UN expert horrified by death of Gazan orthopedic surgeon in Israeli detention

GENEVA (16 May 2024) – The death of a renowned Palestinian orthopedic surgeon after nearly four months in detention was “horrifying”, a UN expert said today, demanding an independent international investigation into the circumstances of his demise.

“I am horrified at the news about the death of Dr. Adnan Al Bursh while being detained by Israel,” said Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.

Dr. Al Bursh, 50, was the head of the orthopedic department at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. He reportedly died on 19 April 2024 in Ofer prison, an Israeli detention facility in the West Bank, and his body has not yet been released by Israeli authorities.

Mofokeng said he 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.

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

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

“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.

“I am deeply saddened that I continue to receive reports of doctors being killed in this conflict,” Mofokeng said. 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 World Health Organization has reported that at least 214 healthcare workers have been detained by Israeli forces while on duty.

“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,” the UN expert said.

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

The Special Rapporteur called for Israel to immediately release all healthcare workers arbitrarily detained in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and urgent, independent and impartial investigations, and accountability for those who have unlawfully detained and killed them.

“I repeat my call for an immediate ceasefire,” she said.

Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng is the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.