Human rights groups urge Israel to release virus-vulnerable Palestinian prisoners

Human rights groups urge Israel to release virus-vulnerable Palestinian prisoners
HRW: “Israeli authorities should consider releasing detainees”
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Updated 17 April 2020

Human rights groups urge Israel to release virus-vulnerable Palestinian prisoners

Human rights groups urge Israel to release virus-vulnerable Palestinian prisoners
  • “The conditions of prisoners are the top subject in our dialogue with the Israeli authorities,” says ICRC spokesman

AMMAN: International human rights groups have joined forces to demand that Israeli authorities release older and sick prisoners to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country’s jails.

The appeal coincided with Palestinian Prisoners Day on April 17 when Palestinians remember friends and family being held in Israeli prisons.

Yehiya Masswadeh, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told Arab News that committee members were concerned about the dangers posed by COVID-19 to detained Palestinians, especially those with serious medical conditions.

“The conditions of prisoners are the top subject in our dialogue with the Israeli authorities,” he said.

Last month, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) sent letters to the ICRC and the diplomatic community in Palestine highlighting the rapidly deteriorating conditions of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council “urgently requested” intervention over the health and safety of Palestinian prisoners, particularly minors, the vulnerable and chronically ill, and those held under administrative detention in contravention of international law.

Separately, six Israeli organizations have written to the ministries of public security, and justice calling for immediate action to reduce to a minimum the number of prisoners and detainees held in Israel in order to protect their health during the virus outbreak.

Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel-Palestine, who is now residing in Jordan after being deported by Israel, urged the release of vulnerable prisoners.

“Israeli authorities should consider releasing detainees, particularly those at high risk of suffering serious effects of COVID-19, ensure high-quality health care for those who remain detained, and aggressively guard against the threat of spread in places of detention.”

The New York-based Human Rights Watch organization had called for the early release of low-risk category detainees including those soon scheduled to be freed, those in pre-trial detention for nonviolent and lesser offenses, and others whose continued detention was unnecessary or unjustified.

“Detained individuals at high risk of suffering serious effects from the virus include older people and people with underlying health conditions,” said the HRW.

Hind Shraydeh, the wife of American-Palestinian scientist Ubai Aboudi who has been detained by Israel since October 2019, told Arab News that the Israeli authorities were not paying any attention to global or even US calls for the release of prisoners over the COVID-19 threat.

“The White House and the US State Department have called on the world community to release American citizens held in jails due to the pandemic, but Israel appears to have ignored the calls coming from Washington,” she said.

Sahar Francis, director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, said that as of March this year, there were more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.


UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts
Updated 34 min 36 sec ago

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts

UN envoy calls for greater sense of urgency in Syrian peace efforts
  • Geir Pederson wants enhanced international diplomacy, and tighter focus on progress in drafting new constitution
  • The fifth session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee begins in Geneva on Monday

NEW YORK: Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, on Friday called for “more serious and cooperative” international diplomacy as part of political efforts to improve the lives of the Syrian people and develop a vision for the future of their country.

Speaking ahead of the fifth session of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which begins on Monday in Geneva, he also urged committee members to focus their efforts and work more effectively to speed up progress on constitutional reform.

Pedersen expressed hope that much-needed international engagement with the peace process is now possible.

“After all, despite the differences, key states are continuing to reaffirm their commitment to Resolution 2254,” he added, referring to the UN Security Council resolution, adopted in 2015, that calls for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

Pedersen, who briefed the Security Council this week on the latest developments, highlighted the fact that five foreign armies are active in Syria and “violations of Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity (have been) going on for years.”

Although the ceasefire agreement reached by Russia and Turkey in the northwest of the country resulted in a de-escalation of hostilities, Pedersen warned that this relative calm remains fragile.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) 

“All of these issues cannot be sorted out by the Syrians alone,” he said. (They) need an international cooperation (and) a real exchange of views (among all parties).

“If that political will is lacking it would be very, very difficult to move this process forward ... if you leave this to the UN alone, we will not be able to succeed.”

Top on the agenda on Monday will be discussion of the basic principles of the Syrian constitution. Pedersen said he has been meeting with the two co-chairs of the committee on a regular basis, and has also had intensive discussions with the “Middle Third” civil-society group, which includes society activists and experts and other independents from inside and outside of Syria.

His experiences during the past year, he said, lead him to believe there is potential for finding common ground. No single actor or group of actors can impose its will on Syria or settle the conflict alone — they must work together, he added.

The time has now come for the co-chairs of the Constitutional Committee to organize and focus its efforts by establishing “more effective and operational working methods,” Pedersen said, so that they can begin to move forward from preparing constitutional reforms to actually drafting them, and agreeing on clear agendas and discussion topics for future meetings.

“There needs to be more urgency (in) delivering progress in this process,” he added.

As he saluted the work of civil society groups and “all the Syrians who do what they can to improve the situation on the ground and support a political process,” Pedersen singled out women in particular for praise. He has been particularly proactive in seeking input from the Women’s Advisory Board.

“It is a priority for all of us to make sure that we have full participation of Syrian women in the political process,” he said. “(Promoting) their core constitutional rights is central for me, as the facilitator of the work of the Constitutional Committee.”

Asked about plans for large-scale prisoner swaps, Pedersen said that although this is not on the agenda for the talks in Geneva this week, it is always part of his own agenda. The disappointment over the lack of progress on the issue so far means “that we should work even harder” on it, he added.

“This is a file that really has an impact on nearly every Syrian family, and it needs to be addressed,” he said. “(I) have appealed (for) more information on the missing. (We) need to see the early release of women, children, the elderly and the sick, and I think (nothing) should stop that from happening.”

The members of the Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee are due to arrive in Geneva on Saturday, and Pedersen will consult with the co-chairs over the weekend before the main talks begin on Monday.

Asked whether he expects this latest round of negotiations to be a success for the UN, Pedersen said: “I really do not think this is the question; the question (is) whether it is a success for the Syrian people and (their) aspirations.

“My hope has been that the Constitutional Committee, if it is handled in the correct manner, could start to build trust and (be) a door-opener for a broader political process.

“But the (committee) cannot work in isolation ... we need political will from the different parties to be able to move forward.”

He added: “The (committee) is just one aspect, and it is not the one aspect that will solve the Syrian crisis. If we are to see changes in the situation on the ground, there are other factors that need to be discussed.”