UN Committee: Disabled Palestinians in Gaza Fear Death First


GENEVA (27 May 2024) - People with disabilities in Gaza have been put in extreme distress with the expectation that they will be the first and the next to be killed because of the limited opportunities to flee or take part in evacuations due to their impairment, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) said.

In a statement published today, the Committee underscored that the absence of advance warning in accessible formats, coupled with the destruction of communication networks, had rendered evacuation impossible for Palestinians with disabilities.

"The vast destruction of housing and civil infrastructure and the resultant rubble has curtailed any possibility of movement that is essential to escape, evacuate and seek protection," the Committee said.

The Committee cited the case of Y. M., an advocate for an NGO, who had a visual impairment that made him unable to escape his house, which was located in an area under attack and bombardment. He was killed at home on 7 December 2023, leaving behind four children aged 2, 3, 8 and 10 years old.

"He did not get evacuation information in a timely or accessible format, nor did he or his relatives benefit from any specific accessible passages, accommodations, and shelters where he could have found the safety measures and escaped the airstrike," the Committee regretted that disability rights advocates, like Y.M., are among those injured, traumatised and killed.

Children with disabilities are at heightened risk of family separation, and their suffering is unendurable, the Committee warned.

The Committee was shocked by the account of a 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, a refugee in Eastern Rafah, who had lost her assistive devices, including a wheelchair, during military attacks and thus had to be carried by her parents while fleeing from North to South Gaza.

Exhausted and exposed to danger along the way, the girl cried out in desperation, "Mama, it's over. Leave me here, and you run away."

She continues to be frightened by the warnings of military operations in Rafah and is still at risk of being displaced again without her mobility devices.

The Committee was also dismayed that in overcrowded refugee camps and tents, children like Amir, a boy with intellectual disabilities who fled with his mother and brother from Khan Younis, have lost their opportunity for education and rehabilitation. Amir's condition has been deteriorating, and he has become very nervous since they moved into the tent.

Amir and the 14-year-old girl's situation exposed the ongoing psychological distress and trauma suffered by children with disabilities.

Before 7 October 2023, 21% of Gazan households reported having had at least one member with disabilities, and 58,000 people with disabilities had been identified in the official database of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Since October 7, more than 1,000 children have had their limbs amputated. These figures, however, could have rocketed after seven months of war and escalation of hostilities. It remained difficult to obtain reliable data and information about people with disabilities.

The Committee was alarmed by the disproportionate impacts on people with disabilities due to the destruction of hospitals, the cut-off of essential services, restrictions, or non-existing access to humanitarian assistance.

The Committee said it is "deeply concerned by the lack of access to medical care and medication required for treatment of chronic diseases by persons with disabilities, the lack of access to psychosocial support and their heightened risks of death during searches and attacks to hospitals, and the reported exposure to white phosphorus and toxicity causing serious risks of developing further impairments."

"The siege has caused a food crisis, which further compounds the situation for persons with disabilities who face physical barriers to get to distribution points or have no access to assistive devices or support," the Committee stated.

The Committee called for an immediate ceasefire and urged all parties to cease attacks, violence, and hostilities against civilians.

It recalled that Israel, as the occupying power in Gaza and a State party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has its obligation, under Article 11, to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of people with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict.

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