Israel may have violated laws of war in Gaza, UN rights office says

Head of UN inquiry accused the Israeli military of carrying out an "extermination" of Palestinians

REUTERS June 20, 2024
An Israeli military convoy moves inside the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Israel, June 17, 2024. PHOTO:REUTERS/


sraeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict, the UN human rights office said on Wednesday.

Separately, the head of a UN inquiry accused the Israeli military of carrying out an "extermination" of Palestinians.

In a report on six deadly Israeli attacks, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said Israeli forces "may have systematically violated the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attack".

"The requirement to select means and methods of warfare that avoid or at the very least minimise to every extent civilian harm appears to have been consistently violated in Israel's bombing campaign," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said.

Israel's permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva characterised the analysis as "factually, legally, and methodologically flawed". "Since the OHCHR has, at best, a partial factual picture, any attempt to reach legal conclusions is inherently flawed," it said.

In a separate meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the head of a UN Commission of Inquiry, Navi Pillay, said perpetrators of abuses in the conflict must be brought to account.

She repeated findings from a report published last week that Israel alone was responsible for the most serious abuses under international law known as "crimes against humanity".

She said the scale of Palestinian civilian losses amounted to "extermination".

"We found that the immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the inevitable result of an intentional strategy to cause maximum damage," Pillay, a former U.N. rights chief and South African judge, told the meeting.

Israel, which does not typically cooperate with the inquiry and alleges an anti-Israel bias, chose the mother of a hostage to speak on its behalf and criticised the report on the grounds that it did not give due attention to hostages.

"We can do better for them. The hostages need us," Meirav Gonen, the mother of 23-year-old hostage Romi Gonen, said in a tearful appeal.

Heavy Weaponry

Israel's air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.

The UN rights office report details six incidents that took place between Oct. 7 and Dec. 2, in which it was able to assess the kinds of weapons, the means and the methods used in these attacks.

"We felt that it was important to get this report out now, especially because in the case of some of these attacks, some eight months have passed, and we are yet to see credible and transparent investigations," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights office.

She added that in the absence of transparent investigations, there would be "a need for international action in this regard".

Pillay also condemned Israel's military methods in Gaza, saying the use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas "constitutes an intentional and direct attack on the civilian population".

Commissioner Chris Sidoti later told reporters that its findings, which are being shared with the International Criminal Court, showed that Israel was "one of the most criminal armies in the world."

He said the inquiry, which aims to investigate the treatment of hostages, as well as that of thousands of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, had so far been hindered by Israel.

"Far from having cooperation, what we have encountered is obstruction," he said.


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