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Gaza: Israel’s dehumanisation of displaced persons must end, says UN expert

06 March 2024

GENEVA (6 March 2024) – Five months into the assault on Gaza, Israel has lost all credibility on its claims to protect civilians in the besieged strip, a UN expert said today.

“Israel’s evacuation orders have not made the people of Gaza safer; on the contrary, they have been used to forcibly transfer and confine the civilian population in unliveable conditions,” said Paula Gaviria Betancur, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“I am appalled to hear that Israel intends to extend these orders to Rafah, the only semblance of refuge for nearly 70 per cent of Gaza’s surviving population and the only functional entry point for humanitarian aid, should Israel’s demands in negotiations not be met by the unilaterally imposed deadline of 10 March,” Gaviria Betancur said.

“Although Rafah has already come under periodic attack by Israeli forces, a full-scale ground assault would lead to unimaginable suffering. Any evacuation order imposed on Rafah under the current conditions, with the rest of Gaza lying in ruins, would be in flagrant violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, forcing people to flee to conditions of certain death – deprived of food, water, healthcare, and shelter,” the expert said.

Gaviria Betancur noted that few internal displacement crises in recent history could be characterised by such wholesale disregard for the rights of the displaced.

“IDPs in Gaza have been arbitrarily driven from their homes multiple times with no regard for their rights to life, dignity, liberty and security. It is impossible to conceive of any durable solution to their displacement, given Israel’s systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, schools, markets, and places of worship, atop the immense psychological toll the conflict has taken on the people of Gaza,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Preventing arbitrary displacement, and providing protection, assistance, and durable solutions to displaced persons are neither optional nor acts of charity,” said the expert. “They are Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law.”

The Special Rapporteur condemned Israel’s continued efforts to obstruct and weaponise humanitarian aid, including through attacks on civilians seeking aid.

“Humanitarian assistance is desperately needed to alleviate the immense suffering of the people of Gaza as well as to prevent further displacement, including potential cross-border displacement. One month ago, the International Court of Justice issued a binding order on Israel to take immediate and effective measures to permit the delivery of basic services and humanitarian aid to Gaza, as part of measures required to prevent the commission of genocide,” she recalled.

“Instead, Israel immediately launched a campaign to discredit and defund UNRWA, the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza, based on allegations for which Israel has yet to publicly provide any credible evidence,” the expert said.

“Israel has also continued to attack aid convoys and health facilities, impose arbitrary movement restrictions on humanitarian actors, and done little to hold Israeli citizens accountable for blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid. As a result, starvation and disease are running rampant, and claiming lives alongside Israel’s military actions,” she said.

“Most disturbingly, Israel appears to have expanded its assault on humanitarian aid to systematically target aid-seekers themselves,” said the Special Rapporteur. “Hundreds were reportedly massacred and injured during two Israeli attacks on civilians queuing for food aid on 29 February and 1 March. This adds to a pattern of deliberately targeting civilians seeking healthcare, like the horrific killing in January of a six-year-old girl by Israeli forces while she was waiting for an ambulance.”

“I am horrified by the depravity of killing civilians while they are at their most vulnerable and seeking basic assistance. These constitute atrocity crimes of the highest order.”

Since Israel began its military campaign, a staggering five per cent of Gaza’s population has been killed or injured, and more than 75 per cent displaced. Gaviria Betancur urged the international community to remember the humanity of these victims.

“Palestinian lives are not mere statistics. These are families struggling to make ends meet, loved ones torn apart, children trying to find joy amidst unimaginable trauma, people like anywhere else,” she said.

“The international community must abandon the fiction that Israel will respect the principles of international humanitarian and human rights law in its military operations,” the expert said.

“An immediate and permanent ceasefire, coupled with meaningful measures to document and ensure accountability for atrocities as well as secure the fundamental rights of Palestinians in Gaza, is the only path forward for the sake of our shared humanity.” 

 

*The expert: Paula Gaviria Betancur,Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what are known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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