UN Human Rights Chief breaks the silence on Israeli Human Rights breaches in Gaza

It has been three days since the unprecedented incursion by Hamas into Israel, for which the Israeli death toll according to latest reports now exceeds 1,000. Israel announced Tuesday, that it had collected the dead bodies of as many as 1,500 dead Hamas fighters from the Southern Israeli Towns. The Israeli government has vowed to make Hamas regret that they ever considered launching the devastating attack on Israeli territory. But to most, their subsequent air strikes on the innocent people of Gaza, which have so far claimed the lives of over 750 mostly innocent men, women, the elderly and at least 140 children, with as many as 4,000 injured and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes, will seem like revenge.

Collective punishment

In addition to the unrelenting aerial bombardment, Israel has imposed a blockade preventing access to fuel, food and water on the entire Gaza strip. Remarkably, there has been a silence in respect of what on any other occasion would be hailed as war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is as though the women and children, the hospitals and schools, deserve to pay the price for the actions of the Hamas militiamen. The actions of the Israeli government appear more about retribution than justice. They are actions that have drawn a wall of silence from international Western governments and Western media, who seem happy to be turning a blind eye to the collective punishment of the 2.2 million innocent citizens trapped under siege in the Gaza strip.

An elderly Palestinian man sit with his family in the rubble of their former home

‘War Crimes may have been committed’

That silence was broken today Tuesday 10th October, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, expressed his outrage at the deliberate collective punishment of the people of Gaza. Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, he declared that:

‘[Israel’s]‘imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law. This risks seriously compounding the already dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the capacity of medical facilities to operate, especially in light of increasing numbers of injured…[ a siege may amount to] collective punishment’

His comments were augmented by those of his UN colleague, Ravina Shamdasani, the U.N. Human Rights spokesperson, who said that these actions may amount to a war crime. Citing the interim results of a UN commissioned inquiry, she issued a statement saying that already the commission had gathered ‘clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed’

187,500 Palestinians displaced from their homes in Gaza so far

Her comments equally related to actions committed by both sides of the conflict. However, she did go further when she decided to make clear that her investigation was in the process of collecting further evidence, which would be used to ensure future accountability. This appeared to be a veiled warning in respect of proposed plans by the government of Israel to intensify the bombardment of the strip and to launch an on the ground offensive. She explained that upwards of 187,500 people had been forced to flee their homes in Gaza so far due to the aerial bombardment and that the blockade was leading to critical shortages in water and electricity.

Tarik Jašarević, the World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesperson, announced that the WHO had already monitored 13 attacks on health facilities in Gaza, since the beginning of hostilities.

The children’s agency spokesperson for UNICEF, James Elder, expressed his alarm at the ‘hundreds’ of children, both Israeli and Palestinian, who had lost their lives in the violence and he was shocked at the proposed measures announced by Israel to cut electricity, food and water supplies to the entire strip.  

European Commission U-Turns on announcement to cancel development funding

On Monday, the European Commissioner in charge of enlargement and neighbourhood, Olivér Várhelyi, announced that all payments” to the Palestinians would be ‘immediately suspended’ including ‘all new 2023 budget proposals,’ This announcement caused outrage amongst several of the Commission members including France, Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg, who regarded such a cessation as serving only to make a bad situation in the Gaza strip, worse. Importantly, such a decision had not resulted from any consultation with the commission members. It became clear that Varhelyi had in effect ‘gone solo’, when he announced the cancellation. A subsequent statement was quickly published confirming that there was no such cessation, but merely an ‘urgent review’ of all development assistance to the region. There were no plans, it was declared, to cancel the EU Commission’s programme, which has provided as much as €681 million over the last three years to the Palestinian Territories.


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