Al Mezan Center for Human Rights expresses grave concern over reports that an increasing number of Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody are testing positive for COVID-19, despite Al Mezan’s numerous calls on the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to release Palestinian prisoners and detainees and to adequately mitigate and prevent outbreaks of the virus in its prisons.
To Al Mezan’s knowledge, concerted measures have not been taken to ensure the provision of the healthcare and hygiene needs of Palestinian prisoners and detainees per the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19. Palestinian prisoners and detainees are particularly susceptible to the outbreak as they already endure dire detention conditions that make Israeli prisons a dangerous breeding ground for the virus, notably through the high levels of overcrowding in cells. According to official statistics, 4,500 Palestinians are being held in Israeli custody, including 41 women, 160 children, and 360 administrative detainees.
Al Mezan penned a letter on 10 March 2020 to the IPS requesting information and demanding that appropriate preventive measures be implemented to resolve the issue of overcrowding, improve hygiene conditions, and regulate the interaction between prison personnel and inmates. On 24 March, the IPS responded with an evasive memo that failed to address the issues.
Despite the guidelines and calls by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN human rights experts on the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention settings, the conditions in Israeli prisons continue to deteriorate.
In this regard, Al Mezan stresses that Israel, the occupying power, is bound under international law to uphold the right of Palestinian prisoners and detainees to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Persons deprived of their liberty are entitled to medical treatment as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Al Mezan also warns of severe repercussions should Israel continue to deviate from its moral and legal obligations toward the people under its control and reiterates its calls on the international community to take action to ensure Israel’s respect for the rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Al Mezan calls once again for Israel’s release of the elderly, chronically ill, women, and children, and demands that WHO guidelines and recommendations are heeded, notably with access provided to adequate healthcare and the supplies that is needed to save lives.