Saturday, 7 January 2012

Letter Malcolm Smart (AI) to Paul de Rooij re: double standards on POC lists


To: Paul de Rooij
[address deleted]
09 August 2010
Peter Benenson House. 1 Easton Street,
London WC1X OOW, United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)20 7413 5500 F: +44 (0)20 7956 1157
E: W:
Dear Paul
Thank you for your letter dated 11 July addressed to Salil Shetty, who took up office as Secretary General of Amnesty International at the beginning of July.
Salil has asked me to respond on his behalf and to thank you for your kind expression of congratulations to him. You ask whether Amnesty International is applying a double standard because we regularly list the cases of prisoners of conscience in Cuba on our website but do not simultaneously publish a list of Palestinian prisoners of conscience held by the Israeli authorities.
We are not applying a double standard and nor, as your assertion of that seems to imply, are we giving relatively less priority or attention to the cases of Palestinians detained by Israel. The two country situations - Cuba and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - are very different and with regard to each we pursue strategies that are developed with a view to ensuring that our work for prisoners of conscience and other victims of human rights violations is as effective as possible. In other words, with regard to Cuba, we consider it strategically useful and effective to maintain and make public an up to date list of prisoners of conscience.
The same is not true for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, There, as you rightly say, many Palestinians opposed to the Israeli occupation are imprisoned under administrative detention orders (with an even greater number, of course, serving sentences for politically-related crimes). These orders are of fixed duration but may be reimposed to permit continuous detention, in some cases for a year or more. Some of those held under such orders are prisoners of conscience and we can be sure of that, but it is uncertain in many other cases whether individual detainees are to be considered prisoners of conscience, according to the common criteria used by Amnesty International, or not. By its nature, the Israeli administrative detention system is a secretive process, in that the grounds for detention are not specified in detail to the detainee or his/her legal representative; inevitably, this makes it especially difficult for the detainee to challenge the order for, by example, contesting the grounds on which the detention was made. In the same way, it makes it difficult or impossible for Amnesty International to make a conclusive determination in many cases whether a particular administrative detainees can be considered a prisoner of conscience or not.
Clearly, if we were to publish a list of prisoners of conscience held in administrative detention in Israel it would almost certainly be inaccurate or incomplete. It would not be in the best interests of administrative detainees held by Israel if we were to do this - some who are or believe themselves to be prisoners of conscience might be missed off because we had obtained insufficient information about their cases and this could understandably cause unnecessary distress to them, their families and others.
In other words, the situation as regards Cuba is different and we do not consider bound to follow the same practice as regards detainees and prisoners held by Israel simply because of the Cuba example, particularly when we consider that this would not be in the best interests of the Palestinian prisoners of concern to Amnesty International who are being held by Israel.
That said, I can assure you that we take up a number of cases of administrative detainees and our membership campaigns on those both in their own right and as exemplars, and against the very abusive system of administrative detention that Israel maintains.
However, you may see from our website that we also undertake many other initiatives on behalf of victims of human rights violations and breaches if international humanitarian law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where general conditions, I would suggest to you, are quite different than those in Cuba and marked by a much greater degree of both political volatility and violence. The work that we have done on the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel last year, in particular in support of the Goldstone Report and its call for full accountability and justice, and in opposition to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which we have roundly condemned as a form of collective punishment, are two of the major themes to which I would draw your attention. These, of course, have no parallel in Cuba, fortunately, but they serve to illustrate that the country situations are quite different, posing very different human rights challenges and, therefore, I strongly contend, different strategies for addressing those challenges.
I hope this clarifies and goes at least some way towards putting your mind at rest. Thanks again for raising this.
Malcolm Smart
Director Middle East and North Africa Programme

And here you can read Paul de Rooij´s reply

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