Accountability for Israel Vital for Peace
Accountability for Israeli, Palestinian Rights Violations Vital for Peace – UN Official
A young girl walks through a severely damaged street in Gaza. Photo: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba
22 September 2014 – A senior United Nations official today urged both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to carry out their own investigations into the recent conflict and take steps to ensure accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that were committed.
Introducing a report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) into alleged violations committed since mid-June, Flavia Pansieri noted that while an open-ended ceasefire is now in place, the impact of recent events will continue to be felt for a long time to come.
“This summer’s deadly escalation of hostilities in Gaza was only the most recent one in a series of repeated escalations over the past six years. But this time the level of death and destruction was even more devastating than before,” Ms. Pansieri, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in her remarks to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The report – presenting preliminary information gathered by OHCHR in the occupied Palestinian territory generally covering the period from 12 June to 26 August 2014 – notes serious concerns of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including some that may amount to war crimes.
“The sheer volume of allegations of violations of international law during this period as well as the prevailing security situation in Gaza made it impossible to undertake a complete verification and analysis of all information received in the little time available for the preparation of the present report,” said Ms. Pansieri.
In July, the Council established the Independent International Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory, in particular the occupied Gaza Strip.
Preliminary data collected by OHCHR suggests that a “staggering” three-fourths (1,479) of a total of 2,158 Palestinian fatalities were civilians, of them over one-third (506) were children, said Ms. Pansieri.
As of 22 September, approximately 13.7 per cent of fatalities had been identified as belonging to Palestinian armed groups, while the status of a further 384 persons killed was not yet known.
On the Israeli side, reports indicate, that in addition to 66 soldiers, at least five civilians, including one child and one foreign national, were killed during hostilities, as well as one person whose status is not yet known.
Ms. Pansieri said that more than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza were left without a habitable home to return to when the weapons finally fell silent. And as of 26 August, more than a quarter of Gaza’s entire population, 497,000 people, had been internally displaced.
“These numbers speak for themselves,” said the Deputy High Commissioner. “Gazans found themselves in an intolerable situation, trapped in the densely populated strip under blockade. As Gaza was subjected to unprecedented bombardment, many fled, but they had nowhere safe to go – they left their homes to seek safety but were hit even in the shelters they fled to.
“Now that the escalation appears to be over, the atmosphere has turned from fear to despair. The tragic deaths of hundreds of migrants from Gaza in the Mediterranean in recent days show just how desperate many people are to escape their miserable situation.”
There are also key concerns with respect to conduct by Palestinian armed groups, Ms. Pansieri continued, including the indiscriminate nature of rocket attacks and the reported failure to respect the inviolability of UN premises.
Also, conduct during the hostilities by Israeli forces raise serious concerns that international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack have not been respected.
“In particular, these concerns are based on the high number of civilian casualties and the widespread destruction of prima facie civilian objects, as well as preliminary case monitoring by OHCHR,” she stated.
With regard to incidents where UNRWA schools sheltering internally displaced were hit directly or indirectly, there are also concerns that the inviolability of UN premises has not been respected in violation of applicable international law protecting UN facilities.
Meanwhile, the situation in the West Bank remains a “grave cause for concern,” Ms. Pansieri stated, noting that following the kidnapping and horrific murder in June of three Israeli youths near Hebron, Israeli authorities resumed the practice of punitive demolitions, carried out mass arrests of Palestinians, and imposed severe movement restrictions, especially around the Hebron area.
“It is still too soon to offer a complete picture of necessary accountability measures,” she said. “However, it is already of critical importance that steps are taken at the domestic level to ensure accountability for violations of international law. I urge both sides to conduct their own investigations, which must be prompt, thorough, effective, independent, impartial and transparent.”
She stressed that a lasting peace requires meaningful accountability, the lifting of the blockade and urgent reconstruction in Gaza. “Peace will not be achieved without respect for international human rights and international humanitarian law,” she added.