/ 12 January 2009

UN Human Rights Council condemns Gaza strikes

A divided United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday adopted a resolution condemning Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip and accusing it of ”grave” human rights violations against Palestinians.

The resolution setting up a fact-finding mission to investigate Israeli violations against Palestinians was passed after a split opened up between Western countries and the others over the wording.

Thirty-three African, Asian, Arab and Latin American countries voted for the resolution. Thirteen mainly European states abstained, while Canada was the only country to vote against.

The 47 member council — frequently critical of Israel in the past — normally seeks to adopt resolutions by consensus.

Western countries said the text put forward by Arab and African states was too biased and failed to clearly recognise the role that rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants played in triggering the offensive.

Last-minute changes failed to overcome the differences after the special session on the violence in the Gaza Strip spilled into a second day.

The European Union’s representative said the EU could have supported some elements, but found the text too one-sided despite its concern about human rights violations in the Gaza Strip.

Israel also dismissed the resolution as biased and cast doubt on the council’s credibility.

Call for urgent international action
The text released by the UN Council ”strongly” condemned the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, saying it had ”resulted in massive violations” of the human rights of Palestinians.

Underlining the civilian toll, it called for ”urgent international action” to halt ”grave human rights violations by Israel”.

The draft resolution also called for an end to rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

But four overlapping probes targeting Israel formed the key contents.

The resolution tasked 10 UN experts on human rights and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay with two separate probes into the violence.

It also set up an independent, international fact-finding mission to ”investigate all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Israel”, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked to investigate the bombing of UN schools in the Gaza Strip.

During the first day of the session on Friday, Pillay had warned that human rights violations in Gaza were extremely serious and some attacks that hit civilians and relief workers might warrant prosecutions for war crimes.

”Credible, independent and transparent” investigations were a first step towards ensuring accountability, she added, warning that ”violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked”. — AFP