GENEVA (27 April 2018) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday called on Israel to ensure that its security forces do not resort to the use of excessive force, following the many deaths and injuries sustained by Palestinians, including children, in Gaza over the past month. He also called for those responsible to be held accountable.
During the past four weeks, 42 Palestinians have been killed and over 5,500 injured – 1,739 by live ammunition fired by the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) – along the fence in Gaza. Thirty-five of those killed were taking part in demonstrations as part of the “Great March of Return”. Most of them appear to have been unarmed or not presenting an imminent threat to the ISF at the time of their killing or injury. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
“Every week, we witness instances of use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators,” said the High Commissioner. “Warnings 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.”
Under international law, Palestinians have the right to peaceful assembly and expression. Israeli security forces, in policing the Gaza fence, must use only necessary and proportionate means to discharge their duties. Exceptionally, they may resort to lethal force in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury. It is difficult to see how tire-burning or stone-throwing, or even Molotov-cocktails thrown from a significant distance at heavily protected security forces in defensive positions can be seen to constitute such threat. In 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.
“The loss of life is deplorable, and the staggering number of injuries caused by live ammunition only confirms the sense that excessive force has been used against demonstrators – not once, not twice, but repeatedly,” said Zeid. “I am doubly concerned by reports of unusually severe injuries resulting from the use of live ammunition. Furthermore, many of those seeking treatment outside of Gaza have been refused permits by Israel to leave, which has increased the suffering.”
The impact on children is of great concern. Since 30 March 2018, four children have been shot dead by Israeli forces, three of them by a bullet to the head or neck. A further 233 children have been injured by live ammunition, with some sustaining injuries that will result in lifelong disabilities, including through the amputation of limbs.
“The use of excessive force against any demonstrator is reprehensible, but children enjoy additional protection under international law,” said Zeid. “It is difficult to see how children, even those throwing stones, can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel.”
“Images of a child being shot as he runs away from Israeli security forces are downright shocking,” he added, referring to the case of 14 year-old Mohammad Ayyoub who was killed by a bullet to the head on 20 April.
The events of recent weeks build on a background of years of concerns expressed by the UN and others of excessive use of force by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza.
“These trends call into question to what extent the ISF’s rules of engagement, which are not public, are in line with international law, or at least to what degree the ISF abides by its own rules,” said Zeid.
The deaths and injuries sustained in Gaza over the past weeks also underline the importance of a strong accountability system for any alleged crime, as highlighted by the Secretary-General when he called for an independent and transparent investigation into recent killings.
“Every country has the primary human rights obligation to ensure that all loss of life and serious injury is investigated and those responsible held to account under the criminal law. Any investigations into the events in Gaza must fulfil this purpose,” Zeid stressed.
“Unfortunately, in the context of this perennial and asymmetric conflict, serious investigations only seem to take place when video evidence has been gathered independently,” the UN Human Rights Chief added. “For the many more alleged killings of unarmed civilians by Israeli security forces that take place off camera, there seems to be little or no effort to apply the rule of law.”
“I am extremely concerned that by the end of today -- and next Friday, and the Friday after that -- more unarmed Palestinians who were alive this morning will have been killed, simply because, while exercising their right to protest, they approached a fence, or otherwise attracted the attention of the soldiers on the other side,” Zeid said. “Israel’s failure to consistently prosecute violations committed by members of its security forces, encourages them to use deadly force against their fellow unarmed human beings, even when they present no threat.”
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