On Friday, May 18th, a special session of the Human Rights Council on the current situation in Gaza took place at the United Nations in Geneva. High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein denounced the violence and called for the creation of a Commission Of Inquiry; a similar recommendation was made by Michael Link, Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories.
Israel insisted on its right to defend itself and condemned Hamas for the use of civilians as human shields. The United States supported the Israeli position and questioned the credibility of the Human Rights Council. Many states denounced the disproportionate use of force by Israel and the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem and spoke in favour of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, the right to demonstrate peacefully, the end of the 10-year embargo on Gaza and a negotiated two-state solution. There were calls for full accountability for the violence in Gaza and other parts of the Occupied Territories.
The focus of the debate was the adoption of a resolution calling for the creation of an investigative commission on the violence in Gaza since March 30th, when the "Great March of Return" began. Egypt announced that on 17th May it re-opened the Rafah border and that it will remain open for the whole month of Ramadan. In the late afternoon the Council approved a Resolution setting up a Commission Of Inquiry (COI). The draft was proposed jointly by Pakistan and the State of Palestine and co-sponsored by a dozen other states. The USA called for a vote to ensure that the Resolution would not be adopted by consensus. The USA and Australia voted against, 14 countries abstained and 29 voted for the Resolution. (Two of the 47 current members of the Human Rights Council were absent from the vote.) The main concern about the text which States expressed was the lack of impartiality in the COI's terms of reference, which referred only to acts by Israel, rather than by all parties. The countries of the European Union had suggested a number of amendments to the original draft, and complained that these were all rejected by the co-sponsors. Belgium, Slovenia and Spain nevertheless voted for the Resolution; the other EU states which are members of the Human Rights Council abstained.
South Africa was one of the biggest supporters of the resolution recalling parallels with the apartheid regime and the long process of building awareness before the international community took effective action. About 32 NGOs took the floor during the debate, including IFOR, which made a formal statement including a reference to the numerous young Israeli conscientious objectors who refuse to perform military service and participate in an illegal occupation."
To read IFOR's full statement click here.