U.N. high commissioner for human rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called on Israel to avoid excessive force as protesters gathered for a fifth week of demonstrations. In a press release on Friday, 27th of April, the High Commissioner also called for those responsible for the deaths and injuries sustained by Palestinians to be held accountable.
His calls come after the deaths of 42 Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli army, including two journalists. Additionally, over 5,500 have been injured, of which 1,739 were injured by live ammunition fired by the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) along the fence in Gaza. By contrast, no Israeli casualties have been reported.
“Every week, we witness instances of use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators,” said the High Commissioner. “Warnings by the United Nations and others have seemingly gone unheeded, as the approach of the security forces from week to week does not seem to have changed.”
The High Commissioner’s office also stated that the impact on children is of great concern. Since the 30th of March, four children have been shot dead by Israeli forces, three of them by a bullet to the head or neck. A further 233 children have been injured by live ammunition, with some sustaining injuries which will result in lifelong disabilities, including through the amputation of limbs.
“The use of excessive force against any demonstrator is reprehensible, but children enjoy additional protection under international law,” said Zeid. “It is difficult to see how children, even those throwing stones, can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel.”
“Images of a child being shot as he runs away from Israeli security forces are downright shocking,” he added, referring to the case of 14 year-old Mohammad Ayyoub who was killed by a bullet to the head on 20 April.
The events of recent weeks build on a background of years of concerns expressed by the UN and others of excessive use of force by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza.
“These trends call into question to what extent the ISF’s rules of engagement, which are not public, are in line with international law, or at least to what degree the ISF abides by its own rules,” said the High Commissioner.
The deaths and injuries sustained in Gaza over the past weeks also underline the importance of a strong accountability system for any alleged crime, as highlighted by the Secretary-General when he called for an independent and transparent investigation into recent killings.
“Every country has the primary human rights obligation to ensure that all loss of life and serious injury is investigated and those responsible held to account under the criminal law. Any investigations into the events in Gaza must fulfil this purpose,” Zeid stressed.
“Unfortunately, in the context of this perennial and asymmetric conflict, serious investigations only seem to take place when video evidence has been gathered independently,” the UN Human Rights Chief added. “For the many more alleged killings of unarmed civilians by Israeli security forces that take place off camera, there seems to be little or no effort to apply the rule of law.”
“I am extremely concerned that by the end of today — and next Friday, and the Friday after that — more unarmed Palestinians who were alive this morning will have been killed, simply because, while exercising their right to protest, they approached a fence, or otherwise attracted the attention of the soldiers on the other side,” Zeid said. “Israel’s failure to consistently prosecute violations committed by members of its security forces, encourages them to use deadly force against their fellow unarmed human beings, even when they present no threat.”