UN expert urges immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access as Gaza health sector reaches “breaking point”
17 October 2023
GENEVA (17 October 2023) – Continuing violent displacement and threats of further attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip pose a major public health risk and emergency, a UN expert said today after at least 12 health workers were killed and 24 Gazan health facilities were affected since the escalation of violence in the region.
“All parties to the conflict and their international partners must ensure swift and unimpeded access to essential humanitarian supplies, including food, water and medicine, fuel, and electricity,” said Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. “Gaza’s medical infrastructure has been irreparably damaged and healthcare providers are working in a dire situation with limited access to medical supplies and conditions that do not allow them to provide timely and quality healthcare,” Mofokeng said.
“Humanitarian workers, physicians, civil society, human rights organisations and journalists continue to work in the region while under bombardment themselves,” the expert said.
The World Health Organization has documented more than 111 attacks on health care services in the occupied Palestinian territory, including 48 attacks on the Gaza Strip which resulted in the death of at least 12 health workers.
Mofokeng said that Israel was preventing the entry of essential supplies into Gaza, including food, water, fuel, medicines, medical disposables and equipment. “The Gaza Strip is experiencing continuous bombardment and massive devastation,” she said. “The health sector in the enclave is at a breaking point.”
Mofokeng called on the international community to intervene immediately to prevent the escalation of conflict and protect and respect the right to health of all, by demanding access through humanitarian corridors, protection of the healthcare infrastructure and health workers. Palestinian families require urgent supplies of food, water, shelter, fuel, emergency health care, psychosocial support and psychological first aid, the expert said.
The latest escalation and display of aggression in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory must not be de-contextualized, the expert urged. It represents a crushing moment of ongoing gross structural, systemic and sustained violence experienced by Palestinians every day since the occupation, she said. “I call for an immediate ceasefire and for Member States to stop beating the drums of war,” Mofokeng said.
“The Palestinian people have been displaced for more than 75 years. The occupied Palestinian territory has been under military occupation for more than 56 years – an occupation entailing a lack of accountability, ongoing displacement and demolition, movement restrictions, and systematic racial discrimination,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur recalled that UN Member States had reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the sovereign equality of all States and respect for their territorial integrity and political independence, recognising 2019 to 2028 as the “Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace.” The declaration supports a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace by preventing conflict and addressing its root causes, she said.
“Steps to realising the right to self-determination of Palestinians is linked to their dignity and sovereignty,” Mofokeng said. “You cannot extinguish the human desire for freedom.”
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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