Israel must free all Palestinians held without charges under so called “administrative detention” orders or give them a swift and fair trial, rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
In a new report released under the title ‘Starved of justice: Palestinians detained without trial by Israel’ Amnesty called on Israel to “release all administrative detainees unless they are promptly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offences and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.”
“End the practice of administrative detention,” the rights group added.
Administrative detention dates back to the pre-1948 British Mandate under which military courts held suspects without charge for periods of up to six months, which could be renewed indefinitely.
“For decades, Amnesty International has urged Israel to end the practice of administrative detention and to release detainees or charge them with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and try them according to international standards,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The report pointed out to the human rights violations associated with administrative detention. “Administrative detainees – like many other Palestinian prisoners – have been subjected to violations such as the use of torture and other ill-treatment during interrogation, as well as cruel and degrading treatment during their detention, sometimes as punishment for hunger strikes or other protests,” the report said.
The rights group underlined in its report that administrative detainees and their families “must live with the uncertainty of not knowing how long they will be deprived of their liberty and the injustice of not knowing exactly why they are being detained.”
These practices breach Israel’s obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, according to Amnesty.
The report underlined the importance that Israel must also “allow family visits for all Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and end forcible transfer and deportation.” It also called on Israel “to investigate violations, bring perpetrators to justice, and provide reparations to victims.”
“Israel has used its system of administrative detention – intended as an exceptional measure against people posing an extreme and imminent danger to security – to trample on the human rights of detainees for decades. It is a relic that should be put out to pasture,” Harrison said.
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody ended a mass hunger strike on May 14, in return for improved conditions and an Israeli pledge that prisoners held without charge would be freed at the end of their current period of detention -- unless fresh evidence emerged against them.
But Palestinian prisoners minister Issa Qaraqaa said on Sunday that Israel was not keeping its end of the bargain.
“Israel has begun to violate the deal it signed with the prisoners, and within 10 days after announcing the end of the strike, Israel renewed administrative detention orders for approximately 30 prisoners,” Qaraqaa said at a press conference, according to AFP.
One of the prisoners, Thaer Halahla who fasted for 76 days in the protest, was released on Tuesday evening, relatives told AFP.
Family members in the West Bank city of Hebron said that Halahla, who along with fellow inmate Bilal Diab set a record for a Palestinian hunger strike, was freed after being held without charge since June 2010.
“Despite many media reports suggesting that the Israeli authorities had agreed as part of the deal to release administrative detainees at the end of their current orders ‘unless significant new information was received’, our information is that it is business as usual when it comes to detention without charge or trial,” said Harrison.
“We believe that Israel has renewed at least 30 administrative detention orders and issued at least three new ones since this deal was struck, and family visits for Gazan prisoners have still not started,” she added.
In its report, Amnesty said that at the end of April there were at least 308 Palestinian administrative detainees.
“Among them 24 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), including its speaker, Aziz Dweik, human rights defenders such as Walid Hanatsheh and at least four journalists, in addition to university students and academic staff.”
Among its recommendations were that Israel should end the forcible transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip and that authorities “protect all those in Israeli custody from all forms of torture and other ill-treatment.”
“The authorities in Israel have a duty to protect everyone in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories from threats to their lives and physical integrity. But they must do so in a manner that respects human rights,” said Harrison.
(Written by Abeer Tayel)