Scribblings: Hypocrisy on Administrative Detention

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: Blatant hypocrisy

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is a member of the Jordanian royal family and a former Jordanian diplomat who is the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He just provided a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy and double standards which permeate the UN – especially the UN Human Rights Council which he serves. 

On July 23, Zeid issued a blistering attack on Israel in a video address to the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People – one of several permanent UN bodies which exist solely to slam Israel. He said the recent killing of Palestinians along the Gaza border was “shocking” and that Israeli authorities must cooperate with a UN inquiry to achieve “accountability for these killings, as well as all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law.” He said the “root cause” of the Gaza violence was the “grossly inadequate living conditions” in Gaza, which he blamed on Israel’s blockade and to a lesser extent Egypt – and somehow managed not to mention Hamas, the faction governing Gaza, at all. He also attacked Israel over its new “nation-state” law. 

But where he really tipped his hand was when he said Israel’s detention of “hundreds of Palestinian children”, some without charge under a system of “administrative detention,” is a “fundamental human rights violation.”

“It should be absolutely clear that international law requires detention only be used for children as a last resort,” Zeid said. Detention without trial for children and adults “contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law… An estimated 440 Palestinians are being held in ‘administrative detention,’ according to the latest figures. Israel should immediately charge, or release, all of them,” he said.

Of course, the complaint about Israel holding Palestinian “children”, meaning minors under 18, being a “fundamental human rights violation” is ridiculous. Almost every country in the world detains minors for crimes – and most democracies, including both Australia and the UK, detain them in far higher numbers, both absolutely and as a percentage of the population, than Israel does. None of those countries have been alleged to have committed a “fundamental human rights violation” because detention of children is supposed to be a “last resort”. This claim involves making up a radical new interpretation of international law that only applies to Israel.

But even that pales before Zeid’s blatant hypocrisy on the subject of administrative detention. What country detains far more people without trial, both absolutely and as a percent of the population than Israel? Jordan, Zeid’s homeland. According to US State Department figures, as of Sept. 2016, the most recent available, Jordan was holding 1,058 people under administrative detention. That month, Israel held 453. Furthermore, throughout 2015, Jordan reportedly held a total of 19,860 people in administrative detention for some period. Israeli statistics show that in no year over the past decade and a half has Israel ever detained comparable numbers.

Jordan also reportedly occasionally uses administrative detention against minors – and has a much bigger problem with frequent use of administrative detention to hold innocent women in “protective custody”, supposedly to protect them from the risk of being the victims of honour killings by their own families. 

As of May 31 this year, Israel had three 16 to 18-year-olds in administrative detention, and two women – and these numbers are fairly typical for the last few years.

Jordan had 157 women in administrative detention in Sept. 2016. Further, a 2017/18 Amnesty International report found that, over its reporting period, 1,700 women had been held in administrative detention in Jordan.

Jordan’s use of administrative detention to “protect” women from honour killings leads to cases such as that of Aziza S., highlighted in a 2009 Human Rights Watch report. Arrested as a minor on suspicion of zina (adultery or fornication) she then spent at least the next 11 years in prison without ever being charged with any crime. 

Moreover, in Jordan, administrative detention can be imposed by any provincial governor for up to a year without access to any legal proceedings – and the year can be renewed by the governor. By contrast, in Israel, British mandate era laws allow senior military commanders to issue administrative detention orders for up to six months, but require a hearing, including the detainee and their lawyer, within eight days before a military judge to verify the order. Moreover, the detainee can appeal from there all the way to Israel’s High Court. 

So has Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein ever called attention to Jordan’s much more widely used and more arbitrary system of administrative detention? Has he ever called it a contravention of Jordan’s “obligations under international law” or said Jordan should “immediately charge, or release, all” administrative detainees – especially the innocent women in “protective custody”, often for many years?

If he has, AIJAC has not been able to find any public record of it.

A Jordanian view of criminal justice in Israel

While we’re reviewing the contrast between the Israeli and Jordanian criminal justice systems, it might be worth hearing the recent views of a Jordanian journalist who had first-hand experience of the Israeli prison system. 

Yousef Alawnah once spent 30 months in an Israeli prison for smuggling explosives. 

On June 12, he told Saudi 24 TV that he was “ashamed by [the comparison] between Israeli and Arab prisons.”

Alawnah said being an Israeli prisoner was like being incarcerated in an “institute of education,” where inmates were given “an opportunity to acquire culture, to read and to study many things.”

Alawnah was particularly impressed with the extensive prison libraries in Israel, including numerous books in Arabic.

“They have all the important books, history books, books against Israel and against Zionism… Even Hitler’s Mein Kampf is there,” he said. “The prisoners held in the dungeons of the Syrian regime… Do you think that they have books?”