Israel’s recent deadly airstrikes on Gaza could constitute war crimes, the UN rights chief said Thursday, as countries discuss launching a major international investigation.
Addressing a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet expressed deep concern at the “high level of civilian deaths and injuries” resulting from the attacks on Gaza.
“If deemed indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, these attacks can constitute war crimes,” she warned.
She also said that her office had “not seen any evidence” that the targeted buildings in Gaza, including residential houses, medical facilities and media offices, “harbored armed groups or were being used for military purposes. military purposes ”, as Israel claims.
Bachelet also stressed that the rockets fired by Hamas were “indiscriminate and did not distinguish between military and civilian objects” and therefore constituted “a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law”.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights made her statement at the start of a one-day special Council session devoted to the recent outbreak of violence.
Before a truce took hold last Friday, Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire in Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, and injured more than 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict, according to the ministry of defense. Health in Gaza.
Rockets and other fire from Gaza killed 12 in Israel, including a child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, doctors said. Some 357 people in Israel were injured.
– ‘Root causes’ –
At the Rights Council, countries were debating a proposal to open a broad international investigation into the violations surrounding the latest violence, but also into the “systematic” abuses in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel.
The proposal calls for unprecedented scrutiny of abuses and their “root causes” in the decades-long conflict in the Middle East.
The draft resolution presented by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation calls on the Council to “urgently establish an independent and permanent international commission of inquiry … in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel”.
Investigators, according to the text, should probe “all alleged violations and abuses” of international law related to the tensions that sparked the latest violence, but also “the underlying root causes of recurring tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity. “.
The investigation should focus on establishing the facts and gathering evidence that could be used in legal proceedings, and should try to identify the perpetrators to ensure they are held accountable, he said. declared.
– “Intentionally exacerbated tensions” –
Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, criticized the session and the draft text, insisting they were another example of the Council’s bias against Israel.
“Hamas initiated this conflict,” she said, insisting that “the terrorist organization that glorifies death” had “on purpose increased tensions in Jerusalem to justify its attack.”
Highlighting the 4,400 rockets launched at Israeli cities, she urged the council not to “embolden and reward Hamas” for such behavior, and stressed that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki responded to this claim, telling the council “that we refuse to make the link between the colonizer and the colonized”.
Accusing Israel of having instituted “an apartheid system based on the forced displacement of our people,” he insisted that “the right to self-defense and the right to resist occupation is a right we we have as the Palestinian people ”.
– Open investigation –
If the resolution passes, it would create the council’s very first open-ended commission of inquiry (COI) – the highest-level investigation that can be ordered by the council.
Other IOCs, like the one on Syria, need their mandate renewed each year.
And although the council has previously ordered eight investigations into rights violations in the Palestinian territories, it would be the first to be mandated to examine the “root causes” of the protracted conflict, and also to investigate systematic abuses. committed in Israel.
It is still unclear whether there will be enough support on the board to pass the resolution.
Twenty Council members were among the 66 countries that supported the holding of the special session.
Thursday’s session marks the 30th special meeting since the creation of the Human Rights Council 15 years ago.
It will be the ninth focused on Israel, which has long complained of facing prejudice in the Council.
© 2021 AFP