International

UN Human Rights Council to probe Israel-Gaza conflict as potential 'war crimes'

The U.N. Human Right Council has passed a resolution aimed to intensify scrutiny of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, after the U.N. rights chief said Israeli forces may have committed war crimes in their war with Hamas.

The 11-day conflict killed at least 248 in Gaza, including 66 children and 39 women. In Israel, 12 people also died, including two children, before both sides agreed to a ceasefire.

The 24-9 vote, with 14 abstentions, capped a special Human Rights Council session on the rights situation faced by Palestinians.

The resolution was presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and debated during a special one-day council session focused on the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians earlier this month.

The resolution, which was denounced by Israel, calls for the creation of a permanent “Commission of Inquiry” — the most potent tool at the council’s disposal — to monitor and report on rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, according to AP.

The commission is also to investigate “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict” including discrimination and repression, according to the text..

The resolution also calls on states to refrain from “transferring arms” when they asses “a clear risk” that such weapons might be used to commit serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law. That appeared aimed to countries that ship weapons to Israel, according to AP.

After the vote, the U.S. mission in Geneva said the United States “deeply regrets” the move to create an “open-ended” Commission of Inquiry. It said some unspecified member states of the council “have chosen to engage in a distraction that adds nothing to ongoing diplomatic and humanitarian efforts” in the region.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet

Addressing the Council meeting in Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, called on Thursday for a “genuine and inclusive peace process” to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a repeat of recent deadly clashes that have been marked by possible war crimes by Israeli security forces.

Ms. Bachelet condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Gaza’s de facto authority Hamas, which claimed 10 lives in Israel, and strikes inside the enclave by Israeli Security Forces that left 242 dead.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights also welcomed the 21 May ceasefire but warned that it was only “a matter of time” until the next flare-up, unless the root causes of this latest escalation were addressed.

Addressing the issue of possible war crimes, Ms. Bachelet reminded the Council’s 47 Member States that Israeli airstrikes in densely populated areas had “resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure”.

Such attacks may constitute war crimes ‘if found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects”, the High Commissioner explained via video link.

Special Rapporteur

Also addressing the Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, repeated his call for the latest escalation – the most serious since 2014 - to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Describing Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison”, Mr. Lynk added that the enclave was nothing more than a “tiny sliver of land, holding more than two million people under occupation, cut off from the outside world by a comprehensive and illegal air, sea and land blockade”.

Israel alone had the authority to determine “who and what enters and leaves the (Gaza) Strip”, insisted the Special Rapporteur, who is independent of the UN and answers to the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council.

“When intensive violence revisits the Palestinians in Gaza, as it regularly does, there is no escape. That this medieval restriction on basic freedoms has gone on for 14 years, and counting, is a harrowing stain on our humanity.”

Israel would not end its occupation “without decisive international action” that is grounded in the framework of rights, the independent rights expert continued.

He insisted that Israel’s “occupation has become as entrenched and as sustainable as it has because the international community has never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power”.

Highlighting the human cost of the recent escalation, the Special Rapporteur pointed to the killing of Dr Ayman Abu Alouf, head of internal medicine at Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical centre.

“He was killed last week by an Israeli missile strike on his apartment building along with 12 members of his extended family, including his parents, his wife, and his 17-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter”, said Mr. Lynk.

West Bank fragmentation

Echoing the High Commissioner’s concerns over violence in the occupied West Bank, the Special Rapporteur also noted that demonstrations since May 10 at events in Gaza and in East Jerusalem had led to 27 Palestinians being killed by Israeli security forces and 6,800 injured.

“The 2.7 million Palestinians on the West Bank live in 167 fragmented islands of land, separated from the world and each other by Israeli checkpoints, walls, settlements and settler-only roads,” said Lynk. “Their collective future is being devoured before their eyes by the 240 Israeli settlements expanding on their lands.”

Justified defense

Defending its actions, Israel’s delegation justified attacks on Gaza, claiming that more than 4,400 rockets had been fired “at Israeli civilians” by Hamas over a 10-day period beginning 10 May.

The Israeli ambassador insisted that Hamas had fired rockets “indiscriminately, targeting civilians, to kill as many innocent people as possible. Israel takes all steps to adhere to the principles of distinction, proportionality, and necessity. We do so not only because of our obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict but also because it is our moral duty to protect innocent lives.”

The results of the vote were as follows:

In favour (24): Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Indonesia, Libya, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Against (14): Bahamas, Brazil, Denmark, Fiji, France, India, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Togo and Ukraine.

Abstentions: (9): Austria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Germany, Malawi, Marshall Islands, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

U.S. had quitted the Council in June 2018.

—Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011^gmail.com