UN’s top rights chief condemns killings of civilians in Qana, Lebanon

Louise Arbour

31 July 2006 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today strongly condemned the weekend killing of dozens of civilians, including numerous children, resulting from the shelling by the Israeli forces of a residential building in Qana, south Lebanon, and reminded the parties of their obligations under international law.

“I call again on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international law and to take all measures to effectively protect civilians and civilian objects,” Louise Arbour said in a statement released in Geneva.

Noting that Israel had warned the population of likely military action, the High Commissioner underlined that while effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population must be given, this legal obligation does not absolve the parties to the conflict of their other obligations under international law regarding the protection of civilians.

“All parties to the conflict must respect the principles of distinction and proportionality, particularly when civilians remain in the zone of military operations after a warning has been issued,” she said.

She also recalled that international humanitarian law requires all parties to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.

The High Commissioner noted the decision of the Israeli Forces to halt air strikes for 48 hours, calling for its full implementation of that commitment, but cautioned that “this brief halt does not in any way lessen the clear obligations of the Israeli Forces and Hezbollah under international law.”

“Many people are simply unable to leave southern Lebanon because they have no transport, because roads have been destroyed, because they are ill or elderly, because they must care for others who are physically unable to make the journey, or because they simply have no where else to go. Many thousands of civilians will still be in Southern Lebanon after the suspension of air strikes is ended,” she observed.

The High Commissioner welcomed reports that Israel would conduct an inquiry into the civilian deaths at Qana. She also reiterated the need for independent investigations to establish facts and conduct an impartial legal analysis of the persistent allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the conflict.

The High Commissioner again reminded all parties of the need for accountability for violations of international law, and reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities.

On 19 July, Ms. Arbour issued a statement voicing grave concern at the killing and maiming of civilians in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and stressing that international law demands accountability.

At the time, she also emphasized that parties to any conflict have the obligation to exercise precaution and respect the principle of proportionality in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population.

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