World: UN report calls for accountability, justice for violations by all parties in OPT and Israel

Geneva, 23 February, 2024.- A UN Human Rights Office report issued today calls for accountability and justice across the board for serious violations of the laws of armed conflict and other gross human rights violations committed by all parties in Gaza, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel over the 12-month period up to 31 October 2023.

“The entrenched impunity reported by our Office for decades cannot be permitted to continue. There must be accountability on all sides for violations seen over 56 years of occupation and the 16 years of blockade of Gaza, and up to today,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said. “Justice is a pre-requisite for ending cycles of violence and for Palestinians and Israelis to be able to take meaningful steps towards peace.”

The report raises a broad range of concerns of unlawful killings, hostage-taking, the wanton destruction of civilian property, collective punishment, and deprivation of essential services, strikes on civilian infrastructure, forced displacement, incitement to hatred and violence, sexual assault and torture, all prohibited by international human rights law and/or international humanitarian law (IHL).

Further investigations are needed to establish the full extent of crimes under international law committed, adds the report.

Türk urged all parties to immediately cease violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law and to conduct prompt, independent, impartial, thorough, effective, and transparent investigations into all alleged violations. All those responsible for violations must be held to account in fair trials.

He called on all parties to cooperate with international mechanisms for accountability, including the International Criminal Court, as well as the International Court of Justice.

The report said Al Qassam, the armed wing of Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups committed serious violations of international law on a wide scale on 7 and 8 October. These included attacks directed against civilians, wilful killing and mistreatment of civilians, wanton destruction of civilian objects and the taking of hostages, which amount to war crimes. Accounts that members of Palestinian armed groups and others committed rape, sexual assault, and torture require further investigation and full accountability in accordance with international law.

The ensuing military response by Israel – and its choice of means and methods of warfare – have led to massive suffering of Palestinians, including the killing of civilians on a broad scale, extensive, repeated displacement, destruction of homes, and the denial of sufficient food and other essentials of life, the report states. Women and children have suffered especially. Clear violations of international law have been committed, it adds.

Additionally, the severe restrictions on the supply of basic services and humanitarian aid imposed by Israel on Gaza have raised the spectres of famine, dehydration, and the spread of disease. Most of the population has been repeatedly displaced and crammed into shelters. The blockade and siege imposed on Gaza amount to collective punishment and may also amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which are war crimes, and may also, depending on further investigation, amount to other serious crimes under international law, the report states.

The report identified three emblematic incidents, amongst numerous others, which further raise very serious concerns about compliance with international humanitarian law. Two strikes on Jabalia Refugee Camp and one on Al-Yarmouk, Gaza City, involved the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas. The strikes resulted in enormous destruction. The UN Human Rights Office verified a combined 153 deaths in the attacks, but the number could be as high as 243. No warning was given, nor any effort made to evacuate residential buildings prior to these strikes, according to reports.

“The use of such weapons in densely populated areas raises serious concerns as to how such attacks comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in the conduct of military operations, given the indiscriminate effects of such weapons when used in such areas and the foreseeability of the extensive loss of civilian life,” said Türk. “Launching an indiscriminate attack resulting in death or injury to civilians, or an attack in the knowledge that it will cause excessive incidental civilian loss, injury or damage, are war crimes.”

The report also decried attacks damaging or destroying a large number of hospitals across Gaza. Medical facilities are protected infrastructure under international humanitarian law.

The UN report also called for accountability with respect to Israeli practices in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since 7 October, it noted a significant increase in unlawful killings, mass arrests, ill-treatment, and disproportionate restrictions on movement.

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