UN human rights experts have condemned “the continued use of firearms, including live ammunition” by Israeli forces “against mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters and observers” for a third straight week in the occupied Gaza Strip, according a press release issued on Tuesday.
“Despite Israel’s commitment to investigate the events of the past few weeks,” the experts said, “security forces continue to use live ammunition and rubber bullets against the protesters, killing and wounding dozens of mostly unarmed protesters, women, men and children alike.”
“We express our outrage over these shootings that may have resulted in unlawful killings and the incomprehensibly high number of injuries sustained,” the experts continued.
According to the press release, “at least” 28 Palestinians have been killed, and more than 1,600 wounded by live ammunition alone, by Israeli forces since 30 March.
Participants in the “Great Return March” protests – which began on Land Day and are set to continue to Nakba Day in May – are, the UN statement notes, “protesting their forced evictions and displacement since 1948 and calling for an end to the 11-year blockade on Gaza”.
The experts “reiterated Israel’s obligation as occupying power to uphold international human rights law and international humanitarian law, emphasising that in the context of law enforcement, security forces may only resort to lethal force when faced with a situation involving an imminent threat to life or risk of serious injury.”
However, “no evidence has emerged showing that such a situation occurred during the demonstrations that would make the lethal force used legal,” they added.
The UN experts pointed out that the casualties since 30 March “appeared to be in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), The Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990) and the prohibitions in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 against wilful killings and the serious injury of the protected population.”
The experts expressed scepticism that Israel’s “operational probe” into some of the killings would be impartial, noting how “some Israeli officials have suggested the purpose of the investigation is to avoid scrutiny from the international community and the [International Criminal Court]”.
“If Israel will not take credible and effective steps to investigate, and indeed, where it has congratulated its military forces for their use of force, then the international community must fill the investigatory void to ensure respect for international law,” the experts stated.
The team also called for “an immediate end to the 11-year-old comprehensive blockade on Gaza, which is imposing untold suffering on the population”, reaffirming that “collective punishment is prohibited under international law, and there must be international accountability for such actions.”