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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Israel/OPT: Türk says humanity must come first, urges humanitarian ceasefire

23 October 2023

On the left: Palestinians transport the body of a victim from the rubble after Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 23, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP - On the right: Journalists take cover behind cars as Israeli soldiers take position during clashes with Palestinian fighters near the Gevim Kibbutz, close to the border with Gaza on October 7, 2023. © Oren ZIV / AFP

GENEVA (23 October 2023) – UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk today called for a broad humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and Israel. He also called on the parties to the conflict to redouble efforts to ensure proper compliance with international law.

“Far too many civilian lives, many of them children, have already been lost – on both sides - as a consequence of these hostilities. And, unless something changes, coming days will see more civilians on the brink of death from continuing bombardment. Humanity must come first,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza, already strangled by 16 years of blockade, is now verging on catastrophe due to lack of water, power, sanitation, essential medicine, food, and other basic necessities, Türk said. Reports of overcrowding and spread of diseases are deeply worrying, even more so when hospitals are damaged and destroyed, there is a worsening shortage of medicines, and movement is heavily restricted.

“This violence will never end unless leaders stand up and take the brave and humane choices that are required by fundamental humanity. The first step must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, saving the lives of civilians through the delivery of prompt and effective humanitarian aid, throughout Gaza, provided according to need and not limited by any other, arbitrary criteria,” he added.

Since 7 October, more than 5,000 people in Gaza have been killed, including 2,000 children, mostly as a result of IDF attacks and operations, as have 1,300 Israeli citizens and residents as a result of attacks by Palestinian armed groups. Civilians constitute the majority of those killed in both Gaza and Israel. Over 1,400, including 800 children, are reportedly trapped under rubble in Gaza. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed.

“All civilians captured and held by Palestinian armed groups must be released immediately and unconditionally. The taking and holding of hostages is prohibited by international law,” Türk said.

“Action by Israel to cut off civilians from access to essential goods and services as a form of collective punishment, also violates international law.

“The parties to the conflict must take immediate steps to comply with their international law obligations – in particular to respect the fundamental principles of necessity, distinction and proportionality and to take precautions to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian property and objects. Palestinian armed groups must cease the use of indiscriminate rockets, and the IDF must avoid using explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects,” Türk said.

Over the weekend, in some of the most intensive Israeli raids of the past two weeks on Gaza, close to 1,000 Gazans were reportedly killed, some in and around hospitals, mosques and schools where many had sought shelter and safety.        

The humanitarian aid which resumed from Egypt over the weekend is a mere drop in the ocean of what is needed, when hospitals deprived of resources are overflooded by over 15,000 wounded, Türk said.

“If more aid for Gazans, including fuel, medicine, food and water, does not arrive in days or even hours, many more people in Gaza will die, of hunger, thirst and lack of medical care,” he said. “I am deeply worried about the struggles for survival of Palestinians in Gaza, including many of my own and other UN staff.”

Türk emphasised that all parties must comply fully with the laws of war and human rights law. He also stressed the obligations under international law of third States, in particular those with influence over the parties to the conflict, to take measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, underlining that “violations of international law harm the interests of all States, and all States bound by the Geneva Conventions are called on to ensure compliance by all other parties with these rules of war”. 

“International humanitarian law is crystal clear. The protection of civilians is paramount, and any actions that contravene this will be scrutinised closely, with grave breaches risking exposure to liability for war crimes and other atrocity crimes,” Türk said.

“The laws of war must prevail. And those who flout these rules must understand that they do so with the world watching. Accountability must be served.

“There can be no double standards when we speak about human rights. The rights of one group of people are not higher than that of the other,” he added. “The rules apply equally to everyone.”

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva

Jeremy Laurence +  +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

In Nairobi

Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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