In Gaza, is the international community abandoning its pledge to protect health workers?

Last week, Medical Aid for Palestinians launched a new campaign, calling for the UK Government to take action to protect Palestinian health workers who have come under attack in Gaza.

We highlighted how, in 2016, the UK championed the passing of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2286, condemning attacks on health services in conflicts around the world, demanding that states comply with international humanitarian and human rights law which prohibits such violations, and urging states to take proactive steps to hold perpetrators to account.

Despite this principled position, the UK failed to support the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of an independent international investigation into violations of international law in the context of the “Great March of Return” protests in Gaza ongoing since 30 March.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein this week outlined the importance of the Commission of Inquiry’s work at a meeting in Geneva:

“It is essential that the authorities cooperate with the future Commission to advance accountability for these killings, as well as all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Currently, although Israel has put in place a number of accountability mechanisms, there are serious concerns that these are not in compliance with the international standards of independence, impartiality, and effectiveness. Very few investigations ever occur; in the rare cases where an investigation has led to an indictment, the sentence has been extremely lenient in light of the gravity of the crime committed.”

Among the suspected violations which should be investigated by this UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry are the killing of two Palestinian paramedics and the injuring of hundreds more by Israeli forces using teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

The UK’s positioning, seemingly undermining independent investigations into attacks on healthcare when committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, exposes an apparent double standard in its policy.

It wasn’t just the UK who helped to secure the important 2286 resolution, however. When the resolution was adopted in May 2016, it was passed unanimously by all Security Council members and co-sponsored by more than 80 UN Member States. Among these vocal supporters of UNSC Resolution 2286 are those which, like the UK, also abstained on or even voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Gaza. By opposing the establishment of this investigation mechanism, these states therefore share the UK’s dangerous double standard.

Below are some of the statements made by a number of these countries in the context of UN Security Council meetings on the protection of civilians and healthcare in armed conflict which have on the one- and two-year anniversaries of the passing of Security Council Resolution 2286. A number of these states (Australia, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) are also members of the “Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”.

MAP is calling on the governments to take action to put Resolution 2286 into action and protect and support Palestinian health workers in Gaza by:

  • Supporting credible, timely and independent investigation into alleged violations by reversing their positions on the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry, and actively encouraging Israel and all relevant parties to cooperate with it and to allow it full access;
  • Ensuring that aid support to Gaza provides sustainable medical care, rehabilitation, and psychological support to victims of attacks against health workers and facilities in the occupied Palestinian territory; and
  • Publically calling on Israel to fully adhere to its international legal obligations as the occupying power in Gaza, including by bringing the closure to an end.

If you live in or are a national of one of the countries below, you can take action too by tweeting at your country’s representatives at the UN using the links provided.


Germany

Vote on the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry: Abstained

“We call on this Council to find ways to enhance compliance with international humanitarian law and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their violations.”

“…despite the adoption of resolution 2286 (2016), we witnessed an increase in attacks against medical and humanitarian personnel in 2016. That trend is unacceptable. The international community must do everything in its power to ensure the safety and security of those personnel. Conflict parties must abide by rules of engagement to protect medical personnel and facilities.”

Ambassador Jürgen Schulz, UN Security Council Meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 25 May 2017 (one year anniversary meeting of Resolution 2286)

“There can be no impunity for those who commit crimes that demonstrate disregard for the protection of civilians.”

“…we think that New York and Geneva should work more closely together. We sometimes have the impression that New York and Geneva are not on two different continents, but on two different planets.”

Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, UNSC meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 22 May 2018 (two years after passing of Resolution 2286)

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Japan

Vote on the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry: Abstained

“This month marks the second anniversary of the unanimous adoption of resolution 2286 (2016), on health care in armed conflict, on which Japan was a co-penholder … Resolution 2286, the first-ever Council resolution addressing attacks on health services, reconfirmed that all parties to armed conflicts have obligations under international law to protect civilians.”

“Since then, however, as fighting born of conflict is increasingly taking place in densely populated areas, the state of the protection of civilians is bleaker. We witness increased use of air strikes in urban areas, resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties. We have also been hearing continuous reports of attacks against health-care providers and facilities. This deplorable reality underscores the urgent need to promote respect for international humanitarian law by all parties to a conflict.”

Ambassador Toshiya Hoshino, UNSC meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 22 May 2018

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Switzerland

Vote on the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry: Abstained

“Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, including medical facilities and schools, occur with appalling frequency in many contemporary conflicts. In some cases, the wounded and sick, as well as medical personnel, are intentionally attacked.”

“…accountability for violations of international humanitarian law is of paramount importance to demonstrate to actual or potential perpetrators that violations do not go unpunished and, equally important, to deliver justice to victims. We welcome national-level investigations and prosecutions. In line with the principle of complementarity, when such national systems are unable or unwilling to act, accountability should be ensured through existing international investigative and judicial mechanisms.”

Ambassador Jürg Lauber, UNSC meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 22 May 2018

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Australia

Vote on the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry: Against

“In line with what others have said today, Australia is particularly alarmed by the frequency, severity and deliberate nature of attacks against health care. Today’s briefers, like those who have presented before them, have painted a heartbreaking picture of realities on the ground and have provided dire warnings about the risks of failing to implement resolution 2286 (2016) in full. For that reason, we commit to doing our part to translate resolution 2286 (2016) from rhetoric into action.”

“We are in full agreement that that must, as a priority, include responding to serious violations, including by holding perpetrators to account.”

Ambassador Gillian Bird, UN Security Council Meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 25 May 2017

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United States of America

Vote on the establishment of the UN Commission of Inquiry: Against

“The protection of health-care facilities and medical workers in armed conflicts remains of particularly grave concern to the United States. One year ago, the Council adopted resolution 2286 (2016), which emphasized that attacks directed against medical personnel and facilities must cease and that the perpetrators of violations must be held accountable. However, in far too many places these attacks have not only continued but have gotten worse, and many of these attacks are not incidental. In some cases, warring parties are attacking hospitals precisely because medical staff are doing their jobs of treating the sick and the wounded”

“We have a choice here today. We can let another year go by and then sit here again to lament still more attacks against hospitals and medical workers, or we can come together now and take steps to reverse the rising tide of violence on the ground by using the tools at the Council’s disposal to push warring parties to live up to their obligations to protect civilians. That choice should be obvious, and we need to make the choice that saves lives”

Ambassador Michele Sison, UN Security Council Meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, 25 May 2017

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