Worsening health of Palestinian detainees on hunger strike draws concern of UN human rights expert body

5 June 2014

Gravely concerned about the reported worsening health of more than 75 Palestinian detainees on hunger strike now in hospital protesting Israel’s continued use of administrative detention, members of a United Nations committee today urged Israel to end the practice and heed the “desperate plea” prisoners to be told what they are accused of so they can mount a defence.

“It is a desperate plea by these detainees to be afforded a very basic standard of due process: to know what they are accused of and to be able to defend themselves,” said the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories said in a press release.

At the end of its annual fact-finding visit to Amman, Jordan, and Cairo, Egypt – from 1 to 5 June – members of the Special Committee urged Israel to heed the demand of the hunger strikers to end the practice of arbitrary administrative detention of Palestinians.

According to the Committee, a first group of around 100 Palestinian administrative detainees launched a peaceful protest on 24 April 2014 and were later joined by more detainees. The total number of hunger strikers now stands at 290, with more expected to join in the coming weeks.

“International humanitarian law only exceptionally allows for the use of administrative detention, yet the Israeli authorities have detained a large number of Palestinians for reasons not explicitly indicated. Initial administrative detention orders of six-month periods can be renewed an indefinite number of times without producing charges,” the Committee noted.

The Committee has learned that there are 11 elected Palestinian Legislators serving prison terms, including 8 held under administrative detention.

Further, the Special Committee is alarmed by reports that the Israeli Government is pressing for an early vote on a bill in the Knesset that would allow the force-feeding of hunger striking detainees. The experts stated that force-feeding would contravene accepted principles of international human rights law and violate the rights of the detainees.

“Concerns over the health of Palestinian prisoners extend more widely,” the Committee continued in its press release, noting that, “this year again, we have a number of testimonies indicating that medical needs of Palestinian detainees within the Israeli prison system have been neglected, in some cases leading to deaths which might have been avoided with proper care and timely diagnosis.”

Given that there are more than 5,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody, the Committee members strongly appealed to the Israeli authorities to allow all Palestinian detainees, especially women and children, to be periodically seen by Palestinian doctors in order to avoid losing more lives.

During its annual mission to the region, the Committee met a number of witnesses, non-governmental organizations, Palestinian government officials, and UN agencies operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan to be briefed on human rights and humanitarian concerns.

“In all Israeli occupied territories, settlement expansion continues at an alarming pace and scale, with new policies and procedures allowing for the confiscation of Palestinian lands and property. The Special Committee is also concerned about excavations under the Al-Aqsa holy site.

“However, Israel continues to turn a deaf ear to repeated calls by the UN to comply with international law and to halt and dismantle settlements,” noted the Committee members.

“Next month will mark the tenth anniversary of the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the wall,” they added. Committee members recalled that the Court Opinion referred not only to the illegality of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but also its associated regime.

The experts were also briefed on the continuing exploitation of natural resources in the Occupied Territory by Israel, in violation of its international obligations. They were also informed of the involvement of some international companies in settlement-related activities, in contradiction with their corporate social responsibilities. The Committee was also updated on the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, and ongoing settler violence in the West Bank.

The Special Committee will present a full report on its mission and other activities to the sixty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly. The Assembly established the Committee in 1968 to examine the human rights situation in the occupied Syrian Golan, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

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