Three senior United Nations officials in the Middle East are calling for the release of Palestinian children from Israeli-run prisons and detentions centres, saying they are at particular risk of COVID-19 infection
Citing figures from the Israeli Prison Service, the officials – Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory; Genevieve Boutin, UNICEF Special Representative in State of Palestine; and James Heenan, Head of the UN Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory – said that 194 Palestinian children were detained as of the end of March.
That’s more than the monthly average in 2019, they said in a joint statement, adding that the vast majority have not been convicted of any offence, but rather are being held in pre-trail detention.
“Children in detention face heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, with physical distancing and other preventive measures often absent or difficult to achieve”, they said, noting that since the pandemic took hold in Israel, legal proceedings are on hold and almost all prison visits cancelled.
Pointing to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which both Israel and Palestine have ratified, they said that in normal times, the arrest or detention of children should only be a last resort – and for the shortest possible duration.
During a pandemic, however, States should pay greater attention to the rights and protection needs of children, they stated.
“The best way to uphold the rights of detained children amidst a dangerous pandemic, in any country, is to release them from detention and to put a moratorium on new admissions into detention facilities,” they said.
“We call on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to do so immediately.”