UN probe accuses Israel of 'systematic' crimes against humanity, war crimes

UN probe accuses Israel of 'systematic' crimes against humanity, war crimes
Protestors hold a banner reading "Stop genocide" during a demonstration to support Palestinians and to demand for a cease fire at Place de la Bastille in Paris on June 8, 2024. (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP)

By AFP/Robin Millard

A UN investigation concluded Wednesday that Israel had committed crimes against humanity during the war in Gaza, including that of "extermination", while Israeli and Palestinian armed groups had both committed war crimes.


The independent Commission of Inquiry's report is the first in-depth investigation by United Nations experts into the events of the war that erupted on October 7.


It found that Israel "has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity" and other international law violations.


The report noted "a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Gaza".


The commission said it "found that the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys; forcible transfer; and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment were committed".


Israel rejected the findings, accusing the commission of "systematic anti-Israeli discrimination".


The commission has a "political agenda against Israel" and "will never do justice to the Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism", Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador in Geneva, said in a statement.


The Gaza war erupted after Hamas's October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.


Militants also seized 251 hostages, of whom 116 remain in Gaza, though the Israeli army says 41 of them are dead.


The commission determined that in that attack, members of the military wings of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, as well as Palestinian civilians, committed war crimes and other international law violations.


Israel's retaliatory offensive in the Gaza Strip has since left more than 37,000 people dead, the majority of them civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry.


'Unique level of destruction'

The Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021 to investigate alleged international law violations in Israel and the Palestinian territories.


"It is imperative that all those who have committed crimes be held accountable," said Navi Pillay, a former UN rights chief and ex-International Criminal Court judge who chairs the three-person commission.


"Israel must immediately stop its military operations and attacks in Gaza," she said. "Hamas and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease rocket attacks and release all hostages."


Asked about the report, UN chief Antonio Guterres declined to comment on the text.


But he told reporters: "We are perfectly aware of what was a unique level of destruction and a unique level of casualties in the Palestinian population during these months of war".


"That has no precedent in any other situation that I've lived as secretary general of the United Nations."


'War crimes' in October attack

The commission concluded that members of Hamas and others participating in the October 7 attack "deliberately killed, injured, mistreated, took hostages and committed sexual and gender-based violence".


These acts were committed against civilians and members of the Israeli security forces, and constituted "war crimes", it said.


The commission said it also found "significant evidence on the desecration of corpses, including sexualised desecration, decapitations, lacerations, burning, severing of body parts and undressing".


"Women were subjected to gender-based violence during the course of their execution or abduction. Women and women's bodies were used as victory trophies by male perpetrators."


The commission said it found it "particularly egregious that children were targeted for abduction".


The report also faulted Israeli authorities for failing "to protect civilians in southern Israel on almost every front".


Israel's 'starvation' of Gaza

In Gaza, the commission found the Israeli authorities "responsible for the war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer, sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment, arbitrary detention and outrages upon personal dignity".


Furthermore, it said Israel's siege on the territory "constitutes collective punishment and reprisal against the civilian population".


In the West Bank, the commission found that Israeli forces committed acts of sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, "all of which are war crimes".


Israel's government and forces "permitted, fostered and instigated a campaign of settler violence against Palestinian communities" in the territory, the commission added.


The report is based on interviews with victims and witnesses conducted remotely, and in Turkey and Egypt, and through studying thousands of verified open-source items, satellite imagery and forensic medical reports, the commission said.


"Israel obstructed the commission's investigations and prevented its access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory," it added.


The report is due to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council next week.