UN Experts to Israel: Force-feeding Prisoners Is Cruel and Inhuman

UN human rights experts urge Israel to drop bill on force-feeding and medical treatment of prisoners just a few days before it heads for Knesset reading.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
A Palestinian in Gaza who has stopped eating in solidarity with the hunger-striking administrative detainees, June 2, 2014.
A Palestinian in Gaza who has stopped eating in solidarity with the hunger-striking administrative detainees, June 2, 2014.Credit: AFP
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

United Nation experts on human rights have urged Israel on Wednesday not to allow force-feeding and medical treatment of prisoners against their will even as a bill to that effect is facing a Knesset reading next Monday.

The statement, released by the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and the right to health, called force-feeding "cruel and inhuman," and criticized the bill for requiring doctors to act against their professional ethics.

The statement was issued following an appeal by several human rights groups, including Doctors for Human Rights, who claimed the bill is motivated by political and security concerns and not out of concern for the lives and health of hunger-striking Palestinian detainees.

In their appeal, sent on May 26, the groups also said the state is seeking to make cynical use of medicine to gain the upper hand over the strikers, against medical ethics and international treaties.

In their statement, the UN experts severely criticized the bill. “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 Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“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,” he said.

In addition, the UN officials said the bill required doctors to act against their professional ethics. "Healthcare personnel may not apply undue pressure on individuals who have decided to go on hunger strike,” said Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health. “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.

According to the UN officials, in case of hunger strike, medical personnel must act ethically and respect personal autonomy, as was set forth in the World Medical Assembly’s Declaration of Malta.

The United Nations human rights experts are part of the Human Rights Council's Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights.

On Tuesday it was reported that the Yesh Atid party is expected to back the revised force feeding bill, paving the way for the bill’s passage in the Knesset next Monday.

The main change in the final version of the bill is the determination of when a prisoner may be force fed. In the new version, force-feeding will be allowed only in cases where a doctor is of the opinion that without the treatment “there is a real possibility that within a short period of time risk to the life of the prisoner or serious irreversible disability will occur.”

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