An independent UN report into last year’s protests along Gaza’s border fence involving Israeli security forces, that resulted in the shooting deaths of more than 180 Palestinians, concluded on Thursday that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel violated international humanitarian law.
“The Commission has found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli security forces committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” Chairperson Santiago Canton told journalists in Geneva.
He added: “These violations clearly warrant criminal investigation and prosecution and we call on Israel to conduct meaningful investigations into these serious violations and to provide timely justice for those killed and injured.”
Created by the 47-Member UN Human Rights Council in May last year, the Commission of Inquiry was tasked with investigating all violence linked to anti-Israeli demonstrations on the Israel-Gaza border from 30 March to 31 December 2018.
In total, the Commission conducted 325 interviews with victims and witnesses and analyzed audio-visual material showing demonstrators being shot.
Its findings indicate that Israeli Security Forces injured 6,106 Palestinians with live ammunition at protest sites during the period of its mandate, while another 3,098 Palestinians were injured by bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by tear gas canisters.
Four Israeli soldiers were injured at the demonstrations, the report also found, noting that one Israeli soldier was killed on a protest day “but outside the protest sites”.
Children ‘shot playing football’; wheelchair users, medics, journalists
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the protests on 30 March, which Gazans refer to as the “Great March of Return”, the Commission of Inquiry underscored the need for Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian authorities to do more to protect civilians, who continue to demonstrate near the border fence every Friday.
“The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such,” it said in a statement.
Commissioner Betty Murungi described how an 11-year-old boy was shot while playing football near the fence with Israel. He subsequently had one of his legs amputated.
“Although the killings have lessened, we still see protected groups of individuals including children…still being killed as recently as three weeks ago,” said Commissioner Sara Hossain.
She added that paramedics and journalists also continue to be injured at demonstration sites, while also dismissing the idea that the protesters were intent on violent acts.
“We found that in all of the demonstrations, there was violence in the form of the use of the throwing of stones and burning of tyres by a minority of demonstrators,” she said, adding that “the vast majority” were not involved in any form of violence.
“There were women and children present, there were people having poetry reading, playing music, waving flags, things that can’t in any way be considered to be violent,” she insisted: “I think the characterization of all the demonstrators as violent is something we wouldn’t agree with.”
De facto authorities ‘must encourage peaceful protests’
In addition to the appeal to Israel to cooperate with an investigation into the killings, Commission chairperson Santiago Canton called on the de facto authorities in Gaza to ensure that demonstrations were peaceful.
“The Commission finds that these protests were a call for help from a population in despair”, Santiago Canton said. “Not only Israel but also the de facto authorities led by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have responsibilities towards them.
Mr Santiago also called noted the Commission’s call for Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, and in particular allow those in need of urgent medical care to leave the territory, after it found that hospitals there were “literally overwhelmed by the sheer number of death and injuries” after demonstrations on 14 May.
The Commission of Inquiry’s full report will be presented to the Human Rights Council on 18 March 2019.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw named latest UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador
British actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw was on Wednesday appointed a global Goodwill Ambassador with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Ms. Mbatha-Raw highlighted the need to support refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to work in support of refugees and help amplify their voices. I am always amazed by their courage and strength in the face of such seemingly insurmountable odds and it’s a real honour to play a part in sharing their stories”, she said.
“The Covid crisis has made us all aware of the fragility of the lives we build and the importance of doing all we can to support those who have had to leave the place they call home”, she added.
“The crisis has also taught us that, in this interconnected world, we are only as strong as the most vulnerable in society. Inclusion of refugees is vital in ensuring the wellbeing of whole communities.”
Advocacy and engagement
Ms. Mbatha-Raw is no stranger to UNHCR as she has been working as a High-Profile Supporter for the agency since 2018.
She has spent time in the field, including visiting Burundian and Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Uganda, meeting with women who survived conflict-related sexual violence and also with youth living with albinism.
The new Goodwill Ambassador has also taken part in UNHCR’s EveryOneCounts campaign, challenging xenophobia and advocating for stronger partnerships to find solutions to global displacement.
She also contributed to the agency’s COVID-19 awareness appeal and to Films of Hope, a partnership between UNHCR and IMDb, the online movie database, to raise funds for the Covid Solidarity Appeal.
The partnership continues
“We appreciate Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s heartfelt advocacy and support for refugees and welcome her to the UNHCR family. We look forward to continuing our work together to help raise attention on the issues and needs facing refugees”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
“Now more than ever, in the context of the unprecedented impact of the COVID pandemic, the voices of refugees – some of the most marginalized and forgotten people on earth – need to be heard and amplified”.
Ms. Mbatha-Raw is known for her award-winning role in the 2013 film Belle, and has starred in other projects, most recently The Morning Show.
She will next be seen in Loki, the Marvel limited series set to premier in June on the Disney+ streaming service.
‘Belle’ and the slave trade
In 2014, the star visited UN Headquarters in New York to discuss her film role in ‘Belle’, as part of the organization’s commemorations of the devastating Transatlantic slave trade that year. Watch the video below for more details:
‘No place’ for coups in today’s world
On the opening day of a new UN Human Rights Council session on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his “full support to the people of Myanmar”, three weeks after the military takeover that has brought thousands out onto the streets in protest.
“Coups have no place in our modern world”, Mr. Guterres said in a pre-recorded video address at the Council’s 46th regular session, his comments coming after the forum held a special session on 12 February, in which it adopted a resolution expressing deep concern at the junta’s move.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately”, the UN chief continued. “Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights and the will of the people expressed in recent elections. I welcome the resolution of the Human Rights Council, pledge to implement your request, and express my full support to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.”
14-year old victim
Mr. Guterres’s comments followed his censure at the weekend of the use of “deadly force” in Myanmar, in which a protester – reportedly 14 years old – was killed in Mandalay, along with one other.
Also addressing the Council at the start of its month-long session, which is being held almost entirely remotely to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, focused on the massive and negative impact of pandemic.
“I think we all realise that the use of force will not end this pandemic. Sending critics to jail will not end this pandemic. Illegitimate restrictions on public freedoms, the overreach of emergency powers and unnecessary or excessive use of force are not just unhelpful and unprincipled. They deter public participation in decision-making, which is the foundation of sound policy-making.”
Help for the most vulnerable
In another video message, President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, underscored the need to focus on people’s basic needs – including new coronavirus vaccines – as the best way to recover from the pandemic.
“It is essential that all responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are centred around human rights, and promote the protection of our citizens, including the most vulnerable who need our care and consideration the most”, he said. “This includes ensuring the equal and fair distribution of vaccines for all. It is critical that civil society, the private sector, and all stakeholders are facilitated to participate and provide feedback throughout the planning and assessment of responses.”
Echoing the call for equitable vaccine access in a wide-ranging address that included a broadside against right-wing extremists becoming a “transnational threat” and the manipulation of personal digital data by Governments to control citizens’ behaviour, the Secretary-General described the fact that only 10 countries had administered “more than 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines” as “the latest moral outrage”.
Vaccine equity “affirms human rights”, he said, but “vaccine nationalism denies it. Vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all.”
Taking up that theme, Ms. Bachelet insisted that the new coronavirus crisis had illustrated the “deadly realities of discrimination”.
Deep inequalities and chronic under-funding for essential services were to blame, she added, with policymakers largely responsible for ignoring these basic needs.
Pandemic rolls on
“Today, the medical impact of the pandemic is far from over – and its effects on economies, freedoms, societies, and people have only just begun”, she said. “The global rise in extreme poverty, accelerating inequalities; setbacks to women’s rights and equality; to education and opportunities for children and young people; and to the Sustainable Development Agenda are shocks that could shake the foundations of societies.”
Despite the scale of the challenges posed in this second year of the pandemic, the High Commissioner struck a positive note, insisting that “we have the possibility of rebuilding better, more inclusive systems, which address root causes and prepare us to meet the challenges we will certainly face”.
Among the many major problems facing people everywhere, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the disproportionate gender impact of COVID-19.
Crisis ‘has a woman’s face’
“The crisis has a woman’s face”, he said. “Most essential frontline workers are women — many from racially and ethnically marginalized groups and at the bottom of the economic ladder. Most of the increased burden of care in the home is taken on by women.”
Persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples had also paid a higher price than others during the first year of the pandemic. Mr. Guterres continued, before calling for “a special focus on safeguarding the rights of minority communities, many of whom are under threat around the world”.
Cautioning against “policies of assimilation that seek to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities”, the UN chief maintained that the diversity of communities was “fundamental to humanity”.
Extremists a ‘transnational threat’
And without identifying any specific countries, Mr. Guterres also spoke out against the rising and potentially international threat of right-wing extremist movements.
“White supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats. They are becoming a transnational threat”, he said. “Far too often, these hate groups are cheered on by people in positions of responsibility in ways that were considered unimaginable not long ago. We need global coordinated action to defeat this grave and growing danger.”
Under the presidency of Jordanian Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, the 46th Human Rights Council session is due to meet until Friday 23 March.
Haiti needs ‘democratic renewal’
The top UN official in Haiti called Monday for a “democratic renewal” in the troubled Caribbean nation to lift it out of a drawn-out political and humanitarian crisis and put it back on the path to stability and development.
Helen Meagher La Lime, Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), told the Security Council – meeting via video-teleconference – that the polarization that has defined most of President Jovenel Moïse’s term in office has become even more acute, as civic space shrinks and acute food insecurity grows.
Haiti has been in the grips of a renewed crisis since Parliament ceased to function in January 2020, leaving the President to postpone elections and rule by decree. In response, large crowds have poured into the streets, echoing opposition demands for Mr. Moïse to step down.
“Only a democratic renewal, resulting from the prompt holding of credible, transparent and participatory elections, can provide Haiti with the opportunity to overcome its protracted political crisis,” Ms. La Lime said.
That in turn would allow Haitian society and leaders to focus their attention on undertaking the governance and economic reforms necessary to set the country back on the path towards sustainable development, she added.
Joining the meeting from Port-au-Prince, President Moïse defended his administration, saying that it is confronting not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also “corrupt oligarchs” and a “radical and violent opposition” which have tried repeatedly to stage a coup d’état.
‘Policy of chaos’
“This policy of chaos has meant that the Government has had to take off the gloves”, he said, adding however that parliamentary elections that originally should have taken place in October 2019 will go ahead in September.
Mr. Moïse, 52, says that his own presidential tenure ends in 2022, five years after he took office. But his opponents, citing the Constitution, claim that his term of office began when elections were held in 2016 – and that now is the time for him to step aside, according to news reports.
Ms. La Lime, presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on Haiti, reported that the opposition has been unsuccessful in mobilizing significant public support in its campaign to oust the President.
But she noted that a raft of Presidential decrees has prompted judges to go on strike and threatened civic space through an overly broad definition of terrorism – and this at a time when an estimated 4.4 million Haitians will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year.
Against this volatile backdrop, preparations for this year’s elections – and for a Constitutional referendum – are going ahead. But she warned that much remains to be done, and that voting could be delayed due to a lack of international funding.
“Above all else, a minimal consensus among relevant political stakeholders would greatly contribute to creating an environment conducive to the holding of the Constitutional referendum and subsequent elections”, she said, adding that the United Nations stands ready to help.
Hopeful amid strife
Also briefing the Council today was Vivianne Roc, 23, from Plurielles, an eco-feminist youth group, who described a Haiti gripped by lawlessness, banditry and gang violence – but also hopeful that things can still take a turn for the better.
“The young woman before you today is outraged by the wind of insecurity that is sweeping her country,” she said, presenting the 15-member body with several recommendations – including a crackdown on arms and drug trafficking, and the establishment of call centres for victims of domestic violence.
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