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Israel: Release or charge five Palestinian hunger strikers – UN experts

GENEVA (21 October 2021) – Expressing grave fear for the lives of five Palestinians currently on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, UN experts* today called on Israel to either release or charge the prisoners, and to completely end its unlawful practice of administrative detention. 

“In violation of international law, Israel continues to use administrative detention to imprison more than 500 Palestinians – including six children – without charges, without trials, without convictions, all based on classified secret information that the detainees have no access to,” the experts said. “They have no recourse to challenging these undisclosed allegations, and they do not know when, or if, they are going to be released.” 

Borrowing from incarceration practices first employed by the British mandate administration in Palestine in the 1930s, the Israeli government has used administrative detention as a frequent method of political control since its occupation of the Palestinian territory began in 1967. The Israeli military can hold Palestinian detainees for six-month periods, which may be renewed and extended indefinitely. While judicial review is available, this is held in front of an Israeli military judge, where international minimum standards of rights, evidence and procedural fairness do not apply. Successful challenges to administrative detention orders are extremely uncommon.

““These practices would appear to be arbitrary detention, which is strictly prohibited under international law, including international humanitarian law", said the experts. “And the arbitrary detention of children is particularly abhorrent, violating the minimum standards established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The experts said that Israel’s’ practice of administrative detention drives prisoners to desperate measures, even risking their lives, to bring attention to their plight.

The five hunger strikers, all men in their twenties and thirties, have been refusing food for between 58 and 99 days to protest being held in administrative detention for months or even years at a time.

Two of the men, Kayed Al-Fasous and Miqdad Al-Qawasameh, are said to be in imminent danger of death. Mr. Al-Fasous who was reportedly previously held in harsh conditions in solitary confinement, now is in Barzelai hospital. Mr. Al Qawasameh was transferred to Kaplan Hospital after his health deteriorated; he has been in intensive care there since 19 October. On 7 October and 14 October, the Israeli High Court of Justice suspended the administrative detention orders of Miqdad Al-Qawasameh and Kayed Al-Fasous, but as the the suspension does not mean their release, they decided to continue with their strike despite their very frail condition. 

Two other men, Alaa Al-Araj, and Hisham Ismail Abu Hawash were transferred on 19 October to Israeli hospitals after their health detoriated. The fifth, Mr. Shadi Abu Aka is currently  in Ramleh prison clinic.

The experts noted that, under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, an occupying power is not permitted to transfer prisoners from the occupied territory to detention centres in its territory. “The United Nations has regularly observed that Israel is in violation of this legal duty, and has called upon it to comply with its obligation, but to no avail.”

“As we have done many times before, we once again call on Israel either to charge and try, or release, all of the administrative detainees,” the experts said. “In international law, administrative detention is permitted only in exceptional circumstances, and only for short periods of time. Israel’s practices exceed all of the international legal boundaries.”  

The experts also called upon Israel to end its harsh detention conditions of Palestinian prisoners. “In particular, we insist that the imposition of solitary confinement on detainees already weakened by months of hunger strike, must stop immediately.”

ENDS

Mr. Michael Lynk,  Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Mr. Nils Melzer , Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Leigh Toomey, Mumba Malila, Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel  

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