Amnesty International – International Secretariat
Peter Benenson House
1 Easton Street
London WC1X ODW
11 August 2010
Dear Mr. Malcolm Smart;
Many thanks for your kind and detailed explanation about Prisoner of Conscience lists and the double standard that
you claim isn't one. Instead of "putting my mind at rest" your letter actually raises several questions. Allow me to
- You write:
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.
This is laughable. So, Israel throws people in jail with (1) no charges; (2) for an indeterminate time span; (3) under
an illegitimate legal framework; and (4) often without adequate legal representation or opportunity to appeal. The
targets of the so-called "administrative detention" are activists and other people who seek to organize their
communities. Now you state, given that Israel doesn't spell out the charges against a prisoner, AI is thus unable to issue its famous POC designation. In other words, there will be no
letter writing campaign for many such individuals. All Israel has to do is to keep its "evidence secret" and not to
make any charges, and presto, AI will keep quiet about such persons.
- You also don't make the list available because the list may be "incomplete"... Well, at present we don't know if
there are any Palestinian POCs, and Palestinian prisoners know that Amnesty isn't doing anything for them. A few
months ago Amir Makhoul was imprisoned and all Philip Luther could state was that "...If this is the case, we would
regard him as a prisoner of conscience". It is not the case that he is now being considered POC, but AI could consider him so – maybe at a future date. Isn't this rather pathetic?
- Many Palestinians are protesting the construction of the wall on their land and they have used non-violence as a
key aspect of their campaign. Even so, the Israelis brutally repress the demonstrations and conduct regular night-time
harassment. Could you please explain why aren't some of the imprisoned leaders of this movement even mentioned by
AI? One of the leaders of the Bil'in demonstrations is in jail at present; what
are you doing for him?
- You write that other Palestinian prisoners "serving sentences for politically-related crime." Under international
law an occupied or colonized population has a right to resist. Most Palestinian prisoners are in prison for acts of
resistance or for membership in groups which advocate resistance. It is only in the eyes of their oppressor that this
constitutes "a crime". I would hope that AI would refrain from such labelling.
And what does AI do for the other prisoners, those who have resisted?
- And why make the Cuban list public? Couldn't you apply the same argument about incomplete lists to withhold the
Cuban list? And why consider some of the Cuban prisoners as POC at all? A large number of them received funding from
the United States – a hostile state – and Cubans would rightly view recipients of tainted funds as
- Could you kindly clarify this: if a Palestinian were ever to throw a stone at soldiers, would this disqualify him
from ever obtaining a "POC" designation when he is imprisoned? Where can one read about the conditions necessary to be
considered a POC?
I am sorry, but your letter simply confirmed that Amnesty International pursues a double standard when covering
Palestinian human rights. The paucity of reportage, the unwillingness to utter condemnations against Israel, impotence
of some of its actions, an unwillingness to publish lists of POCs, and the rare designation of the POC status indicate
that Palestinians can't expect much from Amnesty International. The brutal treatment and dispossession of Palestinians
has been going on for decades; the situation is chronic and it has been systematic. But check for yourself in Amnesty's
reports or press releases: when was the last time that AI unambiguously
indicated that Israeli actions amounted to crimes against humanity? Hint: you can count such instances with less than
half the fingers on your hand.
Paul de Rooij