UN rights expert urges independent probe into power plant destruction in Gaza

20 July 2006 –

An independent United Nations human rights expert has urged an inquiry into an attack on an electricity power station in Gaza that has exacerbated an already critical health situation threatening the lives of civilians and could constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.

“The destruction of Gaza's electricity power station is profoundly inconsistent with the health and safety of all civilians living in Gaza, especially the young, sick, infirm and elderly, as well as their right to the highest attainable standard of health, enshrined in the International Bill of Rights and other international human rights instruments,” Paul Hunt, the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

He noted that following the attack, the lack of power for pumps is causing “a serious water shortage, and affecting sewage disposal, for tens of thousands of households throughout the Gaza Strip.”

Amid reports of sewage leakage, as well as a reduction in municipal waste collection and disposal, the expert, who is unpaid and serves in an individual capacity, noted that reported cases of diarrhoea have increased by 163 per cent compared to the same period last year. He also warned that communicable diseases, like cholera and poliomyelitis, could re-emerge.

He said the destruction of Gaza’s electricity power station may be a violation of international humanitarian law, which requires that parties to a conflict must always distinguish between combatants and civilians. “Attacks can only be directed against combatants and military objectives.”

Under international humanitarian law, a target may be attacked if it is both making an effective contribution to the enemy's military action and its destruction provides a definite military advantage to the attacker. “Whether or not both conditions applied in the case of Gaza’s electricity power station is an issue that demands careful, independent investigation,” he said.

He also noted that an attack must be proportionate, and said this issue also requires the same scrutiny.

“When undertaking this enquiry, it is imperative that, in addition to military matters, other relevant issues are also taken into account, including the acute dependency and vulnerability of the people of Gaza,” he said, recommending that an independent enquiry determine whether or not the recent attack on Gaza's electricity power station was a war crime.

He also urged the captors of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit to release him unharmed immediately. “Pending his release, he must receive appropriate medical assistance and care, and he must be treated humanely,” he said.

“Also, I remind all parties that the prohibition against targeting a civilian population applies to civilians within both Israel and the Gaza Strip. All such targeting should cease immediately.”

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