Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that the Secretary-General had issued the following statement on the situation in Gaza:
“In light of the tragic events of the “Great Return March” last Friday, I reiterate my call on all concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further violence or place civilians in harm’s way, especially children.
I call upon all parties on the ground to avoid confrontation and exercise maximum restraint. I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties. Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully.
I again stress the urgency to accelerate efforts to return to meaningful negotiations that will eventually allow Palestinians and Israelis to live in two democratic states side by side in peace and within secure and recognized borders. I reaffirm the United Nations’ readiness to support these efforts.”
Ms. Vellucci also recalled that the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, had recently issued a statement on the situation in Gaza.
Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:
“Given the deplorable killing of 16 people and the injuring of reportedly more than 1,000 others during protests in Gaza, mostly on 30 March, we are gravely concerned that further violence could occur during demonstrations today and in the coming weeks.
The 16 people were killed by live fire during protests, with reports indicating that of the more than 1,000 others injured, hundreds were also hit by live ammunition. Given the large number of injuries and deaths, the ominous statements made by Israeli authorities in the days leading up to the protest, as well as indications that the individuals killed or wounded were unarmed or did not pose a serious threat to well-protected security forces – and in some cases were actually running away from the fence – there are strong indications that security forces used excessive force.
In policing the green-line fence, Israeli security forces are required by international human rights law to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and to use, to the extent possible, non-violent means to discharge their duties. In accordance with international human rights law, firearms may be used only in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort, and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury. While a minority of protestors reportedly used means that could be dangerous, the use of protective gear and defensive positions by law enforcement officials would have mitigated the risk and should not have led to recourse to lethal force. An attempt to approach or cross the green-line fence by itself certainly does not amount to a threat to life or serious injury that would justify the use of live ammunition.
We remind Israel of its obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed against protestors and that in the context of a military occupation, as is the case in Gaza, the unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms by law enforcement resulting in death may amount to a willful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
We echo the call by the UN Secretary-General for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents, with a view to holding accountable those responsible. We also call on leaders on both sides to do all in their power to prevent further injuries and loss of life.”
Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Throssell, for OHCHR, said that, according to information received by OHCHR, it seemed that the Israeli security forces had used lethal force in a situation in which there had been no threat of death or serious injury. OHCHR had sought to draw attention to the situation because further protests were planned for later that day and the coming weeks and it hoped to prevent further loss of life. OHCHR took the position that the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials was the applicable legal framework in the current situation and that, if there had been an unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms that resulted in death, it might amount to wilful killing, which was a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The webcast for this briefing is available here: https://goo.gl/V8kFEu
Document Type: Press briefing, Webcast
Document Sources: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
subject: Fourth Geneva Convention, Gaza Strip, Human rights and international humanitarian law, Security issues