Violence must stop

In a resolution adopted 12 January, the Human Rights Council decided to dispatch an urgent independent international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip.

A special session of the Human Rights Council addresses the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip  - © UN Photos/ J-M Ferre

The 47-member Council adopted the resolution, with 33 voting in favour, 1 against and 13 abstentions, as it concluded its ninth special session which discussed “the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the occupied Gaza Strip”.

The resolution called for an “immediate cessation of Israeli military attacks throughout the Palestinian Occupied Territory, in particularly in the Occupied Gaza Strip that have resulted, thus far, in the killing of more than 900 and the injury to more than 4000 Palestinians, including a large number of women and children.

It also called for an “end to the launching of the crude rockets against Israeli civilians that resulted in the loss of 4 civilian lives and some injuries.”

The “urgent independent international fact-finding mission”, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, is “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian People throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression,” the resolution stated.

In her address to the special session 9 January, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “the situation is intolerable. The ceasefire called for by the UN Security Council must be implemented immediately. The violence must stop.”

She stressed unequivocally that international human rights law must apply in all circumstances and at all times, and strongly urged the parties to the conflict “to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to collect, care for and evacuate the wounded and to protect and respect health workers, hospitals, and medical units and ambulances.”

“Accountability must be ensured for violations of international law,” said the High Commissioner, who suggested that the Council should consider authorizing a mission to assess violations committed by both sides in the conflict in order to establish the relevant facts and ensure accountability.

“I remind this Council that violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crime for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked,” she said.

The High Commissioner also called on the parties to the conflict to allow the deployment of independent human rights monitors in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory to document any violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. She urged that Special Procedures mandate holders be granted unrestricted access to Gaza and the West Bank. 

In its resolution, the Council also requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to investigate the latest targeting of UNRWA facilities in Gaza, including schools, that resulted in the killing of tens of Palestinian civilians, including women and children.”

In order for a special session to be convened, the support of one-third of the membership of the Council (16 members or more) is required. A total of 32 Council members have expressed their support for holding the special session.

The special session took place following a request by Egypt, on behalf of the Arab Group and the African Group, Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

This is the ninth special session of the Human Rights Council. The Council’s previous special sessions related to Lebanon, Darfur, Myanmar, the global food crisis, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

January 2009