A fact of life in this COVID-19 world is that prisoners sitting behind bars are some of the most vulnerable potential victims of this deadly virus. In the U.S., the highest number of COVID-19 related cases in the courts today are petitions by prisoners seeking release from confinement. Prisons are Super-Spreaders of the coronavirus. In response, some states and local governments have released prisoners, (check the status of these actions).
Israeli prisons house both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners. “Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” human rights experts say.
I’m sending the following U.N. press release to Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Debra Haaland (D-NM) because McCollum has demonstrated her concern about Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons (see, H.R. 2407) and Haaland is my Congresswoman from New Mexico. I want them both to know what the human rights experts are warning.
GENEVA (24 April 2020) – A group of UN human rights experts* urged Israel not to discriminate against thousands of Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to COVID-19 and to release the most vulnerable – particularly women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails. They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” said the experts.
“Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” they added.
The experts said prisoner releases should also include those in administrative and pre-trial detention. “Israel should be taking steps to release those facing arbitrary measures as well as vulnerable groups in its prisons to reduce overcrowding and ensure the minimum conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”
They noted that family visits have been banned since the COVID-19 outbreak and access to lawyers restricted for Palestinian detainees. “It is critical that any such measures are medically justified and, if so, alternative means for communication, such as video conferencing, should be made available. Special and more relaxed measures should also apply to children and women for visits.”
The experts also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem. In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has also arrested doctors.
“It is inconceivable that, in the current conditions, especially in light of the lack of testing kits and other equipment, Israel would undermine existing efforts to ensure that a larger portion of the Palestinian population is tested. Such efforts are especially needed when recent data suggests that rates of COVID-19 have significantly increased in occupied East Jerusalem,” they noted.
Palestinians under occupation, as a protected population under international humanitarian law, should have equal access to treatment and testing without discrimination. “Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to ensure protection, prevention and treatment of all is critical. Such acts as raiding Palestinian clinics can only undermine such efforts,” the expert said.
(*) The UN experts: Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.