UK abstains on creation of UN Commission of Inquiry into violations of international law in Gaza

During a special session today, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution mandating the creation of an independent, international Commission of Inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law in the occupied Palestinian territory, with a particular focus on recent events in Gaza.

The resolution passed with only two states opposing (the USA and Australia), 29 in favour, and 14 abstentions. The UK was one of those to abstain, alongside the EU states of Croatia, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia, while Belgium, Spain and Slovenia supported the resolution.

In their explanation of vote, the UK Mission in Geneva called the resolution “partial and unhelpfully unbalanced” for not “explicitly call[ing] for an investigation into the action of non-state actors such as Hamas.” Despite this position, though the resolution text did not expressly mention them, it did not preclude the probe from investigating non-state actors including Hamas including in its reference to investigating “all” violations.

Instead, the UK called on Israel to “carry out what must be a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border [sic] fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence.” They further urged that such an investigation should include international members, and that if wrongdoing found, those responsible should be held to account.

This position comes despite warnings earlier in the session by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of a “deficit in accountability for alleged extrajudicial killings and other violations, as previously reported by the Secretary General and my Office, undermines confidence in Israeli justice.”

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem stated last month called an already-announced announced internal Israeli military probe “part of the whitewashing toolkit that the MAG Corps uses to create a semblance of an efficient law enforcement system that works to uncover the truth and ensure accountability.”

Similar concerns about Israel’s internal investigation mechanisms were raised by 6 UN special rapporteurs last month, including UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Prof Michael Lynk, who stated last month:

“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 … 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.”

Once established, the Commission of Inquiry will provide an oral update to the 39th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council later this year, and a written report at the 40th regular session in 2019.

Image by Ludovic Courtès (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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