Israel argues that the UNHRC has an institutional bias against the Jewish state
The UN Human Rights Council voted Friday to send a team of international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces.
Palestinian protesters burn tires during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Israel faced a growing backlash Tuesday and new charges of using excessive force, a day after Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed dozens of Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
With 29 votes in favor, two opposed and 14 abstentions, the UN’s top human rights body voted through a resolution calling on the council to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry… to investigate all alleged violations and abuses… in the context of the military assaults on large scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018.”
Israel argues that the UNHRC has an institutional bias against the Jewish state and pays it disproportionate attention compared to human rights crises elsewhere. On Thursday the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called on his government to pull out of the council, even though Israel is not a member.
Addressing the session’s opening in Geneva, UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called Israel’s response to the Gaza demonstrations was “wholly disproportionate” and warned that “killing resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute willful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Al Hussein also said that Palestinians in Gaza are “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity, dehumanized by the Israeli authorities.”
The special session comes after a month and a half of mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border, calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their homes now inside Israel.
The largest demonstrations coincided with the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday, which saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians including several minors, pushing the overall toll well over 100.
Israel has justified its actions, saying they are necessary to stop mass infiltrations from the blockaded Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas.
On Wednesday a Hamas official said that 50 of the dead in Monday’s events were members of the organization.
Israel’s envoy to UN bodies in Geneva Aviva Raz Shechter told Friday’s session that the Israeli military tried to minimize civilian casualties and condemned the body’s “obsession” with Israel.
“This special session, the resolution before you, and its call for a commission of inquiry are yet again politically motivated and won’t change the situation on the ground by even one iota,” Schechter was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The US representative at the meeting, Theodore Allegra, condemned the council’s discussion as “one-sided” and showed the it is “indeed a broken body.”
Allegra also charged that the UN session was “blatantly taking sides and ignoring the real culprit for the recent outbreak of violence, the terrorist organisation Hamas.”
The draft resolution discussed Friday, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and backed by 47 UN member states, said the investigators should look into “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law … in the context of the military assaults on large scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018”.
#Israel, as an occupying power under int’l law, is obligated to protect the pop. of #Gaza & ensure their welfare. But they are in essence caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanised by the Israeli authorities – #Zeid pic.twitter.com/szDXHqu2y4
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) May 18, 2018
It said the aim should be to “establish the facts and circumstances” around “alleged violations and abuses including those that may amount to war crimes and to identify those responsible”.
In his remarks, Zeid insisted that many of those injured and killed on Monday “were completely unarmed, [and] were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs with live ammunition,” he said, saying there was “little evidence of any (Israeli) attempt to minimize casualties.”
He said, “some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used slingshots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel.”
The special session of the council came at the request of Palestine and the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of Arab countries in the council, the UN said earlier this week.
In addition to the Arab countries, China, France, Brazil, Sweden, and Switzerland were among the 51 countries who supported the special session.