Significant prima facie evidence of serious rights abuses in Gaza, UN reports

Scene from Gaza, January 2008

14 August 2009 – The top United Nations human rights official has called for a “credible, independent and transparent” investigation of all alleged rights violations during Israel’s military operations in Gaza eight months ago.

“There is significant prima facie evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law having been committed by the Israeli forces and Palestinian militants,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says in a new report, cautioning that her office is not yet in a position to assess each and every individual instance.

Allegations include Israeli attacks on Gaza civilians and numerous civilian administrative facilities, hospitals, schools and 27,000 private homes, as well as a large number of extrajudicial executions, beatings and torture by the Palestinian group Hamas against alleged collaborators with Israel and supporters of the rival Fatah organizations during and after the military operation.

A separate report by a UN investigative team released today and to be presented to the General Assembly’s 64th session beginning next month, cites “violations of the international humanitarian law during the Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s offensive), in particular the targeting of civilian population and wanton destruction of property and religious and cultural objects.”

In her report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Ms. Pillay calls for the immediate easing of Israeli restrictions in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), which she hopes will lead to the complete lifting of the economy-devastating blockade on Gaza.

“The blockade of Gaza and the restrictions on the entry and exit of people and goods in the West Bank, as well as inside the West Bank, amount to collective punishment,” she says, noting that this contravenes the Geneva conventions to which Israel is a party, and also citing the alleged torture of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

She calls on Israel to stop its expansion of settlements in the OPT, “which are illegal,” immediately halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, in particular in East Jerusalem, and address “as a matter of urgency” persistent impunity for settler violence.

“In particular, the High Commissioner remains gravely concerned that Israel has not yet complied with the Advisory Opinion on the Wall of the International Court of Justice (ICJ),” she writes, referring to the barrier that Israel says it is building to keep out suicide bombers and other assailants.

The ICJ stated that erecting a wall within the OPT violated international law since its planned route encloses 9.5 per cent of the West Bank area. The report, covering the period up to 10 April, is the first of a series mandated by the Human Rights Council “on the violations of human rights of the Palestinian people by the occupying Power, Israel.”

The investigative report, to be presented to the General Assembly by the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, voices “particular concern for an increasing number of incidents of violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinian population in the West Bank in the presence of Israeli army and police.”

The Committee noted “continuous and in some cases worsening violations of economic and cultural rights, in particular the right to education and health, further restrictions of movement and attacks on and destruction of Palestinian farmlands and orchards.”

The three-member Committee, comprising Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Senegal, has just returned from a 10-day mission to Egypt, Jordan and Syria, where it recorded the testimonies of witnesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Since its establishment in 1968, it has repeatedly been denied cooperation by the Government of Israel or access to the OPT.

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