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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN Human Rights has “grave fears” about toll on civilians in Gaza

17 October 2023


Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani



With a staggering 4,200 people killed, over one million people displaced in just 10 days, and large areas in the Gaza Strip reduced to rubble, we have grave fears about the toll on civilians in the coming days. Military operations show no signs of abating, the continued siege on Gaza is affecting water supply, food, medicine and other basic needs, and there are daily indications of violations of the laws of war and international human rights law.

The death toll includes a large number of women and children, as well as at least 11 Palestinian journalists, 28 medical staff and 14 UN colleagues. It remains unclear how many more bodies may be buried in the rubble – with many families missing loved ones, terrified about their uncertain fate.

With numerous health facilities hit by bombardment and others beyond breaking point, there are serious concerns about the accessibility of medical care for the many thousands injured – and for the estimated 50,000 pregnant women, as well as people with chronic physical and mental health issues. The current hostilities are compounding already limited enjoyment of the right to health resulting from the ongoing blockade of Gaza. Attacks against medical facilities, medical personnel and the wounded and sick are prohibited under international humanitarian law.

Appalling reports that civilians attempting to relocate to southern Gaza were struck and killed by an explosive weapon must be independently and thoroughly investigated, as must all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

We urge the Israeli forces to avoid targeting civilians and civilian objects or conducting area bombardments, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, and to take precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimize, loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.

Those who managed to comply with the Israeli authorities’ order to evacuate are now trapped in the south of the Gaza Strip, with scant shelter, fast-depleting food supplies, little or no access to clean water, sanitation, medicine and other basic needs.

So far, around 400,000 IDPs are sheltered in various locations, several in UNRWA buildings. International law requires that any lawful temporary evacuation by Israel, as the occupying power, of an area on the basis of the security of the population or imperative military reasons must be accompanied by the provision of proper accommodation for all evacuees, undertaken under satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition. There appears to have been no attempt by Israel to ensure this for the 1.1 million civilians ordered to move. We are concerned that this order combined with the imposition of a “complete siege” on Gaza may not be considered as lawful temporary evacuation and would therefore amount to a forcible transfer of civilians – in breach of international law.

We echo the UN call for a humanitarian pause to enable aid delivery and to prevent further suffering and deaths of the already much beleaguered civilian population of Gaza. Urgent immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access needs to be ensured.

The latest reports indicate that around 199 Israeli are held hostages by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. And once again, we urge Palestinian armed groups to immediately and unconditionally release all civilian hostages, and to halt the use of inherently indiscriminate projectiles against Israel.

We are also concerned at increased violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since 7 October, 52 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces, and five more have been killed by settlers. We urge Israeli authorities to ensure that Israeli security forces refrain from the use of live ammunition except as a last resort to address an imminent threat to life or serious injury and we urge them to take immediate steps to end settler violence against Palestinians and to ensure the protection of the Palestinian population.

Every effort must be made to ensure the strict compliance by all parties to the laws of war in the conduct of hostilities and the treatment of civilians and persons hors de combat, and to ensure that life-saving humanitarian assistance is able to reach civilians in the Gaza Strip to prevent further unnecessary loss of life.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva

Ravina Shamdasani - +41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] or
Liz Throssell +41 22 917 9296 / [email protected] or
Jeremy Laurence + +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado - +41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

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