Agenda Item 7
Geneva, 22 September 2014
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are well aware of the dramatic deterioration of the human rights situation that has taken place in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in recent months, This situation led this Council to adopt resolution S-21/1 on ”Ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” at its 21st special session on 23 July 2014.
An open-ended ceasefire is now in place. The impact of recent events will, however, continue to be felt for a long time to come. This summer’s deadly escalation of hostilities in Gaza was only the most recent one in a series of repeated escalations over the past six years. But this time the level of death and destruction was even more devastating than before.
I will now introduce a report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, submitted under item 7 pursuant to that resolution S-21/1. The report addresses the status of the resolution’s implementation in the short period since its adoption, and presents preliminary information gathered by OHCHR in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, generally covering the period from 12 June to 26 August 2014.
The sheer volume of allegations of violations of international law during this period as well as the prevailing security situation in Gaza made it impossible to undertake a complete verification and analysis of all information received in the little time available for the preparation of the present report. Monitoring and verification of violations continue in the wake of seven weeks of intense violence in Gaza (broken only by a few shaky humanitarian pauses), coupled with a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the West Bank. But there is a pressing need for more thorough investigation, and for appropriate and effective accountability measures.
Preliminary data, which continues to be revised as more information becomes available, suggests that a staggering three fourths (1,479) of a total of 2,158 Palestinian fatalities were civilians, of them over one third (506) were children. These figures have been updated as of this morning from the figures presented in the report before you, to reflect those who have died since the end of the escalation from injuries sustained during the hostilities, and the further identification as civilian or combatant of some of those killed. As of 22 September, approximately 13.7 per cent of fatalities had been identified as belonging to Palestinian armed groups, while the status of a further 384 persons killed was not yet known.
On the Israeli side, reports indicate, that in addition to 66 soldiers, at least five civilians, including one child and one foreign national were killed during hostilities, as well as one person whose status is not yet known.
More than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza were left without a habitable home to return to when the weapons finally fell silent. And as of 26 August, more than a quarter of Gaza’s entire population, 497,000 people, had been internally displaced.
These numbers speak for themselves. Gazans found themselves in an intolerable situation, trapped in the densely populated strip under blockade. As Gaza was subjected to unprecedented bombardment, many fled, but they had nowhere safe to go – they left their homes to seek safety but were hit even in the shelters they fled to. Now that the escalation appears to be over, the atmosphere has turned from fear to despair. The tragic deaths of hundreds of migrants from Gaza in the Mediterranean in recent days show just how desperate many people are to escape their miserable situation.
The report notes serious concerns of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including some that may amount to war crimes.
There are also key concerns with respect to conduct by Palestinian armed groups. These are, among others, the indiscriminate nature of rocket attacks and the reported failure to respect the inviolability of UN premises.
Conduct during the hostilities by Israeli forces raise serious concerns that international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack have not been respected. In particular, these concerns are based on the high number of civilian casualties and the widespread destruction of prima facie civilian objects, as well as preliminary case monitoring by OHCHR. With regard to incidents where UNRWA schools sheltering internally displaced were hit directly or indirectly, there are also concerns that the inviolability of UN premises has not been respected in violation of applicable international law protecting UN facilities.
Meanwhile, the situation in the West Bank remains a grave cause for concern. Following the kidnapping and horrific murder in June of three Israeli youths near Hebron, Israeli authorities resumed the practice of punitive demolitions, carried out mass arrests of Palestinians, and imposed severe movement restrictions, especially around the Hebron area. Since the launch of the Israeli military operation in Gaza on the night of 7 July 2014, events in Gaza have overshadowed continuing and serious issues in the West Bank. Between 12 June and 26 August 2014, 27 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank as a result of use of force by Israeli Security Forces. This represents a significant increase compared to recent years, and sadly, the trend is continuing in September with at least three Palestinians having been reported killed so far this month, including one who died of injuries sustained on 31 August.
It is still too soon to offer a complete picture of necessary accountability measures. However, it is already of critical importance that steps are taken at the domestic level to ensure accountability for violations of international law. I urge both sides to conduct their own investigations, which must be prompt, thorough, effective, independent, impartial and transparent. I note that the Military Advocate General of the Israeli Defense Forces recently reported that a General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments was established during the Israeli military operation.OHCHR will continue to monitor developments.
Following the 2008/2009 escalation in hostilities, the Fact-Finding Mission, mandated by this Council, recommended referring the situation to the International Criminal Court as one avenue of accountability. This recommendation remains relevant, especially in the context of the recent escalation and previous failures to ensure adequate accountability.
The Commission of Inquiry is an important investigative measure mandated to make recommendations for accountability and to report at the 28th session of this Council. I encourage both Israel and the State of Palestine to extend their full cooperation to the Commission and allow it full access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Already at the end of last year, OHCHR monitoring revealed rising tensions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, even before the explosion of events this summer. The key question before us now is how can we avoid future deteriorations? If this question is not addressed as a matter of urgency, we can expect that this Council will be discussing more violations of human rights in fresh rounds of violence in the very near future.
Accountability is one obvious response to that question; yet previous escalations in Gaza have not been followed by real accountability. The consequence of this general failure to bring justice and an adequate remedy for victims has been repeated cycles of violence and impunity.
Respect for human rights is a pre-requisite for peace. This entails an end to the blockade, which is even more urgent now given the unprecedented level of destruction in Gaza and the need to rebuild homes and essential civilian infrastructure in Gaza. It is therefore a matter of concern that most components of the Gaza humanitarian response remain unfunded, including the protection component.
A lasting peace requires all these things – meaningful accountability, the lifting of the blockade and urgent reconstruction in Gaza. Peace will not be achieved without respect for international human rights and international humanitarian law.