UN calls on Israel to release Palestinian children from jails amid coronavirus

Three UN officials urge Israeli authorities to free detained Palestinian children to protect them from COVID-19.

al-monitor UN officials are urging Israel to release detained Palestinian children to give them the space to protect themselves from COVID-19. Here, a social distancing marker is seen as Palestinians wait to receive payments at a post office in Gaza City, May 6, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

May 12, 2020

Three United Nations officials have called on Israel’s government to release imprisoned Palestinian children amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Some 194 children are currently in detention in Israeli jails, the officials said in a statement released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today.

Most of the children are being held in pretrial detention, according to the UN officials, even though legal proceedings have paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Children in detention face heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, with physical distancing and other preventive measures often absent or difficult to achieve,” the statement read.

“Moreover, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Israel, legal proceedings are on hold, almost all prison visits are cancelled, and children are denied in-person access to their families and their lawyers.”

The statement was released jointly by the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Jamie McGoldrick, UNICEF’s special representative in Palestine, Genevieve Boutin, and the head of the UN human rights office in the occupied Palestinian territory, James Heenan.

The 1989 international Convention on the Rights of the Child says that imprisonment of children must be “a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Israel ratified the convention in 1991 but has faced UN criticism on its implementation in the past.

“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,” today’s UN statement read.

“We call on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to do so immediately.”

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