Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Human Rights Cases
48. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take to request that the authorities of a prison (details supplied) lift the ban on freedom of prisoner movement and association within the prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3899/19]
90. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the recent attacks on prisoners in a prison (details supplied) by Israeli prison administration and military forces, including the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, sound grenades and police dogs; if he will raise the attacks with the Israeli authorities and request they cease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3898/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 90 together.
Prisoners' issues are among the human rights issues which my Department follows in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict and raises with the Israeli authorities both bilaterally and through EU-level contacts. We have paid particular attention to the questions of administrative detention, treatment of minors and the increasing use of prosecutions to suppress legitimate protest. Ireland also provides funding to the Palestinian NGO, Addameer, which monitors and works on prisoner issues. We have also raised some of these issues internationally, including at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Of course, my officials do not, and cannot, follow up every allegation of mistreatment received. The incident referred to was a large-scale search of the prison for contraband material. Little is known about it in detail, although I am aware of allegations of mistreatment. I know that Deputies have seen the same material, which was circulated by the Palestinian mission.
It has been reported that Israeli authorities have consciously decided to introduce a tougher regime in the prisons in recent weeks, including restricted conditions for prisoners and ending the separation of prisoners from opposing factions. I have no basis as yet to comment on this or on the specific allegations referred to by the Deputy. Prison searches and other measures are not unknown in other jurisdictions. However, I have not seen any security or practical rationale for such a change in policy, or any reference to similar changes being applied to Israelis who are imprisoned. Issues to do with prisoners are always sensitive for both Israelis and Palestinians, and for obvious reasons they have the potential to have a wider political impact outside the prisons.
I am also acutely conscious that similar and indeed worse criticisms could be levelled at prison conditions in many Middle Eastern countries. However, it is obvious that Palestinians imprisoned by Israel should have the same conditions and protections as Israel considers proper for its own citizens in detention.
I thank the Tánaiste. It is important that this issue be flagged. The prison in question is the Ofer Prison. It is one of the most notorious prisons in the occupied West Bank. There are 1,200 Palestinian prisoners there at the moment who have been incarcerated without trial. There are also 180 child detainees in the prison. As the Tánaiste referred to, more than 150 prisoners were injured last week, some with rubber bullets. At the moment a hunger strike is taking place in response to the actions of a special forces unit called the Metzada unit. The unit is a quite brutal force of the Israeli Prison Service. The Tánaiste should signal to his counterpart in Israel that human rights abuses by the Israeli authorities should not be acceptable under any terms. I would appreciate if the Minister could convey that.
As the Deputy knows, I am very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as are many Members of this House. We debate it regularly here and I take questions on it regularly. We do raise human rights concerns about conditions in prisons, particularly for minors. I have raised it both in Israel and in other fora, and I will continue to do that. I do not have the full details on this case so I must be careful not to make statements I cannot fully back up. The broader question of conditions in prisons, which impacts on the broader political environment, is something we follow closely.