UN Human Rights Council Special Session on the OPT: The EU must stand on the side of justice

Gaza Strip, Impunity/Accountability, International Human Rights Law (IHRL), International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Israel / OPT, Statement

On 23 July 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council will convene a special session addressing the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). As the civilian death toll in Gaza rises, EMHRN calls on the EU and its Member States to support a resolution that strongly condemns all violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) and calls for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations occurring in the context of Operation Protective Edge.

The past few days, Gaza has witnessed the bloodiest escalation of violence since the beginning of the hostilities. As of 1pm on Tuesday 22 July, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has recorded at least 597 Palestinians killed, about 78.4% of whom are civilians. Meanwhile, upwards of 3,500 people have reportedly been injured. On the Israeli side, two civilians have been killed as a result of rockets coming from Gaza. As detailed in previous statements, EMHRN is gravely concerned about alleged violations of IHL and IHRL committed during the ongoing hostilities, including in particular the indiscriminate and disproportionate targeting of civilians and civilian objects, which may constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Such violations are made possible by the culture of impunity prevailing in the context of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the systematic failure to hold perpetrators to account.

In order to break this cycle of impunity, it is imperative for the EU and its Member States to support the establishment of a commission of inquiry. Following the 2008-2009 military operation codenamed ‘Operation Cast Lead’, none of the EU Member States supported the establishment and dispatch of a UN Fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law. The EU also held differing opinions regarding the Fact-finding mission’s eventual report and the implementation of its recommendations, despite clear evidence of violations of international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ahead of the forthcoming special session of the Human Rights Council, EMHRN urges the EU and its Member States to take a united stance in favor of accountability and the establishment of a commission of inquiry. As stated in Article 21 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU and its Member states’ action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, including the rule of law, human rights and respect for international law. EU Member States, as High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, also have an obligation to respect and ensure compliance with IHL. In this regard, the EU has committed itself to address third states’ compliance with IHL in its Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law. These guidelines provide a host of operational measures that the EU should undertake to fulfill its own commitments, including cooperating with international bodies and in particular the UN in order to promote compliance with IHL.

In light of these obligations, the EU and its Member States should take effective action to ensure compliance with international law and promote accountability. These steps will ensure victims’ access to justice and reparation, and will end a culture of impunity which manifests itself both during and outside the hostilities.

In this context, EMHRN calls on the EU and its Member States to:

–          Actively participate in the Human Rights Council special session on 23 July and support a resolution that strongly condemns all violations of IHL and IHRL and calls for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations occurring in the context of Operation Protective Edge.

–          Demand that all parties comply with their IHL obligations, including the principles of distinction, proportionality and military necessity.

–          Support Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, in line with the EU’s Common Position on the ICC.