STORY: Human Rights Council on OPT and East Jerusalem - Special Session
TRT: 04 min 12s
SOURCE: UNTV CH
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH / NATS
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 27 MAY 2021 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
UN’s top rights body votes to probe abuses in Palestinian territory, Israel
An international probe is to be set up to investigate rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel following the recent deadly escalation of violence there, after a vote at the Human Rights Council on Thursday.
The resolution, entitled “Ensuring respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel”, passed by a vote of 24 in favour with nine against and 14 abstentions.
“The results of the recorded votes are as follows: 24 in favour, nine against, 14 abstentions,” said Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council. “Draft Resolution A/HRC/S-30/L.1 entitled ‘Ensuring respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem and in Israel’ as orally revised is therefore adopted.”
Ahead of the vote, which marks the eighth time the Geneva-based forum has established a Commission of Inquiry, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called 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.
In her comments to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Bachelet condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Gaza’s de facto authority Hamas and strikes inside the enclave by Israeli Security Forces.
“According to figures verified by my Office, 242 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Security Forces (the ISF) in strikes on Gaza, including 63 children,” she said.
“Thousands of others have been injured while it is estimated that over 74,000 Palestinians have been displaced. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 28 Palestinians, including five children, were killed as of 24 May. At the same time, rockets launched by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups killed 10 Israeli citizens and residents including two children and forced thousands into shelters.”
The High Commissioner 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.
“Two main issues led to the rise in tensions,” the UN rights chief maintained: “the imminent evictions of Palestinian families and their forced displacement in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, to make way for settlers; and the ISF (Israeli Security Forces) deployment at the Al Aqsa compound, restricting access to thousands of worshippers during the last days of Ramadan.”
Ms. Bachelet explained that the latest escalation between Israel and Palestinian armed groups had erupted on 10 May “when Hamas, the de facto authorities in the Gaza Strip, demanded that Israeli forces leave the Al Aqsa compound and Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. When this did not occur, Hamas and other armed groups launched a heavy rocket barrage towards Israel.”
In response, Israel launched “intense airstrikes in Gaza including shelling, missiles fired from fighter aircraft and attacks from the sea”, the High Commissioner noted, before reminding the Council’s 47 Member States that the strikes in densely populated areas had “resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure”.
If they were judged to be “indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes”, Ms. Bachelet said, speaking via video link to the Geneva-based forum, which was meeting in special session at the request of Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The “heavy rocket barrage towards Israel” by Hamas and other armed groups also constituted “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”, Ms. Bachelet continued, reiterating her call to “Hamas and all armed groups to refrain from use of indiscriminate rockets and mortars, for which there must be accountability”.
Highlighting the ongoing tensions associated with the continued threat of evictions of Palestinian families “in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem”, the High Commissioner insisted that “such evictions should cease”.
Defending the actions of Israel, the country’s representative justified attacks on the Gaza enclave, claiming that more than 4,400 rockets had been fired “at Israeli civilians” by Hamas over a 10-day period beginning 10 May.
“The rockets were fired by Hamas from Palestinian homes, hospitals, and schools (and) each one of these rockets constitutes a war crime,” said Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar, Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN in Geneva.
“Israel took all measures to protect civilians. Yet sadly, despite our greatest efforts, Hamas’s tactics of intentionally hiding beneath residential buildings, maternity wards and mosques resulted in innocent loss of life.”
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.”
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”.
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.
Echoing the High Commissioner’s concerns over violence in the occupied West Bank, the Special Rapporteur also noted that demonstrations since 10 May 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 Mr. Lynk. “Their collective future is being devoured before their eyes by the 240 Israeli settlements expanding on their lands.”
Among the nine countries that voted against the resolution, Austria echoed concerns that the draft text did not address the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas, while others objected to what they called an overly broad and open-ended mandate of the Commission of Inquiry.
“We unequivocally condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas and other terrorist group from Gaza into Israel and regret that the resolution presented today does not include any statement to this effect,” said Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.