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Human Rights Council 43rd Session, Agenda Item 2, Introductory remarks by Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Geneva, 26 February 2020

Distinguished President of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

I have the honour on behalf of the High Commissioner to present this report under the Council’s item 2.

The report on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/43/21), provides an update on matters related to accountability for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including in the context of large-scale civilian protests in Gaza. It also takes into account the report and recommendations of the independent international commission of inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory established by the Human Rights Council in its resolution S-28/1 and which presented its report to this Council on 18 March 2019.

Serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law continued in the Occupied Palestinian Territory during the reporting period. Between 1 November 2018 and 31 October 2019, 131 Palestinians, including 23 children, were killed by Israeli security forces throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 11 Israelis were killed by Palestinians, including one girl.

Madam President,

Demonstrations known as the Great March of Return at the Israel-Gaza fence continued to take place almost every Friday. These remained largely peaceful, although, on some occasions, demonstrators damaged and breached the fence, threw Molotov cocktails or launched incendiary objects. Israeli security forces responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, as well as live ammunition. In this context, 39 Palestinians, including 12 children, were killed by Israeli security forces and 2,078 Palestinians, including 577 children, were injured with live ammunition. Many injuries led to permanent disabilities as a result: 55 people had limbs and/or fingers amputated, six were paralyzed and 10 partially lost their vision. 110 paramedics and 62 journalists were also injured by the security forces, dozens of them with live ammunition. Two Israeli soldiers were injured.

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, cases of excessive use of force by the Israeli security forces continued to be observed in the context of law enforcement operations. During the reporting period, 35 Palestinians were killed, including 6 children.

I am alarmed by the devastating impact that such violence increasingly has on children. The numbers of death and severity of injury to children during this reporting period alone is cause for serious concern and requires immediate action. Accountability for these incidents is critical. In the context of the Great March of Return little effort appears to have been made by the organizers of the demonstrations and the authorities in Gaza to prevent children from being exposed to violence at this fence.

Excellencies,

Regarding the 2014 escalation of hostilities in Gaza, the lack of accountability for suspected violations of international humanitarian law, including allegations of war crimes perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, persisted. There was likewise lack of progress and transparency in relation to accountability efforts linked to previous rounds of hostilities. Failure to ensure accountability for the killing and injury of Palestinians was also apparent in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Although some allegations of violations by members of the Israeli security forces were investigated, very few of them resulted in indictments, let alone convictions. It is imperative that Israel conducts effective, that is prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations of these alleged violations, ensure those responsible are brought to justice and if convicted, receive sanctions proportionate to the violations. Likewise, Palestinian authorities must conduct effective investigations with respect to allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian actors and ensure prosecution of perpetrators when appropriate.

We are also concerned that impunity prevails with regard to accountability for unlawful use of force by Israeli security forces outside the context of hostilities, confirming a worrying trend repeatedly highlighted by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner. It is deeply disturbing that the Israel Defense Forces continue to view the Great March of Return protests as events that cannot be detached from the ongoing armed conflict with armed groups in Gaza. Both the Commission of Inquiry and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights through its monitoring activities on the ground have observed that the Great March of Return demonstrations are civilian in nature and, despite occasional acts of significant violence, do not constitute combat or military campaign.

The report in front of you also examines the important gaps in accountability measures for human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza. While some steps were taken by the Palestinian Authority towards investigating some incidents of excessive use of force by the Palestinian security forces, it is important that all of the alleged violations are effectively investigated and prosecuted, as appropriate.  As to the de facto authorities in Gaza, OHCHR did not receive information indicating any measures taken to investigate or prosecute alleged incidents of excessive use of force, including those during the civilian demonstrations that took place between 14 and 16 March 2019.

Madam President,

Patterns of ongoing human rights violations are not just symptoms of the conflict but further fuel the cycle of violence.  Lack of accountability compromises chances for sustainable peace and security. Allegations of serious human rights violations must be the subject of effective, that is prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations, and those responsible brought to justice. By leaving unanswered the quest for redress, justice and truth, the suffering of victims and affected families is exacerbated, which also results in long-term psychological and social consequences. Victims of these violations and their families need – and have a right – to have access to effective remedies and full reparation, including the right to truth.

Thank you.