On Wednesday, 23rd of July, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva held a special session on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem. Recently, WILPF has released a Position Statement and in the last day sent an Open Letter to the 15 Member States of the UN Security Council as well as the Israeli and Palestinian Missions.

This blog is a summary of the 21st Special Session on the UN Human Rights Council that took place in Geneva yesterday.

In her opening statement, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke to the Council about the heavy impact of Israel’s military operation “Protective Edge,” that resulted in the death of more than 600 Palestinians, including at least 74 women and 147 children. She told the Council that there was a “strong possibility that international law had been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” condemning both Israel and Hamas for the “life of chronic insecurity and recurring escalation in hostilities,” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Kyung-Wha Kang, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator condemned the assault as well, and told the Council that at least 18 medical facilities, including five UNRWA health clinics, had been hit by airstrikes and shellings since the beginning of the operation. He spoke about the destruction of Gaza’s already poor infrastructure and the severe impact of the seven-year blockade that had destroyed Gaza’s economy causing high unemployment and a growing dependence on international assistance.

In his statement to the Council, the Israeli Ambassador, Eviatar Manor, told the Council that Israel was doing its duty of protecting its people. He mentioned that the Human Rights Council has failed to protect Israel against Hamas and said that the Council would gain “its moral authority” when condemning Hamas as well. He criticised the Council for holding this special session, calling this decision “misguided, ill-conceived and counterproductive” to the ceasefire efforts.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, Riad Malki, condemns the actions of Israel and said that the fundamental right to life of the Palestinians was severely endangered. He accused Israel of violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions saying that Israel is punishing 1.8 million citizens in Gaza.

In the general debate, most countries condemned the Israeli assault and supported the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire.  Similarly, a few members showed disappointed in the UN Security Council’s inability to draft a resolution to protect the Palestinians. Canada, the US, Italy on behalf of the EU and the UK were among the countries that condemned the firing of missiles by Hamas and emphasised their support to Israel’s right to defend itself.

After statements and debate by the Member States, civil society added their condemnation of the Israeli operation. In a Joint statement submitted by the Union of Arab Jurists, the General Arab Women Federation, the Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, Israel was accused of violating international law. It was only, UN watch, Europe Union of Jewish Students, World Jewish Congress and Amuta for NGO Responsibility that defended Israel’s operation in Gaza. Though several women rights activists were present, the gender aspect of this conflict was overshadowed by the gravity of the deteriorating humanitarian situation as a whole.

The six hour long session ended with the vote on resolution (A/HRC/S-21/L.1) that ensures the respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. The resolution was adapted by a vote of 29 States in favour, 1 against and 17 abstentions. The United States was the only country that voted against the resolution calling it one sided and the EU as whole abstained.

The resolution entails a dispatch of an independent, international Commission of Inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and the international human rights law in the context of the military operation and to report to the Council in its twenty-eighth session.

The resolution also recommends that the Government of Switzerland, in its capacity as depository of the Forth Geneva Convention, reconvene the conference of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.