Human Rights Council opens ahead of key Gaza accountability vote

The UN Human Rights Council begins again this week ahead of a key accountability vote for suspected violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including in the context of the “Great March of Return” protests in Gaza.

In her opening remarks, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés stressed:

We need a Council that is strong, efficient, that provides solutions and guarantees the promotion and protection of all rights, of all people without exception. No double standards and avoiding politicisation. We need a council that deals with all violations and abuses, irrespective of where they have been committed or who is responsible.”

In the fourth  week of this 40th session of the HRC, the UN Commission of Inquiry will report on its investigation into suspected violations of international law in the context of the “Great March of Return” protests in Gaza. Since the demonstrations began in March 2018, more than 260 Palestinians have been killed and 28,000 injured, many with devastating gunshot wounds. Member States, including the UK, have an important opportunity to ensure that any wrongdoers are held to account.

The Council will also discuss the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in a session named Agenda Item 7. There a key accountability vote will take place, including for attacks on health workers in Gaza.  

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Ahead of the Council session on the oPt, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has issued a written statement detailing the deaths and devastating injuries resulting from Israel’s violent response to the protests in Gaza, as well as the wider challenges of providing healthcare amid the 12-year illegal closure of Gaza.

MAP’s submission describes the vast number and complexity of limb injuries in Gaza, which account for the majority of protest-related injuries received by emergency departments between last year, including 5,429 limb gunshot wounds. MAP stresses that such injuries would significantly challenge well-equipped health services elsewhere, let alone in occupied, blockaded and impoverished Gaza where the quality and timeliness of necessary treatment is complicated by shortages of medicines, equipment and appropriately qualified health staff, as well as by impeded referral.

MAP’s submission includes an estimation that there are up to 1,500 patients with severe limb injuries in Gaza requiring up to seven surgeries and extensive rehabilitation for up to two years. It also warns of potential consequences of inadequate treatment for these patients, including loss of function and lifelong disability, with risk of amputation if the limb is particularly distorted.

Between 30 March and 31 December 2018, 113 amputations were reported in Gaza (98 lower limb and 15 upper limb), including 20 to children. MAP highlights that scores more amputations are likely to be required over the coming months from those already injured, in part due to the lack of capacity for the health system to adequately treat those with complex limb injuries.

The statement makes the following five recommendations to states:

  • Demand Israel abides by its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, as the occupying power in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem;
  • Urge Israel to immediately end the unlawful blockade and closure of Gaza and the separation between the Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem;
  • Urge Israel and Egypt to permit the free, unimpeded and timely movement of patients and medical professionals outside Gaza;
  • Take steps through bilateral and multilateral aid assistance to reverse the de-development of healthcare in Gaza, and ensure the immediate and sustainable provision of medical care, rehabilitation, and psychological support to those injured in the context of the protests; and
  • Pursue accountability for all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including attacks on medical personnel, in order to ensure justice for victims and to deter repetition.

To read MAP’s second written statement to the Human Rights Council on attacks on health workers in Gaza click here.

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