On 20 August 2020, Addameer and Al-Haq sent a written submission to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council ahead of its 45th regular session, calling on the Council to intervene to guarantee the rights to life and health, and safety of Palestinian prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the submission, the organisations highlighted Israel’s systematic policy of medical negligence against Palestinians in Israeli detention centres, including the Israeli Supreme Court’s recent decision which ruled that Palestinian prisoners and detainees have no right to social distancing. As of 29 August 2020, 13 Palestinian prisoners and detainees tested positive for COVID-19, either while detained or shortly after their release, including a fifteen-year-old child and a cancer patient.
While UN experts have highlighted the need to ensure the release of political prisoners as well as other detainees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and other experts have urged Israel to cease its discriminatory practices against Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to COVID-19, referring to Israel’s release of Israeli prisoners as a preventative and protective step, the Israeli occupying authorities have refused to release Palestinian political prisoners or to adequately mitigate and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in Israeli prisons. The experts also urged Israel to release the most vulnerable Palestinian prisoners and detainees, particularly women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions, as there are approximately 700 sick Palestinian prisoners, including more than 200 with chronic diseases. Instead, Israel continues to disregard its legal obligations, as Occupying Power, to protect Palestinian prisoners and detainees from COVID-19, as mass arbitrary detentions and arrests have continued during the pandemic.
The submission underlined how Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons face dismal detention conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, lack of proper ventilation and poor nutrition. Furthermore, an increasing number of guards and IPS staff have tested positive for COVID-19. The IPS officers are not taking proper precautions, refusing to wear hazmat suits, protective gloves, or medical face masks while conducting daily searches and daily counts of prisoners, done five times a day. Further, staffers are in constant and direct contact with Palestinian prisoners, as they perform maintenance and work in the supply room and kitchen. As such, the submission emphasised that these conditions constitute a life-threatening situation and compound the vulnerability of Palestinian prisoners.
Finally, the submission stressed the urgent need for justice and accountability, making the following calls to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council:
- Demand Israel, the Occupying Power, release all Palestinian political prisoners to ensure their safety from an uncontrolled spread of the pandemic, particularly those who are more susceptible to the disease and those who are illegally held under administrative detention;
- Demand Israel ensure the protection of all prisoners without discrimination by adopting the WHO’s recent guidance on preventing a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, and take necessary measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic in Israeli prisons; and
- Recognise Israel’s use of arbitrary detention and its systematic policy of medical negligence against Palestinian detainees as a core component of Israel’s institutionalised and systemic racial discrimination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole.
Read the full written submission sent to Human Rights Council ahead of its 45th regular session here.