The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza border protests has created a confidential file of Israelis who it holds could be culpable of killing peaceful Palestinians, and has asked that it be handed to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The commission also called for financial sanctions and an arms embargo against Israel.
It did so as part of a 252-page report which it submitted Monday to the UN Human Rights Council, which is wrapping up its 40th session this week in Geneva.
The commission stated that, as part of its work, it placed in a dossier “relevant information” on those it deemed responsible for human rights violations that could be considered war crimes. It handed the file to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachlet. It asked her office to pass the dossier to the ICC, which is currently weighing whether a war crimes suit can be opened against Israelis.
“We found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli security forces committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These violations clearly warrant criminal investigation and prosecution,” commission chairman Santiago Canton of Argentina said.
“Inside this dossier are references to relevant military and civilian structures in Israel which bear primary responsibility for the conduct of the security forces and their use of lethal force on Palestinians attending the Great March of Return,” the commission stated.
“Responsibility also lies with those who fail to conduct investigations, that meet international standards, into the deaths and injuries, in violation of international human rights law,” it said. The commission added that: “Individuals who committed the violations directly, or who aided or ordered them to be committed, are also responsible.”
The report continues with measures, which should be taken to force Israeli compliance with international law, that could include, “withholding financial and arms support that may contribute to the unlawful conduct.”
The Gaza report was one of seven on alleged Israeli human rights abuses, which the UNHRC debated on Monday, along with five resolutions calling for actions.
Neither the United States nor Israel spoke at the council, but their officials issued tweets during the council meeting.
Jason Greenblatt, the US special envoy to the Middle East, tweeted that the UNHRC would again attack Israel, “but with no mention of the heinous crimes of Hamas/other terrorist groups in Gaza. Last week militants in Gaza launched rockets into Tel Aviv yet the UN has failed to pass even 1 resolution criticizing them. Seriously?!?”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry emphasized to the 47-member council that, “Instead of condemning #Hamas as the prime source of violence and instability in #Gaza,” the Commission of Inquiry “is blaming the victims of Hamas terrorism for acting in self-defense.”
In its report to the UNHRC, the Gaza commission said, it understood that Israel believed the weekly Hamas-led Palestinian protests along the Gaza border that began on March 30, 2018, constituted an existential threat. But in reality, the commission said, the protests were largely peaceful and did not constitute such a threat.
“The demonstrations at the fence were not military operations but civilian protests. Our investigations found that the demonstrators were overwhelmingly unarmed, even if they were not at all times peaceful,” Canton told the UNHRC on Monday.
Although the protests are held every Friday, the commission only investigated the 189 Palestinians killed and 6,016 injured that occurred in the first nine months of the protests.
Israel has argued that the protests are violent events, in which protesters have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers and burned tires. Palestinians have placed explosive devices by the Gaza barrier and attempted to infiltrate it. They also launched many incendiary devices into Israel, which burned thousands of dunams of fields and forests in the country’s southern region.
Still, the commission found only two instances where use of live ammunition was justified. To protest the biased nature of the commission, which was tasked with investigating Israel and not Hamas, Israel refused to allow its three-member legal panel to enter the country or travel into Gaza.
The commission therefore relied on verbal, written and video testimonies as well as footage of the protests themselves.
The report focused on building a case under international law for its conclusions of criminal liability. It took issue in particular with Israel’s rules of engagement, which it said targeted those it believed to be “key rioters” rather than Palestinians who were actually threatening Israeli lives.
“We strongly disagree with the suggestion that the targeting of these demonstrators meets the high human rights standards for using lethal force. Under these rules of engagement, 4,903 unarmed persons were shot in the lower limbs, many while standing hundreds of meters from the snipers,” Canton said.
He called on Israel to change its rules of engagement and to allow a broader list of medical supplies to enter Gaza to help treat the wounded.
Legal expert Sara Hossain of Bangladesh added that international monitors were also needed.
The European Union and some of its member states spoke in defense of the report, including its conclusions about violations of human rights.
Belgian Ambassador Geert Muylle said: “We call on Israel to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protest and to defend its legitimate security interests in a proportionate way.”
He called on Israel to halt violations of human rights, stating that, “all perpetrators of human rights violations should be brought to justice.”
Retired British Army Col. Richard Kemp spoke to the UNHRC on behalf of UN Watch. “This commission has failed the Palestinian people by failing to condemn their Hamas oppressors, who as we meet today are firing on genuine peaceful protesters in Gaza,” Kemp said.
“I accuse this commission of wicked prejudice against the Jewish state and its army in a manner calculated to undermine its ability to defend itself,” Kemp said.
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