the IPS.

[3] As the medical staff is employed by the Israeli Prison Service rather than the Ministry of Health these healthcare workers are caught between the interests of their employers and their duty to their patients.