The UN human rights chief has slammed Israel’s deadly reaction to protests along the Gaza border as “wholly disproportionate” and backed calls for an international investigation.
Addressing a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said there was “little evidence” Israel made an effort to minimise casualties during mass border protests by Palestinians on Monday.
He said Israeli forces had killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children, since March 30. More than 12,000 were injured, at least 3,500 by live ammunition.
Israel was an occupying power under international law, obliged to protect the people of Gaza and ensure their welfare, he said.
“But they are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanised by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest.”
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”.
“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 at least 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”.
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.
Some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used sling-shots, flew burning kites into Israel, and attempted to use wire-cutters on border fences, but “these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force,” Zeid added.
“The stark contrast in casualties on both sides is … suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response,” he told the council.
The killings resulting from “the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute a grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions, he added.
Such violations are called “war crimes”, although Zeid did not explicitly use that word.
|Palestinian protesters are demanding the right of return for refugees [Reuters]|
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 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.”