Amid concerns over the force-feeding of immigrant detainees, including Indians, at a “processing centre” in the US, the UN human rights office said forcible feeding of prisoners on hunger strike is “inhuman” and “unacceptable” and may amount to torture in violation of a UN convention.
At least six immigrant detainees, including Indians, were force-fed through nasal tubes by the immigration authorities after they went on a hunger strike to protest conditions at a processing centre in Texas.
The situation has drawn strong reaction from Indian-American groups that described it as violation of human rights.
Spokesperson for the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said that according to the World Medical Association, forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable.
“Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied with threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the force feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting,” she said in an email to PTI.
She added that the UN Committee Against Torture has considered that feeding against the will of persons deprived of liberty on hunger strike, who are able to take informed decisions, “may amount to torture or ill-treatment in violation of the Convention.”
The committee considered that force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike in the US constitutes ill-treatment in violation of the convention, she said.
“On a more general point, US authorities need to reinforce their efforts to ensure that judicial cases relating to migration status, including asylum requests, are dealt with in an expeditious manner. We have seen reports that show that the conditions for those having to wait in detention facilities pending judicial resolution are not always adequate,” Ms Shamdasani said.
In a statement earlier this month, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had said that 11 detainees in El Paso had refused to eat and four other individuals at different ICE detention centres across the country were also on hunger strike.
Of the 11 people starving themselves in El Paso, six were being hydrated and force-fed under court orders issued by a federal judge in mid-January – about two weeks after those detainees stopped eating, ICE said.
Ruby Kaur, a lawyer for two of the detainees in Texas, had said that her clients, like the majority of those taking part in the hunger strike there, are Indian immigrants who entered the US through southern border more than six months ago and turned themselves into officials.
“They have tubes that have been shoved through their noses and IV’s giving them fluids. It’s extremely painful and it’s against their will,” Ms Kaur had told National Public Radio.
The detainees began the hunger strike at the start of the new year to call attention to what they say are inhumane conditions, repeated verbal threats of deportation and debilitating angst created by a total absence of information about their impending asylum cases.
The Indian-American community has expressed concern over reports that federal immigration officials are force-feeding Indian detainees. North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) in a statement had said 11 Indian detainees at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas have been refusing food.
“Force-feeding to any immigrant is a violation of human rights,” NAPA executive director Satnam Singh Chahal had said.