23 July 2014
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has agreed to launch an international inquiry into violations that may have been committed during Israel's latest military offensive in Gaza.
Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, warned earlier that Israel may have committed war crimes in its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in the past two weeks.
Pillay told an emergency debate at the UNHRC in Geneva that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians.
"There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Pillay said, citing air strikes and the shelling of homes and hospitals. The killing of civilians in Gaza, including dozens of children, raised concerns over Israel's precautions and its respect for proportionality, she said.
She also condemned Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, and other armed Palestinian groups, for their "indiscriminate attacks" on Israel.
At the end of an emergency session, the 47-member Geneva state forum adopted a resolution presented by Palestinians by a vote of 29 states in favour, one against (the United States) with 17 abstentions (including some European Union members).
The resolution begins:
The Council strongly condemns the failure of Israel, the occupying Power, to end its prolonged occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; and condemns in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 13 June 2014 that may amount to international crimes, directly resulting in the killing of more than 650 Palestinians, most of them civilians and more than 170 of whom are children, the injury of more than 4,000 people and the wanton destruction of homes, vital infrastructure and public properties.
Pillay's comments, in a debate held at the request of Egypt, Pakistan and the state of Palestine (which has observer status at the UN), were in response to a resolution calling for an investigation into the Gaza campaign, launched on 8 July with the declared objective of halting rocket fire into Israel.
The UN human rights council body has a majority that is pro-Palestinian. Israel only recently rejoined it after a 20-month boycott.
The resolution called for the urgent dispatch of "an independent, international commission of inquiry" to investigate "all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip".
On past precedent, Israel would be highly unlikely to cooperate with any such investigation. That was its position with the Goldstone investigation into its Operation Cast Lead offensive of 2008-09, which killed about 1,400 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel rejected that report as prejudiced and full of errors, and dismissed the charge that it had a policy of deliberately targeting civilians.
Pillay also called for an end to the blockade of Gaza, the underlying reason for the conflict and an issue that will have to be tackled if any ceasefire is to endure.
Israel's envoy to the UNHRC, Eviatar Manor, responded to Pillay's comments by accusing Hamas of committing war crimes and insisted that Israel was acting as any other state would in seeking to defend its citizens. "There can be no moral symmetry between a terrorist aggressor and a democracy defending itself," he argued.
Hamas, he said, was a terrorist organisation, not the Salvation Army. It was responsible for civilian casualties because it was using people as "human shields".
Riyadh Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, appealed to the international community for Israel to be held accountable for its actions in Gaza. "How many martyrs must die before Israel puts an end to its aggression?" he asked.
Pillay, whose term at the UNHRC is due to end shortly, has been active in trying to highlight the issue of war crimes committed in Syria. But she has failed to overcome divisions in the UN security council, which have prevented attempts to get the Syrian government referred to the international criminal court.
Ian Black, "UN human rights body to investigate claims of Israeli violations in Gaza" The Guardian UK
23 July 2014
"United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Gaza: Full Text" NDTV
23 July 2014