Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza 'May Constitute War Crimes,' Says UN Human Rights Chief
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday that Israel’s most recent airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip—which killed more than 200 Palestinians and decimated civilian infrastructure—”may constitute war crimes,” and also warned that preventing further escalations of violence depends on addressing the fundamental issues of displacement and ongoing occupation.
Michelle Bachelet’s speech was delivered at a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council requested by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Palestine. The United States, which provided diplomatic and military support to Israel throughout its latest assault on the occupied Palestinian territories, “did not sign up to address the talks, where it has observer status, appearing to shun the ninth session held on Gaza since 2006,” Reuters reported.
“Despite Israel’s claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard.”
—Michelle Bachelet, U.N.
Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza killed over 240 Palestinians, injured nearly 2,000, displaced tens of thousands, exacerbated the Covid-19 pandemic, and caused a full-fledged humanitarian catastrophe with widespread hunger and lack of access to clean water.
The bombing campaign included “shelling, missiles fired from fighter aircraft, and attacks from the sea,” Bachelet noted. “Although reportedly targeting members of armed groups and their military infrastructure, Israeli attacks resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries, as well as large-scale destruction and damage to civilian objects.”
“Governmental buildings, residential homes and apartment buildings, international humanitarian organizations, medical facilities, media offices, and roads connecting civilians to essential services such as hospitals” were partially or totally destroyed, said the U.N. official.
“Despite Israel’s claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard,” she added.
While it is “a violation of international humanitarian law to locate military assets in densely populated civilian areas or to launch attacks from them,” Bachelet said in an apparent reference to Hamas, whose projectiles killed 10 people in Israel, “the actions of one party do not absolve the other from its obligations under international law.”
Israel’s attacks on the densely populated coastal enclave, home to two million people, “raise serious concerns of Israel’s compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law,” Bachelet noted. “If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes.”
“Unlike Israeli civilians, who have the benefit of the ‘Iron Dome’ and professional military forces to assist in their protection,” said Bachelet, “Palestinian civilians have virtually no protection against airstrikes and military operations.” Furthermore, she continued, “they have no place to escape to, due to the Israeli land, air, and sea blockade that has been in place for the last 14 years.”
Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, also addressed the Human Rights Council’s 47 member states at Thursday’s meeting in Geneva. He described Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison,” where residents are “cut off from the outside world” by Israel’s “comprehensive and illegal” blockade.
The council-appointed independent expert said that Israel’s “occupation has become as entrenched and as sustainable as it has because the international community has never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power.” Stressing that Israel’s occupation would not end “without decisive international action,” Lynk reiterated his call for the latest escalation of violence to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT