Human Rights Watch and “Prisoner X”

Media in Australia and Israel are abuzz with news about a detainee in an Israeli prison, a dual Australian and Israeli citizen named Ben Zygier working for the Mossad who committed suicide in late 2010 after being held in solitary confinement for unknown security offenses.  I don’t have anything to add to the basics of the story, but I was struck when I saw the following in the original report from Australia’s ABC service:

Bill van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based advocate for Human Rights Watch, has described the secret imprisonment of Prisoner X as “inexcusable”. “It’s called a disappearance, and a disappearance is not only a violation of that person’s due process rights – that’s a crime,” he told Foreign Correspondent. “Under international law, the people responsible for that kind of treatment actually need to be criminally prosecuted themselves…”

Mr van Esveld says it is inexcusable for the Australian Government not to be notified.”The obligation of one country to notify another when the other citizen has been arrested, detained, especially if they die – that is so basic. It is called customary law,” he said. “Which means that even if Israel didn’t ratify a treaty saying it has to notify the other country, it still has to do so because that is such a basic norm of interstate relations.”

It seemed to me that van Esveld was jumping to a lot of conclusions based on whatever information the reporter fed to him.  As it turns out, subsequent media reports have confirmed that (a) the Australian government was informed of Zygier’s arrest back in February 2010, months before his suicide, and was informed of his death the day after it happened; and (b) Zygier was represented by counsel through his entire ordeal, and indeed saw one of his attorneys just a few days before his suicide.

So, Zygier was hardly a “disappeared.”  I’m sure we can expect forthwith a profound apology from Mr. Van Esveld and HRW, in line with all of their other apologies for their misreporting on Israel over the years.

UPDATE: NGO Monitor has much more.