TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (May18/02)
17 May 2018
Third World Network

United Nations: Human Rights Council to meet 18 May over Gaza massacre
Published in SUNS #8682 dated  17 May 2018

Geneva, 16 May (Kanaga Raja) - The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is meeting in an extraordinary session on Friday, 18 May at 10 am to consider the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

The session has been convened at the request of Palestine and the United Arab Emirates (on behalf of the Arab Group) and supported by 26 other states, 17 of them members of the HRC.

The meeting takes place in the wake of the Israeli troops opening fire against demonstrators at the border fence separating Gaza and Israel, resulting (according to a New York Times report, citing Palestinian officials) in 60 killed and more than 1,700 hospitalized, in the worst one-day total casualties since the 20 14 Gaza war.

Israel said that only a small number of those shot had been armed.

Meanwhile, a United Nations human rights expert has condemned the excessive use of force by Israel towards largely unarmed demonstrators at the Gaza fence on Monday, which has left 58 Palestinians dead, and almost 2,800 wounded.

[A news report in the New York Times (about Israelis being defiant over the Gaza clashes) has cited the staggering casualty reports from the Gaza protest on Monday as 60 killed, and more than 1,700 hospitalized, according to Palestinian officials. Other media reports have characterized it as a massacre, with the NYT, in an op-ed, calling the casualties at the Gaza fence and the celebrations in Jerusalem (with participation of President Trump's daughter and son-in-law) over the opening of the US embassy there as "grotesque".]

In a news release on Tuesday, Mr Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, voiced fears that this figure could rise sharply in the coming days unless Israeli authorities uphold their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The rights expert called on the Israeli Government to immediately cease its lethal assault against protesters at the Gaza fence, who he said appear to pose no credible threat to Israeli military forces on the Israeli side of the fence.

Several United Nations agencies also voiced concerns over the violence in G aza during the regular weekly UN press briefing here on Tuesday (see below).

Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Council will be convening a special session on "the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem" this coming Friday.

The special session has been called following an official request submitted on Tuesday evening by Palestine and the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Arab Group of States.

The request has thus far been supported by the following States members of the Council (17): Angola, Burundi, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

The request was also supported by the following observer States (9): Bahrain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kuwait, Maldives, Oman, Tajikistan and Turkey.

"This blatant excessive use of force by Israel - an eye for an eyelash - must end, and there must be true accountability for those in military and political command who have ordered or allowed this force to be once again employed at the Gaza fence," Mr Lynk said on Tuesday.

"I must reiterate that international human rights law sets strict prohibitions on the use of force by law enforcement officials. Lethal force against demonstrators is prohibited unless strictly unavoidable in the case of an imminent threat to life or threat of serious injury."

Mr Lynk said: "The killing of demonstrators in violation of these rules, an d within the context of occupation, may amount to willful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as a war crime."

The rights expert also voiced deep concern at the apparent disregard by Israeli forces for the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

"These fundamental rights belong to all peoples, and they must be permitted to exercise them within reasonable bounds. There appears to be no persuasive evidence that the use of flammable kites, throwing of stones or Molotov cocktails, or other actions reportedly taken by a small number of the demonstrators presented a deadly threat that justified the force used by the Israeli military," said Mr Lynk.

According to the news release, tens of thousands of Gazans have gathered along the fence and continue to demonstrate to protest the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, as well as to continue to call for the right to return to the ir homes, and to demand an end to the unliveable humanitarian situation in Gaza brought on by Israel's 11-year blockade.

[The Israeli imposed blockade of Gaza has resulted in the residents in Gaza not being able to move out, even temporarily, and has also restricted supplies, including essential medical supplies and keeping electric power stations functioning, hospitals unable to have electricity continuously, and impairing availability of pure drinking water to the residents of Gaza.]

According to the news release, the latest reports say that 112 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded since the demonstrations began on 30 March.

The Special Rapporteur reiterated his call to the international community, through the United Nations, to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these killings, as well as those that have occurred in the context of these demonstrations since 30 March.

"Impunity for these actions is not an option. Justice for the victims must become a priority for the international community," he said.

Meanwhile, a statement attributable to the spokesperson for United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 14 May said that the Secretary-General "is profoundly alarmed by the sharp escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and the high number of Palestinians killed and injured in the Gaza protests."

"Israel security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire."

Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations have a responsibility to prevent all violent actions and provocations.

"With tensions high and more demonstrations expected in the coming days, it is imperative that everyone show the utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life, including ensuring that all civilians and particularly children are not put in harm's way," said the statement.

It noted that hospitals report that essential medical supplies, drugs and equipment have already been exhausted. "Humanitarian funding and improved access is urgently needed to meet these and other existing or emerging needs."

The ongoing violence underscores the urgent need for a political solution. According to the statement, the Secretary-General reiterates that there is no viable alternative to the two-state solution, with Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace, each with its capital in Jerusalem.

Several UN agencies spoke on the violence in Gaza during the regular weekly press briefing here on Tuesday.

"We condemn the appalling, deadly violence in Gaza yesterday [on Monday] during which 58 Palestinians were killed and almost 1,360 demonstrators were injured with live ammunition fired by Israeli security forces," said Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Of those injured, 155 are in critical condition, he said, pointing out that six children and a health worker were among those who lost their lives, and 10 journalists suffered injuries from gunshot wounds.

The already crumbling health care system in Gaza has been placed under incredible strain and those suffering life-threatening injuries face a nightmarish scenario in the absence of adequate hospital beds and medical services.

"We are still witnessing cases in which injured demonstrators are effective ly prevented by Israel from exiting Gaza for treatment," he said.

"The rules on the use of force under international law have been repeated m any times but appear to have been ignored again and again. It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press personnel, first responders, bystanders, and at almost any point up to 700 m from the fence."

He also said a number of the demonstrators did approach the fence, threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces personnel, and flew kites laden with petrol soaked material.

"Some tried to damage the fence that separates Gaza from Israel. Others burnt tires. Israeli forces responded with tear gas, plastic bullets and various types of live ammunition, some causing horrific wounds and lifelong disabilities."

"We stress, again, that lethal force may only be used as a measure of last - not first - resort, and only when there is an immediate threat to life or serious injury."

Colville said an attempt to approach, or crossing or damaging the Green-line fence do not amount to a threat to life or serious injury and are not sufficient grounds for the use of live ammunition. "This is also the case with regards to stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown from a distance at well-protected security forces located behind defensive positions."

"Again, we call for independent, transparent investigations into all cases of death and injury since 30 March. Since that date, 112 Palestinians, including 14 children, have lost their lives at the fence and thousands have been injured."

Colville said: "We are extremely worried about what may happen later today - which is obviously an emotional day on all sides - as well as in the weeks ahead. And we urge maximum restraint. Enough is enough."

Asked at the press briefing if the actions of the Israeli security forces constitute a crime against humanity or is genocide, Colville said that genocide is a word that should not be used lightly.

It is something that is extremely rarely decided upon and "it is not a word we use just at the drop of a hat like that."

In terms of whether crimes have been committed, Colville said that "I think we are strongly hinting that this is excessive use of force. An excessive use of force means something, that we would hope there would be proper investigations and anyone found to have been breaching international human rights law but also international humanitarian law, which applies because this is still seen as a conflict, would be charged if they have committed crimes."

He said in the context of an occupation such as Gaza, killings resulting from the unlawful use of force may also constitute willful killings which are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Asked about the fact that given the recent spate of killings by the Israeli security forces and there being a consistent pattern over the last several days, at what point would he call this a genocide, Colville said: "I do urge you not to re-use that word genocide."

He said there are plenty of (other) serious international crimes under international law, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

"Genocide is extremely, extremely rare. There is only a handful of occasion s where it has been judged to have happened since World War II. So I think you need to take that word out of this equation at this point."

"Yes, it's two sides and the two sides are very identifiable in terms of religion or ethnicity but that doesn't necessarily make it genocide. So I would simply drop the use of that word in this context," he maintained.

Asked if Israel has the right to defend its borders, Colville said yes, but it has to defend them according to international law and principles.

"So I think we have been very clear. The use of lethal force must only be a last resort. And you just have to look at the different casualty figures on both sides to see that it has not been used as a last resort. Huge casualties on the Palestinian side and I believe one injury maybe to an Israeli soldier through stone throwing."

So, they (Israel) are under obligation, under international law, to handle these demonstrations in a way that preserves life, unless their own lives are very clearly directly threatened, which has not been the case.

Asked as to whether it was indiscriminate, Colville, drawing attention to the casualties just yesterday, pointed to six children at least, women, and a double amputee.

"How much threat can a double amputee be making from the other side of a well-fortified fence, and a medic as well," he asked.

He said that it looks awfully like it (being indiscriminate), but that's why you need proper investigations to find out exactly what's going on the side of the Israeli security forces.

Asked about the issue of the US embassy being moved to Jerusalem, Colville said that the issue of the embassy clearly has not helped to reduce tensions by any means.

He cited the International Court of Justice as saying that under customary international law, "these were therefore occupied territories in which Israel had the status of occupying power. Subsequent events in these territories have done nothing to alter the situation. All these territories including East Jerusalem remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying power."

Colville said East Jerusalem is occupied territory and that obviously is a very important factor and has been a major factor in all of these failed peace talks for decades.

The spokesman also pointed out that the mere fact of approaching the fence is not a lethal life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot.

He said that the guidelines on policing and on handling demonstrations exist. They are longstanding and clear, but they are not being applied.

Colville said that the situation of human rights in the Middle East is "absolutely horrendous, ranging from Syria to Yemen and now to Gaza - Gaza repeatedly every few years we have one of these very major events where a lot of people lose their lives."

"It is just deplorable. I mean these are human beings. And these are clearly for the most part civilians and it's simply not acceptable just to say this is Hama s and therefore its okay. Because clearly, it's not just Hamas, it is a very wide spread feeling among virtually all Palestinians about the blockade in Gaza and how it needs to be lifted and so on, and the occupation and the settlements, and a ll the many huge and festering issues that have been there for decades."

Asked about the types of ammunition that are being used and whether it is i n itself a breach of the Convention, Colville said he did not have specific findings on the types of ammunition being used at this point.

He noted that while people focus on the deaths which are bad enough, time and time again in Gaza there have been thousands of people injured.

Jens Laerke, Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said at the press briefing that fifty-eight Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli forces during the protests on 14 May along Israel's perimeter fence with Gaza, according to numbers from the Ministry of Health in Gaza verified by the UN.

The fatalities include six children and one health worker. More than 2,700 people were also reported injured, including over 1,300 by live ammunition.

There were zero reports of fatalities on the Israeli side, but one Israeli soldier was lightly wounded and was taken to hospital for treatment yesterday.

OCHA cited the Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, as expressing his deep concern on 14 May by the tragedy unfolding in Gaza after visiting the Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Mr. McGoldrick said that the medical teams at Shifa are overwhelmed, dealing with hundreds of cases of injured, including women and children, and are running out of essential medical supplies.

He stressed that public hospitals in Gaza have less than a week of fuel reserves to continue their operations.

According to OCHA, local sources estimated that around 35,000 people participated in the demonstrations on 14 May, many more than in previous weeks.

Hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators marched from the gathering point towards the perimeter fence where they burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli forces, and flew kites with flaming materials attached to them into Israeli territory.

Israeli forces responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and by firing live ammunition, including by snipers.

According to OCHA, humanitarian responders have identified three areas of intervention to the growing crisis: providing immediate life-saving healthcare; monitoring, verifying and documenting possible protection violations; and scaling up the provision of mental health and psychological support for people injured or otherwise affected.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, said the capacity of the health sector in Gaza is already threatened in the context of more than ten years of blockade, with long-term shortages of essential medicines and medical equipment and disposables.

This month, two in every five essential drugs are completely depleted and half have less than a month's supply remaining.

Life-saving drugs used in emergency situations, such antibiotics and adrenaline are urgently needed, said WHO.

Essential life-saving medicines used in longer term health conditions such as cancer are also critically low, with 80% of medications for cancer treatment depleted or with less than a month's supply remaining, it added.