UN human rights experts have condemned the continued use of firearms, including live ammunition, by Israeli security forces against mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters and observers for a third straight week near the fence between occupied Gaza and Israel.
The United Nations and its independent human rights experts, along with the International Criminal Court, have expressed grave concern about the Israeli security forces’ use of force, and called for the violence to stop. Israel has pledged to conduct an investigation into the security forces’ response to the protests.
“Despite Israel’s commitment to investigate the events of the past few weeks, security forces continue to use live ammunition and rubber bullets against the protesters, killing and wounding dozens of mostly unarmed protesters, women, men and children alike,” said the UN experts.
”We express our outrage over these shootings that may have resulted in unlawful killings and the incomprehensibly high number of injuries sustained.”
At least 28 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1600 wounded by Israeli security forces during a series of demonstrations that began on 30 March and are set to continue until 15 May. The participants are protesting their forced evictions and displacement since 1948 and calling for an end to the 11-year blockade on Gaza. Among those killed were three children and a journalist, who was wearing clearly visible insignia identifying him as a member of the press. Six other journalists have so far been wounded.
The experts reiterated Israel’s obligation as occupying power to uphold international human rights law and international humanitarian law, emphasising that in the context of law enforcement, security forces may only resort to lethal force when faced with a situation involving an imminent threat to life or risk of serious injury.
“No evidence has emerged showing that such a situation occurred during the demonstrations that would make the lethal force used legal,” they said.
“The freedoms of association, assembly, and expression are all fundamental rights under international human rights law. These rights are to be given broad protection, and can only be restricted in narrow and exceptional circumstances. Israel must fully observe these rights, and ensure that their approaches to crowd control and demonstrations are in strict accordance with international law.”
Referring to a recent statement issued by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, the experts said that the deadly use of force against demonstrators could constitute crimes under the Rome Statute.
The UN experts pointed out that the deaths and injuries since 30 March by the Israeli security forces appeared to be in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990) and the prohibitions in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 against wilful killings and the serious injury of the protected population.
The experts reiterated their call on the international community, through the United Nations, to establish an independent commission to investigate the events of the past three weeks.
“While Israel’s announcement that it will launch a probe is welcome, we are concerned that the planned probe may lack the independence, impartiality and effectiveness required by the international law,” they said. “Coupled with reports that some Israeli officials have suggested the purpose of the investigation is to avoid scrutiny from the international community and the ICC, we believe an independent investigation is the only way to truly address what has happened in Gaza, and to prevent its recurrence.
“Accountability is imperative when the fatal shooting of demonstrators, by security forces has occurred,” the experts said. “If Israel will not take credible and effective steps to investigate, and indeed, where it has congratulated its military forces for their use of force, then the international community must fill the investigatory void to ensure respect for international law.
“Finally, we call for an immediate end to the 11-year-old comprehensive blockade on Gaza, which is imposing untold suffering on the population. We cannot continue to ignore this collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and the undeniable human rights impacts of the blockade,” added the experts. “Collective punishment is prohibited under international law, and there must be international accountability for such actions.”