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UN Human Rights Chief urges States to defuse “powder keg” situation in Israel and OPT, as incalculable suffering, massive death tolls take hold

10 October 2023

Left : People gather at the site where a rocket landed after being launched towards Israel from the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, southern Israel, October 9, 2023. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura - Right: Smoke rises over the buildings as the Israeli airstrikes continue in Al-Rimal Neighbourhood of Gaza City, Gaza on October 9, 2023. Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency

GENEVA (10 October 2023) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Tuesday issued an urgent plea to all States with influence to take steps to defuse the “powder keg” situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He stressed that international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be respected in all circumstances.

“We are faced with an explosive powder keg situation. We know how this plays out, time and time again – the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives and incalculable suffering inflicted on both communities,” said Türk.

“All parties must respect international humanitarian law. They must immediately cease attacks targeting civilians and attacks expected to cause disproportionate death and injury of civilians or damage to civilian objects.”

The High Commissioner said he was “deeply shocked and appalled by allegations of summary executions of civilians, and, in some instances, horrifying mass killings by members of Palestinian armed groups.”

“It is horrific and deeply distressing to see images of those captured by Palestinian armed groups being ill-treated, as well as reports of killings and the desecration of their bodies,” he said. “Civilians must never be used as bargaining chips.”

“I call on Palestinian armed groups to immediately and unconditionally release all civilians who were captured and are still being held. The taking of hostages is prohibited by international law,” the High Commissioner said.

Türk stressed that it is vitally important that everyone deprived of their liberty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel is treated humanely. People’s dignity and lives must be respected.

Information gathered by the UN Human Rights Office indicates that Israeli air operations have also hit large residential towers in Gaza City and other residential buildings across Gaza, schools and premises of the UN relief and works agency, UNRWA, resulting in civilian casualties.

“International humanitarian law is clear: the obligation to take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian objects remains applicable throughout the attacks,” Türk said. The principles of distinction and the prohibition of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are paramount.

On 9 October, the Israeli authorities ordered a “full siege” of Gaza, shutting off electricity, water, food and fuel supplies. This risks seriously compounding the already dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the capacity of medical facilities to operate, especially in light of increasing numbers of injured.

“The imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” the High Commissioner said. Any restrictions on the movement of people and goods to implement a siege must be justified by military necessity or may otherwise amount to collective punishment.

The Human Rights Chief expressed deep concern at how hate speech and incitement to violence have surged since Saturday, fuelling anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the region and globally.

“We know from bitter experience that vengeance is not the answer, and ultimately innocent civilians pay the price,” Türk said.

“The world cannot afford more polarisation. We need to find solutions guided by the full respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

For more information and media requests, please contact:

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

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

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