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Onslaught of violence against women and children in Gaza unacceptable: UN experts

06 May 2024

GENEVA (6 May 2024) – UN experts* today condemned the continued and systematic onslaught of violence committed against Palestinians in Gaza, with most victims being women and children over the past seven months.

“We are horrified at details emerging from mass graves recently unearthed in the Gaza Strip. Over 390 bodies have been discovered at Nasser and Al Shifa hospitals, including of women and children, with many reportedly showing signs of torture and summary executions, and potential instances of people buried alive,” the experts said.

They noted that women, girls and children overall are among those most exposed to danger in this conflict, and that as of 29 April 2024, of 34,488 Palestinians killed in Gaza, 14,500 have been children and 9,500 women. Another 77,643 have reportedly been injured, of which 75% are estimated to be female. Over 8,000 others are reported missing or under the rubble – and the experts noted that at least half of them can be assumed to be women and children. They also noted that an estimated 63 women, including 37 mothers are being killed daily and 17,000 Palestinian children are believed to have been orphaned since the war on Gaza began.

1.7 million people are internally displaced, and 1.1. million are projected to face catastrophic levels of food insecurity. According to UN reports, a number of women and girls have also been forcefully disappeared by the Israeli military since the beginning of Israel’s onslaught. The experts noted that Israeli forces had also destroyed Gaza’s largest fertility clinic, reported to have been storing 3,000 embryos.

“The treatment of pregnant and lactating women continues to be appalling, with the direct bombardment of hospitals and deliberate denial of access to health care facilities by Israeli snipers, combined with the lack of beds and medical resources placing an estimated 50,000 pregnant Palestinian women and 20,000 new-born babies at unimaginable risk. Over 183 women per day are giving birth without pain relief, while hundreds of babies have died because of a lack of electricity to power incubators,” they said. “The dreadful conditions have resulted in increases in miscarriages by up to 300 percent. 95 per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women face severe food poverty”.

The experts said women in labour deliver their babies in horrific circumstances. According to UNFPA, around 155,000 pregnant women and new mothers are struggling to survive and access basic health care. In addition, an estimated 690,000 women and girls in Gaza who require menstrual hygiene supplies are unable to manage their menstrual cycle in privacy and with dignity with some reports of contraceptive pills being taken to avoid the unhygienic menstrual conditions.

They said unprecedented mass destruction of housing and precarious tent living conditions have disproportionately impacted women and girls, including on their personal security and privacy.

“Nothing illustrates systematic violence being inflicted on women and their children better than the story of an infant who was saved from her mother’s womb after she was killed in an Israeli attack in the Gaza Strip, and died days later in an incubator on 26 April,” the experts said.

They were dismayed at continued reports of sexual assault and violence against women and girls, including against those detained by Israeli occupation forces. The experts said the Government of Israel has continuously failed to conduct an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the reported crimes.

“We are appalled that women are being targeted by Israel with such vicious, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, seemingly sparing no means to destroy their lives and deny them their fundamental human rights,” they said.

“Israel must cease all hostilities and States must end the export of all weapons immediately. These States can no longer ignore the fact that the weapons are being used to kill and maim innocent women and children. There can be no more excuses,” the experts said. “Women and children are entitled to special protection under international humanitarian law and human rights law”.

*The experts: Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

The experts are part of what is 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. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to 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 of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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