Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (May18/05)
23 May 2018
Third World Network
United Nations: HRC holds Special Session on Gaza violence
Published in SUNS #8684 dated 22 May 2018
Geneva, 18 May (Kanaga Raja) - Israel, as an occupying power under
international law, is obligated to protect the population of Gaza
and ensure their welfare, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said Friday, highlighting the "appalling"
recent events in Gaza.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the opening
of the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on "the
deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory
including East Jerusalem", urged Israel to act in accordance
with its international obligations.
"Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past
week," Zeid said.
[The Council, at the close of its Special Session on Friday afternoon,
adopted a resolution whereby it decided to urgently dispatch an independent,
international commission of inquiry.]
The Special Session was convened 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 was supported by 17 States members of the Council: Angola,
Burundi, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Pakistan,
Panama, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, United
Arab Emirates and Venezuela, and by nine observer states: Bahrain,
Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kuwait, Maldives, Oman, Tajikistan
Since Tuesday, an additional 24 States have signed on in support of
holding the Special Session: Algeria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile,
China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Iran, Ireland, Liechtenstein,
Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia,
Portugal, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
In his opening statement on Friday, Zeid pointed out that since the
protest s began on 30 March, 87 Palestinians have been killed by the
Israeli security forces in the context of the demonstrations, including
12 children; 29 others, including three children, were killed in other
And over 12,000 people have been injured, more than 3,500 of them
by live ammunition.
The violence reached a peak on Monday 14 May, when 43 demonstrators
were killed by Israeli forces - and the number sadly continues to
climb, as some of the 1,360 demonstrators injured with live ammunition
that day succumb to their wounds.
According to the Rights chief, these people, many of whom were completely
unarmed, were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs
with live ammunition, as well as rubber-coated steel bullets and tear
Israeli forces also killed a further 17 Palestinians outside the context
of the five demonstration hot spots.
Together, said Zeid, this figure of 60 is the highest one-day death
toll in Gaza since the 2014 hostilities.
The High Commissioner said this was not "a PR [public relations]
victory for Hamas", in the reported words of a senior Israeli
military spokesman. It was a tragedy for thousands of families, Zeid
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has described the
demonstrators as being "paid by Hamas", and that the Israeli
security forces "try to minimize casualties".
But there is little evidence of any attempt to minimize casualties
on Monday, Zeid pointed out.
Although some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used sling-shots
to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel, and attempted to
use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel, these
actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life
or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force, Zeid
The stark contrast in casualties on both sides is also suggestive
of a wholly disproportionate response: on Monday, on the Israeli side,
one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone.
"Killings resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying
power may also constitute wilful killings - a grave breach of the
Fourth Geneva Convention," the High Commissioner underlined.
Palestinians have exactly the same human rights as Israelis do, he
said. "They have the same rights to live safely in their homes,
in freedom, with adequate and essential services and opportunities.
And of this essential core of entitlements due to every human being,
they are systematically deprived."
He said that all of the 1.9 million people who live in Gaza have been
penned in behind fences and have suffered progressively more restrictions
and greater poverty.
The High Commissioner said after 11 years of blockade by Israel, they
have little hope of employment, and their infrastructure is crumbling,
with an electricity crisis, inadequate health services and a decaying
sewage system that constitutes a threat to health.
They are forced to seek exit permits from Israel for any reason, including
for specialised health care, and many of those permits are denied
or delayed - including permits for the great majority of the demonstrators
shot by Israeli security forces this week.
"Israel, as an occupying power under international law, is obligated
to protect the population of Gaza and ensure their welfare. But they
are, in essence, cage d in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived
of dignity; dehumanised by the Israeli authorities to such a point
it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women
have a right, as well as every reason, to protest," said the
He noted that the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian
territory continues to deteriorate.
Settlement building has again accelerated this year, together with
rising settler violence. Demolitions of private property continue,
including punitive demolitions, which constitute a deplorable form
of collective punishment.
The small Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar, just east of Jerusalem,
is at high risk of forcible transfer. This week, the villages of Beita
and Nabi Saleh were subjected to closures and restrictions on movement
following clashes with the Israeli forces.
Zeid said that Israel also continues to detain large numbers of Palestinians,
including children, although under international law the detention
of a child must be a measure of last resort.
"I also deplore the widespread and unprincipled use of detention
without trial - described as "administrative detention"
- and violations of fundamental fair trial guarantees. And the deficit
in accountability for alleged extrajudicial killings and other violations,
as previously reported by the Secretary General and my Office, undermines
confidence in Israeli justice."
The High Commissioner endorsed calls by many States and observers
for an investigation that is international, independent and impartial
- in the hop e the truth regarding these matters will lead to justice.
Those responsible for violations must in the end be held accountable,
In this context, as in all conflicts where impunity is widespread,
unless ended by a peace settlement, excessive violence - both horrifying
and criminal - flows easily from the barrel of a gun, becomes normal,
destroying the occupied perhaps, but something crucial too in the
occupier - what do you become when you shoot to kill someone who is
unarmed, and not an immediate threat to you?
"You are neither brave, nor a hero. You have become someone very
different to that," said Zeid.
And then there is the fear and hatred - those dreadful twins, prolific
in the manufacturing of violence and human suffering, now transforming
into a psychosis - on both sides - more tightly spun, and more corrosive.
"And to what end? So we will all be destroyed?"
The occupation must end, so the people of Palestine can be liberated,
and the people of Israel liberated from it. End the occupation, and
the violence and insecurity will largely disappear, said the High
He urged Israel to act in accordance with its international obligations.
"Palestinians' right to life, their right to security of the
person and rights to freedom of assembly and expression must be respected
All individuals' right to health must be respected and protected,
regardless of the context in which they may have been injured.
"The rules of engagement for Israel's security forces must be
in line with Israel's international obligations, and I urge that they
Zeid said children should never be the targets of violence and must
not be put at risk of violence or encouraged to participate in violence.
"I again remind all concerned that lethal force may only be used
in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort, in response to an
imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury," Zeid concluded.
SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR'S MESSAGE
Meanwhile, Mr Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on situation of
human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, delivered
a vide o message to the Special Session on behalf of the Coordination
Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council (representing
the various mandate holders).
He said that the events in Gaza this past week, and these past two
months, and these past eleven years, haunt the conscience of the international
A tiny crowded enclave of land, holding two million people under occupation,
cut off from the outside world by an imposing and comprehensive air,
sea and land blockade, living in an utterly dire situation that the
United Nations has called unsustainable and unlivable and a form of
collective punishment, seeking the elemental human demands of freedom,
justice and the right to enjoy the fruits of life, like anyone else.
Mr Lynk noted that earlier this week, an inspiring young Palestinian
journalist in Gaza, Ahmed Abu Ratima, wrote a compelling plea that
was published in the New York Times. He is one of the organizers of
the Great Return March.
Mr. Abu Ratima pointed out that most people his age have never been
permitted to leave Gaza, ever. They led lives of despair: lacking
jobs, electricity, clean water, hope, housing, a functioning economy,
well-stocked hospitals and the ability to experience the wider world.
He wrote about birds that he would watch fly overhead, freely crossing
a border that he could not.
The rights expert said the Gazan demonstrations have been almost entirely
unarmed and non-violent. Thousands and thousands marching, singing,
protesting against their conditions, and demanding the right to a
"Yes, some threw Molotov cocktails, or flew burning kites, or
rushed the wire fences at the Gaza frontier. But the overwhelming
majority have been commit ted to non-violence over the past seven
weeks, armed only with the oldest and most human of aspirations: to
live free in one's own land."
Mr Lynk noted that over the past seven weeks, over 100 Palestinian
demonstrators have died at the hands of the Israeli military. Among
the dead are children, journalists, health medics and many, many young
unemployed men. Approximately 12,000 have been injured.
According to statements by Doctors Without Borders, many of the wounded
have received devastating injuries of an unusual severity, which are
extremely complex to treat.
Many of these wounded now have serious, life-long physical disabilities.
All of this has overwhelmed an already- fragile health care system,
and will burden a desperately poor society.
"Who bears responsibility for all this?," Mr Lynk asked.
It must start with Israel, and its political and military command.
It is Israel that has imposed the 11-year-old travel and economic
blockade that has strangled the Gazan economy and society.
It is Israel that remains the occupying power, because it maintains
"effective control" - the governing test under the laws
of occupation - over Gaza and its inhabitants.
And it is the Israel Defense Forces which, over the past seven weeks,
has fired lethal ammunition again and again into the crowds of demonstrators,
notwithstanding the calls of the international community and the demands
of human rights defenders.
Responsibility for the grim conditions in Gaza also rest with Hamas,
with the Palestinian Authority and with Egypt. They must also fulfill
their obligations to the people of Gaza.
"And responsibility as well rests with the international community.
It is you who bears the ultimate obligation for ensuring that Israel
respects all of its many unmet obligations under international law,"
said the Special Rapporteur.
He reminded the Council of the legal obligations that arise in this
situation: Israel, as occupying power, is obligated to uphold and
respect the human rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territory.
"Palestinians, as all of us, are entitled to their human rights.
These include the right to peaceful assembly, as set forth in Article
21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and
treaty, which Israel has ratified."
The Human Rights Council has noted, in its resolution 24/5, that States
are obligated to respect and fully protect this right, including for
those espousing dissenting views.
He said he has noted repeatedly in his statements over the past weeks
his concern about Israel's excessive use of force.
"Once again, I will refer to the Basic Principles on the Use
of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which require
law enforcement officials to refrain from using lethal force on demonstrators
unless strictly unavoidable in order to prevent death or serious injury."
The Special Rapporteur pointed out that the "willful killing"
and the "willful causing of great suffering or serious injury
to body or health" of civilian s is both a grave breach of the
Geneva Conventions and a war crime under the Rome Statute.
Mr Lynk noted that the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal
Court has issued a caution regarding the violence against civilians
in Gaza last month.
"I would like to echo the sentiment of the High Commissioner,
and highlight that an attempt to approach the fence, to damage the
fence, or even to cross the fence, by an unarmed individual faced
with heavily armed soldiers, does not constitute a threat to life
or serious injury that would justify the use of lethal force."
Similarly, stones, or even Molotov cocktails, thrown at significant
distances towards well-protected and heavily armed security forces
behind defensive positions, would not rise to the level of threat
necessary to justify use of lethal force.
This is a profoundly asymmetrical situation. Thousands of unarmed
demonstrators, shorn of hope, but marching with dignity, living in
one of the poorest societies in the region, against the most militarily
powerful and economically advanced society in the region.
"Israel has been exacting an eye for an eyelash, because it can,"
said My Lynk.
Any condemnation of these recent events would be empty unless it is
accompanied by the pursuit of justice and accountability.
Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur called upon the international
community , through the United Nations, to conduct an independent
and impartial investigation into the killings and injuries that have
occurred in the context of these demonstrations since 30 March.
"Israelis and Palestinians are bound to each other. They live
under the same sky, in the same land. Their futures are intertwined.
It is in the best interest s of both for the Palestinians to finally
be able to live in freedom and dignity, and for Israelis to finally
free themselves from the yoke of their occupation. Pursuing account
ability, and defending human rights, is the only path to that future,"
CSOs CALL FOR COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
Meanwhile, some 95 civil society organizations, in a joint statement
issued on 17 May, have called on the UN Human Rights Council to urgently
launch a "Commission of Inquiry" to investigate the violence
against protesters in Palestine.
In light of the recent mass killing of civilians in occupied Palestine,
the 95 CSOs called on the Human Rights Council to urgently launch
an independent investigation into violations of international human
rights and humanitarian law by Israel in the occupied Palestinian
territory, occurring in the context of the "March of Great Return"
and Nakba protests.
They noted that there are currently over seven million Palestinian
refugees spread across the globe, including 1.3 million refugees in
the Gaza Strip.
As the result of decades of dispossession, oppression and violations
of international law, including 11 years of unlawful closure and blockade
of the Gaza Strip, Palestinians therein and elsewhere in occupied
Palestine have embarked on a six-week campaign of largely peaceful
protests, starting on 30 March 2018.
"The actions by the Israeli forces in response to the demonstrations,
particularly those taking place in the eastern parts of the Gaza Strip,
amount to excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of lethal
force. They may also amount to widespread wilful killings and may
constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity," said the
They noted that on 28 April 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights stated that, "[i]n the context of an occupation such as
Gaza, killings resulting from the unlawful use of force may also constitute
wilful killings which are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention."
According to the joint statement of the CSOs, since the start of these
large-scale protests, approximately 111 Palestinians have been killed,
including 12 children, two journalists, and four persons with disabilities.
During the same period, approximately 7,000 were injured, including
1,244 children, 253 women, 42 paramedics, and 60 journalists - at
least 3,615 of whom were hit by live fire.
The statement said that in response to the demonstrations, the Israeli
military has allegedly been using live ammunition intentionally with
the aim of killing and seriously injuring civilians, as demonstrated
by the use of high-velocity, military-grade weapons that cause devastating,
and in some cases life-changing injuries.
In response to these events, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio
Guterres has called for independent investigations into the killings,
while the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein,
has echoed this call and highlighted that "[e]very week, we witness
instances of use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators"
and that "[w]arnings by the United Nations and others have seemingly
gone unheeded, as the approach of the security forces from week to
week does not seem to have changed."
The CSOs pointed out that the Israeli government continues to disregard
the numerous recommendations by UN officials to exercise restraint
in its response to the protests in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere in
"In fact, the Israeli military has increased the use of force
against the civilian population in violation of its obligations under
international law to ensure the welfare and respect of the fundamental
rights of the occupied population under its control."
The statement noted that the escalating protests over the last six
months intensified following the announcement of 6 December 2017 by
US President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocating
its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in blatant disregard for international
On Monday, 14 May 2018, the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem
entrenched and endorsed Israel's annexation of Jerusalem, in violation
of Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations on the prohibition
of annexation - a general principle of international law - and in
breach of Israel's obligations as an Occupying Power under Article
47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns the protection
of the occupied Palestinian population from any measures of "annexation
by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory ."
The CSOs joined the UN Secretary General and High Commissioner for
Human Rights' calls for action, and specifically demanded that the
UN Human Rights Council urgently establish a Commission of Inquiry
with a view to: (i) ensuring legal accountability for perpetrators
of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,
including for individual and command responsibility, and (ii) facilitating
and expediting existing international investigations and examinations.
The Human Rights Council should also encourage the International Criminal
Court to urgently open a full investigation into alleged international
crimes committed by the Occupying Power.
The CSOs further called for an end to the 51 years of occupation of
Palestinian territory, including the immediate lifting of the closure
and blockade of the Gaza Strip.
In the words of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights "enough
is enough," they said.