Letters and Appeals

Open Letter<br>Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the Gaza Strip: Establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry into Violations of International Law Committed During Israeli ‘Operation Protective Edge’ and Ensuring Accountability

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22 July 2014

FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights Al-Haq Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) Public Committee against Torture in Israel Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Geneva-Paris, 22 July 2014 The undersigned national, regional and international human rights organisations call upon the UN Human Rights Council, which will convene a Special Session on 23 July 2014, to establish an international independent commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international law, including international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, which may have taken place in the context of the ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip.
Since the launch of “Operation Protective Edge” on 7 July 2014, Israel has killed at least 500[1] in the occupied Gaza Strip, including 406 civilians.
Furthermore, at least 2,650 Palestinians have been injured, 1,660 houses in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged, and tens of thousands of Palestinians in northern Gaza have fled their homes.
[2] Meanwhile, thousands of rockets and missiles have been fired at Israel from within the Gaza Strip, causing the death of two Israeli civilians since the start of the military operation .
The current round of hostilities occurs in the context of a seven-year long Israeli-imposed closure on the Gaza Strip.
In addition to the dire humanitarian situation already endured by the occupied Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) now warns that 900,000 people are at risk of losing access to their water supplies.
Four hospitals and health centers in Gaza have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes, and one rehabilitation center for the disabled has been destroyed when disabled women were inside it, killing two.
The imbalance of power in favor of Israel cannot be overlooked, nor can the fact that the population bearing the overwhelming brunt of these hostilities, in terms of physical, emotional and infrastructural damage, is the Palestinian civilian population.
International Humanitarian Law stipulates that in a situation of armed conflict only combatants and military objectives may be directly targeted.
Civilians and civilian objects must be protected from direct attack: deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects is a war crime.
Israel itself has admitted that indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks may amount to the commission of war crimes.
According to international law, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action or whose destruction offers a definite military advantage.
Houses belonging to individuals affiliated with Hamas or Islamic Jihad do not qualify as military objectives merely because they are owned by a combatant; initial investigations indicate that in the majority of instances these homes cannot be considered military objectives because they are not being used to store weapons or launch attacks.
Nevertheless, the Israeli military has deliberately attacked such houses and other ostensibly civilian objects and public spaces including hospitals, schools, mosques, sports clubs, and cafes[3].
In the evening of 17 July, the Israeli army began a ground invasion marking the next stage of Operation Protective Edge.
It appears that artillery is now being used against residential areas, and that these incursions may violate the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks.
On 20 July, al-Shuja'iya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City was subjected to intensive aerial and ground shelling by Israeli forces which resulted in the killing of least 59 Palestinians, 58 of whom were civilians, including 13 children and 8 women.
Due to the intensity of this indiscriminate shelling that was going on the days after with more casualties, medical crews and the ICRC were not able to reach the area prior to the declaration of a brief 'humanitarian cease fire”.
In light of the above-mentioned information, and in the interest of preventing further harm to civilian populations, we call on the UN Human Rights Council, during its upcoming Special Session, to: Immediately and unequivocally condemn the deliberate targeting of civilian objects and the indiscriminate attacks against civilians by all parties; Demand that all parties abide by their obligations under IHL and bring to an end indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian objects; Strongly condemn the failure of Israel to abide by international humanitarian law, including the underpinning principles of military necessity, proportionality and distinction; Express its grave concern about the Israeli ground incursion into Gaza Strip and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip resulting from Israel’s military attack and continued closure; Establish an independent international commission of inquiry with the mandate to identify and investigate violations of international law committed by all parties during and leading up to Operation Protective Edge, as well as a mandate to put forth concrete recommendations of action to be undertaken by all parties engaged in hostilities and the international community, including third states parties, with a view of holding perpetrators accountable and ensuring victims access to effective remedy; Immediately implement the recommendations of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2008-2009; and Call upon Israel and the Palestine to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to help ensure accountability for any international crimes that may take place on these territories.
Signatories: Al-Haq Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) FIDH- International Federation for Human Rights Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
[1] 492 cases documented by PCHR until 20 July 2014.
php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10518:worst-and-bloodiest-day-since-the-beginning-of-the-offensive&catid=145:in-focus; As of 21 July, Mezan has documented 505 cases.
php?id=19254&ddname=IOF&id2=9&id_dept=9&p=center [2] Figures gathered by PCHR for the period until 19 July 2014 http://www.
php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10491:statistics-victims-of-the-israeli-offensive-on-gaza-since-08-july-2014&catid=145:in-focus; As of 20 July, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported that over 100,000 Palestinians are currently displaced and that 84,000 of these have sought refuge in UNRWA schools.
[3] http://www.