The UN human rights chief has slammed Israel’s deadly reaction to protests along the Gaza border as “wholly disproportionate”, backing calls for an international investigation.
Opening a special session of the UN Human Rights Council that could set up a commission of inquiry into recent Israeli violence that has resulted in deaths of more than 100 Palestinians in six weeks, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned that “killing resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute wilful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
He went on to say that Israel has systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million in Gaza “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”.
|Palestinian demonstrators have gathered for six weeks along the Gaza border with Israel demanding the right of return for refugees [REUTERS]|
“Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week,” he added. “End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear.”
He pointed out though that while 60 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured in a single day of protests on Monday, “on the Israeli side, one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone”.
“The stark contrast in casualties on both sides is … suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response,” he told the council.
Many of the Palestinians injured and killed “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 minimise casualties”.
“Although 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, these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force.”
Right of return protests
The special session comes after weeks of mass protests along the Gaza border, calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their homes now inside Israel to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba or “Catastrophe”, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven out from their homes by Israeli forces.
The largest demonstrations coincided with the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday.
The council is due to consider a draft resolution calling for the urgent dispatch of “an independent, international commission of inquiry” – the UN’s highest-level of investigation.
The draft resolution discussed on Friday, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation 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”.
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”.
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.
Zeid said he supported the call for “an investigation that is international, independent and impartial, in the hope the truth regarding these matters will lead to justice.”