Sudanese refugees' release on agenda

Peretz set to convene authorities to discuss Sudanese prisoners in Israel.

amir peretz 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
amir peretz 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz will convene relevant defense authorities to discuss the continued imprisonment of Sudanese refugees incarcerated for months in Israeli jails, the ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. At the same time, however, the ministry would not say whether their release was imminent. A spokesman for the defense minister told the Post that "the defense establishment is not the party authorized by law to decide the status of a person in Israel, including the status of the Sudanese infiltrators." Yet while their refugee status or citizenship is dependent on the interior minister, their imprisonment is under the sole authority of the defense minister. Also Tuesday, the Israel Bar Association joined the ongoing appeal to the High Court with a report protesting the conditions in which the Sudanese were being held. Though it joined the case as an amicus curiae on Tuesday, said Anat Ben-Dor, director of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University who is working for the Sudanese refugees' release, the organization representing Israel's lawyers has "accompanied us the entire time." On Monday, the Post reported that some 190 of the 220 Sudanese refugees in Israel have been jailed, some for more than 13 months, under the authority of military expulsion orders issued in January 2006. The state does not plan to expel the refugees, who as citizens of an enemy state - Sudan - have been called "potentially dangerous" by security officials. Rather, due to a lacuna in Israeli law, the expulsion orders allow the state to keep them incarcerated without judicial review. Only after an appeal was filed to the High Court of Justice in April 2006 did the state appoint a special adviser to the defense minister to oversee their incarceration and recommend alternative means of containing them, such as holding them as working residents of a kibbutz. The refugees have asked to be released from the conditions of prison life, and at least 30 are already residents of kibbutzim around the country. According to the activists, the continued incarceration under the authority of expulsion orders removes some of the protective measures specified for prisoners under the Law of Entry, such as the stipulation that they not be held alongside criminal prisoners. According to the rights groups signed on the High Court petition, the appointment of an adviser to oversee the refugees' imprisonment does not constitute judicial oversight. The right to judicial oversight is anchored in a principle contained in the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Freedom. However, the Basic Law of the Judiciary adds to this the requirement that such judicial oversight must be anchored in law, and not be at the whim of the authorities. It is this legal requirement that the state is violating, the petition claims. "The system [established by the Defense Ministry] is illegal," said Ben-Dor, "and is not judicial review. [The adviser] is not independent, since he was appointed by the minister [whose actions he is to oversee] and not by authority of any law. Also, his opinion is advisory, not final."