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Rights expert condemns death of Palestinian doctor in Israeli custody, urges independent inquiry

A renowned Palestinian orthopaedic surgeon’s death in Israeli detention has been labelled “horrifying’ by a UN human rights expert, prompting calls for an independent international investigation.

Dr. Adnan Al Bursh, 50, the head of the orthopaedic department at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, died on April 19, 2024, in Ofer prison, a detention facility in the West Bank. His body has not yet been released by Israeli authorities.

Before his death, he had reportedly been beaten in prison, with his body showing signs of torture.

Dr. Al Bursh had been detained with other doctors and medical personnel by Israeli forces on 18 December 2023, at Al Awda Hospital in North Gaza. At that time, he was generally in good health and was performing his duties normally.

Call for independent probe

Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, said she was “horrified” by the news.

“He was detained while undertaking his duty to patients and caring for them according to the oath he took as a medical practitioner … he died for trying to protect the rights to life and health of his patients,” she said.

The expert underscored the need for an independent probe.

“Dr. Adnan’s case raises serious concerns that he died following torture at the hands of Israeli authorities. His death demands an independent international investigation,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Concerns of safety of healthworkers

Ms. Mofokeng also raised concerns over the safety of healthcare workers amidst Israel’s relentless military operation in Gaza following the brutal attacks by Hamas and other groups in southern Israel on 7 October.

“I am deeply saddened that I continue to receive reports of doctors being killed in this conflict,” she said.

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The Ministry of Health in Gaza has reported that at least 493 healthcare workers from Gaza have been killed since 7 October 2023. This includes nurses, paramedics, doctors, and other medical personnel. Many more have been injured.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that at least 214 healthcare workers have been detained by Israeli forces while on duty.

Doctors should not be killed

“The killing and detention of healthcare workers is not a legitimate method of warfare. They have a legitimate and essential role to care for sick and wounded persons during times of conflict,” Ms. Mofokeng said.

“Healthcare workers should not be killed practicing their profession.”

The Special Rapporteur urged Israel to immediately release all healthcare workers arbitrarily detained in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and reiterated her call for an immediate ceasefire.

Independent expert

Appointed by the Human Rights Council – the UN’s highest intergovernmental forum on human rights – and forming a part of its Special Procedures, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to monitor and assess the rights situation in certain thematic or country situations.

They work voluntarily – independent of governments and the UN, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary.