UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday expressed serious concern as the mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons entered its 38th day without resolution, and the health of hundreds of participating prisoners began to deteriorate significantly.
More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike on 17 April, demanding, amongst other things, an end to administrative detention and solitary confinement. The hunger strikers are also demanding an increase in the number and length of family visits and improved access to healthcare.
Both Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations have corroborated many of the complaints of the prisoners and have called on the Israeli authorities to improve the conditions of Palestinian prisoners. According to reports, the Israel Prison Service has evacuated at least 60 hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners to hospitals because their medical condition had worsened, while another 592 hunger strikers have recently been moved for observation to infirmaries set up in the prisons.
“I am especially alarmed by reports of punitive measures by the Israeli authorities against the hunger strikers, including restricted access to lawyers and the denial of family visits,” Zeid said. “The right of detainees to access a lawyer is a fundamental protection in international human rights law that should never be curtailed.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a statement issued on 3 May 2017, also noted that the right to family visits is enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and should never be restricted for punitive reasons.
The Israeli practice of administrative detention is in breach of the key safeguards of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The widespread use of administrative detention, with hundreds held every year also raises concerns that Israel does not respect the principle of the exceptional nature of administrative detention under international humanitarian law. In 2000, Israel reportedly held 12 Palestinians in administrative detention. Today, that figure has risen to some 500 Palestinian prisoners who are being held without charge or trial in administrative detention.
“Various international bodies have repeatedly called on Israel to end its practice of administrative detention. Such detainees should either be charged with an offence and tried according to international standards, or released immediately,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
An estimated 6,300 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons, mostly outside the occupied Palestinian territory, in contravention of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Regardless of where or on what legal basis they are held, the treatment of detainees must in any event be consistent with international law, including the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.