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UN rights experts urge Israel not to legalize force feeding of prisoners

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and the right to health, Juan Mendez and Anand Grover, on Wednesday urged [press release] the Knesset [official website], the Israeli Parliament, to withdraw proposed amendments to the Prisons Act which would allow the forced feeding and medical treatment of inmates currently participating in a hunger strike. A large number of Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike since April to protest mistreatment and the fact many of the prisoners have been detained without charge or trial. Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, condemned the proposed law stating that, "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." Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Grover, also voiced her concerns that the amendments would place obligation on doctors to act contrary to their professional code of ethics. The proposed changes would require doctors who refuse to carry out forced feeding to identify a colleague willing to perform the action. Grover also pointed out that, "in cases involving people on hunger strike, the duty of medical professionals to act ethically in accordance with the principle of respect for individuals' autonomy, as set forth in the World Medical Assembly's Declaration of Malta, must also be observed." The Special Rapporteurs' announcement comes just after the Knesset delayed its second vote on the bill.

The continued hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners held in Israel has sparked international criticism and calls for action. Earlier this month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] urged [JURIST report] Israel to release Palestinian administrative detainees over fears of failing health in a hunger strike. Some sources estimate [AFP report] that over 290 Palestinians detained in Israel are on hunger strike, with about 70 requiring medical treatment to live. In February 2013 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] expressed concerns about hunger strikes for similarly situated detainees. In June 2012 a UN Special Reporter called on Israel to release two Palestinian detainees [JURIST report] who have been on hunger strike for 82 and 58 days to protest their administrative detention. In May 2012 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to try to release more than 1,000 prisoners [JURIST report] who had been on hunger strike.

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