GENEVA (25 June 2014) – United Nations Special Rapporteurs on torture and the right to health today urged the Parliament of Israel not to amend the Prisons Act to authorize the force-feeding and medical treatment of prisoners on hunger strike against their will.
The human rights experts’ call comes as the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, delayed its second vote on a bill to amend the Prisons Act to allow forced feeding of prisoners. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger-strike since 24 April 2014 to protest against the fact that many of them have been detained without charge or trial, and at the treatment they have been subjected to in Israeli prisons.
“It is not acceptable to force-feed or use threats of force-feeding or other physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike to protest against their detention without charge and conditions of detention and treatment,” said the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez.
“The desire of the inmates not to eat must be respected for as long as it is clear that they are making that choice voluntarily. Even if it is intended for the benefit of the detainees, feeding induced by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints are tantamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Mr. Méndez said.
The amendments would also oblige doctors who refuse to carry out forced feeding to identify a colleague who would agree to perform such measures. This would place an obligation on doctors to act contrary to their professional code of ethics.
“Healthcare personnel may not apply undue pressure on individuals who have decided to go on hunger strike,” the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, said. “Prisoners’ rights to control their health, body, and be free from interference such as non-consensual medical treatment are fundamental elements of the right to health that must be respected and protected,” Mr. Grover added.
In cases involving people on hunger strike, the duty of medical professionals to act ethically in accordance with the principle of respect for individuals’ autonomy, as set forth in the World Medical Assembly’s Declaration of Malta, must also be observed, the rights expert said.
The Special Rapporteurs urged the Israeli Government to respect and guarantee the rights to life, health and personal integrity of all detainees and refrain from force-feeding and other coercive measures. The human rights experts stressed that the authorities have a duty to look for solutions to the crisis generating the hunger strike, including good faith dialogue with the inmates on their detention, its conditions and treatment. They also echoed the repeated call of UN bodies and the international human rights community to end the practice of prolonged administrative detention.
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