23 July 2014
The Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council has asked me to deliver this statement on its behalf. I fully associate my mandate to it in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
We express our dismay at the deaths, injuries, displacement, and devastation, resulting from renewed hostilities among Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups in the occupied Gaza Strip.
As of 22 July, figures of casualties recorded by the United Nations reveal the extent of the suffering: 599 Palestinians were killed (including at least 443 civilians, among them 147 children and 74 women). An estimated 3,504 others were injured, two thirds of them women and children. During the same period, thousands of rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli towns and villages killed two civilians, injured at least 15, and spread considerable fear among people in the affected areas. Armed confrontations in Gaza further resulted in the death of 27 Israeli soldiers.
Since the beginning of the hostilities, courageous human rights defenders and organizations, working often at great risk to their safety, have been documenting and exposing some of these violations. We recall, among many other reports, the video footage of the four Bakr children who were killed by an Israeli missile while playing on the beach; or the killing in the evening of 21 July in Khan Yunis of 25 people from three families, including 18 children and five women, two of them pregnant, after the building where they lived was hit by a missile.
In addition to the deaths and injuries, the destruction of numerous houses has left several thousand families homeless. An estimated 470 houses were destroyed and several thousand others damaged. Over 135,000 people have had to leave their homes and seek refuge in the schools that UNRWA has turned into temporary shelters, in public premises, hospital compounds or with relatives. OCHA estimates that 116,000 children - who have experienced bombing, death, injury, or loss of home - are in need of psychosocial support. Similarly in Israel, the incessant firing of rockets has resulted in the displacement of persons and severe psychological strain to numerous children.
Israel’s bombings have caused further damage on essential life-support infrastructures. An estimated 50% of critical sewage pumping and water treatment centres have been damaged or destroyed and are no longer operating, depriving some 900,000 people, or more than half of the population of Gaza, of basic water and sanitation services. An estimated 80% of the population receives electricity for only four hours a day. UNRWA reported that several of its schools, clinics or warehouses were damaged by air raids and other fire. Reportedly, a hospital in Deir El Balah was hit by an airstrike which killed at least four persons and injured 16.
In the meanwhile, hate speech and incitement to hatred and violence, have reached unprecedented levels, including from official personalities and in social media from all sides. This cannot be tolerated, should be unreservedly condemned and treated as criminal offences punishable by law.
The right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation cannot justify the launching of thousands of rockets and mortars directed against Israeli civilians. Rocket attacks cannot justify the disproportionate use by Israel of air, sea and ground firepower against targets, including tunnels and rocket launchers, amidst a population of 1.7 million people trapped in one of the most densely populated areas of the world.
Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution in carrying out attacks.
This latest military confrontation comes on top of the long-standing illegal blockade imposed on Gaza, which has resulted in distressing levels of poverty and severe restrictions on the enjoyment by Palestinians in Gaza of their economic and social rights. We are deeply concerned that it will further undermine the already precarious conditions of survival that the Gaza population experiences because of the blockade. This renewed episode of violence takes place in the context of a long-term occupation, which compromises the enjoyment of all human rights by individuals and undermines prospects of a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict.
We appeal to all parties to this conflict to cease this devastating cycle of violence, and resume talks aimed at a just and peaceful solution. We call on them to abide by the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. We remind them that indiscriminate and disproportionate attack against centres of population amount to war crimes. Perpetrators of such acts, as well as other human rights violations, must be held accountable. We urge prompt, independent and effective investigations into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. We welcome steps that have already been taken in this context.
We offer our independent human rights expertise to assist in the conduct of these investigations which should be guided by the principles of independence, objectivity, impartiality and credibility. All the victims of this senseless violence have a right to justice and to live free from fear and want.
We welcome the standing invitation extended by the State of Palestine to all special procedures mandate holders, and stand ready to offer our expertise on the wide range of human rights issues we cover, to support Palestinian and Israeli authorities to address them. To do so, we request the Governments of Israel and of the State of Palestine to grant us prompt and unhindered access to all affected areas in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, and call for cooperation from the relevant authorities in this regard, including with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.
We urge Israel to allow unimpeded access to humanitarian food, water, medical and other vital assistance to all civilians and affected areas, and to end the illegal blockade. We also urge Egypt to ease the restrictions at the Rafah crossing and allow the entry of essential humanitarian assistance
Lastly, we urge the international community and the Security Council to do all they can to explore avenues to foster an effective peace process that will address the causes of this conflict that has lasted for far too long and to bring about a just, peaceful, dignified and sustainable solution.