Press Release: ICJP and JLAC request the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the Israeli Occupying Forces systematic policy of withholding the bodies of deceased Palestinian

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC) submit a joint communication to the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) withholding of bodies of deceased Palestinians. To read the offical press release as a PDF in English, click here. For Arabic, click here.

London/Jerusalem: On 20 July 2022, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre (JLAC), submitted a joint communication on behalf of eight Palestinian individuals, to the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, regarding the Israeli Occupying Forces’ (IOF) withholding the bodies of their deceased relatives. The Communication was supported by The Last Rights Project.

The Communication was sent to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief; the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Israel’s ongoing policy of withholding the bodies of deceased Palestinians is practice which can be found to be systematic and discriminatory, and is in violation of international law. It is underpinned by official organs of the State, including the judiciary, which is complicit in enabling impunity for those responsible in implementing the policy. To this day, the policy has prevented the families in this Communication from burying their loved ones in a prompt and dignified manner in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The Communication was submitted days after it was reported that dozens of Egyptian soldiers, who were killed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, were buried in mass graves beneath what is now a tourist attraction, so-called “Mini Israel Park”, (a park built over the lands and ruins of the Palestinian destroyed village of Latrun).

The number of bodies the IOF has withheld over the years cannot be estimated accurately, as the exact number of bodies withheld and returned since 1967 is unknown. However, according to estimates, the number of deceased Palestinians withheld by IOF since its occupation in 1967 is in the hundreds, whereas between 1991 and 2007, around 405 Palestinian bodies were released after being used for negotiations.

Over the years, the policy has been criticised by the international community, including the United Nations (UN). In 2016, the UN Committee against Torture stated that Israel should “take the measures necessary to return the bodies of the Palestinians that have not yet been returned to their relatives as soon as possible so they can be buried in accordance with their traditions and religious customs, and to avoid that similar situations are repeated in the future.”

The ICJP and JLAC urge the UN Special Rapporteurs take active steps to investigate the violations highlighted in the Communication.

Haydee Dijkstal, instructed Counsel (External) for ICJP stated that: “the information submitted to the Special Rapporteurs as to the violations committed against eight Palestinian individuals and the pain these violations have caused clearly highlights the cruelty of Israel’s documented practice of withholding bodies. It is important to recognise that the experience of these families is not unique but part of a systematic pattern of denying Palestinians the fundamental right to grieve and honour their loved ones through their religion, culture and traditions, and must be viewed in the context of Israel’s obligations to ensure and protect these rights.”

Issam Aruri, JLAC’s General Director stated that: “Detaining Palestinian bodies is a compound crime as it may conceal potential crimes such as extrajudicial killing, and prevents the possibility of carrying out forensic autopsy. In addition, this policy is in contempt of the dignity of the dead, and is considered as a collective punishment that includes the families of the victims, and may amount to torture.

As long as the occupation’s accountability is absent for the grave violations of International Humanitarian Law, these crimes are likely to increase, and will lead to more frustration and despair amongst Palestinians, fuelling violence and hatred in the region…”.

Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton, founders of The Last Rights Project, stated that: “Using the bodies of the dead as ‘bargaining chips’ is to dehumanise their lives, to dehumanise their families and to dehumanise all of society. Our loved ones are neither commodities nor hostages. It is never acceptable.”