In a joint press statement sent to MEMO on Sunday, senior UN officials have called on Israel to release Palestinian children from prison in the light of the spread of Covid-19.
"We are seriously concerned over the continued detention of Palestinian children by the Israeli authorities," said Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory; Genevieve Boutin, UNICEF Special Representative in the State of Palestine; and James Heenan, Head of the UN Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory.
"At the end of March, 194 Palestinian children were detained by the Israeli authorities in prisons and detention centres, mainly in Israel, according to data released by the Israeli Prison Service… This is higher than the monthly average number of children detained in 2019. Of the total, the vast majority of these children have not been convicted of any offence but are being held in pre-trial detention."
The UN officials insisted that the rights of children to protection, safety and wellbeing must be upheld at all times. "In normal times, the arrest or detention of a child should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. This is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which both Israel and State of Palestine have ratified."
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Furthermore, they pointed out that during a pandemic, states should pay increased attention to children's protection needs and children's rights, and the best interests of children should be a primary consideration in all actions taken by governments. "Children in detention face heightened risk of contracting Covid-19, with physical distancing and other preventive measures often absent or difficult to achieve. Moreover, since the start of the coronavirus 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."
This, the officials noted, creates additional hardship, psychological suffering, and prevents the child from receiving the legal advice to which they are entitled. "For children awaiting trial, these pressures could put them under increased pressure to incriminate themselves, pleading guilty to be released faster."
Concluding their statement, the UN officials called on Israel and the Palestinian authorities to release all detainees in their prisons, including children, immediately. "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."