Israel-Gaza conflict: UN independent experts ‘unequivocally condemn’ violence against civilians

UN independent human rights experts on Thursday (October 19, 2023) voiced deep concern over the fate of civilians and victims of terrorism caught up in the Israel-Gaza crisis.

Families flee their shattered neighbourhood, Tal al-Hawa, to seek refuge in the southern Gaza strip.Photo Courtesy: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

In a news release, the experts denounced the ruthless attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians starting 7 October. They also stressed their concern for the victims of subsequent counter-terrorism measures by Israeli forces.

“We decry the scale of the brutal assault on mothers, children, babies, the elderly and ordinary citizens going about their daily lives on the Jewish Shabbat and on a Jewish religious holiday (Sukkot),” said Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Acts of terrorism, no matter how horrific, absolutely do not justify the commission of serious violations of international law including war crimes, or crimes against humanity, the Human Rights Council-appointed experts noted.

Survivors ‘irreparably damaged’

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts – who are independent of any nation or the UN Secretariat – stressed that the “essence of terrorism” is the targeting of civilians, and terrorist attacks leave the victims’ families and survivors “irreparably damaged.”

In addition to the brutal attacks, an estimated 200 people including older persons, mothers, children and babies, and those seriously wounded, were kidnapped and taken hostage.

While recognizing the deep and decades long grievances and violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people under occupation, nothing justifies the targeting of civilians in this way, the release noted.

“Hostage taking is absolutely prohibited under international law and constitutes a war crime,” the experts said, highlighting that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) must be provided access to those taken hostage and they must receive medical care.

“No harm must come to the hostages taken and held incommunicado by Hamas. They must be released,” the experts said.

No justification for violations against civilians

The UN experts also stressed their equal concern for victims of counter-terrorism measures. Acts of terrorism, no matter how horrific, absolutely do not justify carrying out serious violations of international law including war crimes, or crimes against humanity, the experts said.

Echoing the UN Secretary-General’s view, they said the evacuation order to Gazans which amounted to around 1.1. million people, the majority of them children, will have devastating consequences.

They condemned the complete siege of the enclave including the cutting off of water and electricity which “may constitute the war crime of starvation of civilians”, the news release noted.

“Schools and hospitals filled with civilians – primarily women and children – cannot constitute a legitimate military target for either State or non-State armed groups,” the experts said.

“The grievous destruction of Al-Ahli hospital underscores the humanitarian consequence of non-compliance with international humanitarian law,” they added.

International plea

The experts called on all States to fulfil their obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by all parties, including those countries in a position to exercise influence over them and ensure accountability for all violations.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and form part of what is known as its Special Procedures. The experts are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations.

They serve in their individual capacity, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary.