Speakers Highlight Need for Preserving International Law, Ensuring Accountability, as Conference of Civil Society Organizations Working on Palestine Opens

GENEVA, 3 April (Division for Palestinian Rights, Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) — The response to the war in Gaza is the litmus test for the international justice system, participants heard in Geneva today, during the first day of the two-day Conference of Civil Society Organizations working on the Question of Palestine — convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People — with many highlighting the role of civil society in preserving international law and ensuring accountability.

“This event takes place in a harrowing context of unprecedented devastation,” said Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, adding that — from 7 October 2023 to 20 March 2024 — 196 humanitarians, including UN workers, have been killed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

If not killed by bombs, Palestinian civilians were dying of disease and hunger, she continued, noting that a staggering 5 per cent of the population — mostly women and children — have been killed.  She strongly opposed a full-scale assault on Rafah, urging Israel to facilitate the safe distribution of humanitarian aid to the population. To this end, border crossings must be fully opened, she stressed, welcoming in this regard Security Council resolution 2728 (2024).  She voiced concern over shrinking civic space in Gaza, where most civil society organizations have lost their infrastructure, staff and funding, noting that it has become the deadliest place for journalists in the world.

“Time in Gaza is counted by a drop of water, a pill of medication for children, a body count of children killed,” said Issam Younis, Director at the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights.  Palestinians were forcibly displaced to “safe areas” which were shelled, he recalled, noting that 60 per cent of those killed and wounded were bombed while believing naively that the blue United Nations flag would protect them.

Cheikh Niang, Chair of the Committee, added that, while the toll of the war in Gaza has been devastating — with more than 32,000 Palestinians killed and millions displaced — violence by Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is escalating.

Calling for accountability, Ibrahim Khraishi, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, underscored that, while Ramadan will end in a few days, the recently-adopted ceasefire resolution has not been implemented.  He also urged the United States to condemn the killings of aid workers and stop weapon exports to Israel.

Painting a grim picture of the reality lived by children in Gaza, Ayed Abu Eqteish, Director of the Accountability Programme at Defense for Children International – Palestine, said the only way to stop the genocide is an immediate and permanent ceasefire.  However, their suffering did not start on 7 October, he stressed, pointing to systematic human rights violations suffered by children under occupation.  Since 2013, Israel has undertaken several major military offenses in Gaza, with grave consequences for children.  Children also suffer threats of physical and psychological violence when arrested by the Israeli authorities, often amounting to torture.

Relatedly, Sahar Francis, Director at ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, said there are 9,314 detainees in Israeli prisons, including administrative detainees, held without evidence, charge or trial.  Highlighting an escalation in violations associated with detention, including torture and sexual abuse, she described the conditions as “extremely harsh” and pointed to cases of pre-meditated starvation of prisoners.

Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, highlighted the Western States’ complicity in the genocide in Gaza by providing legal cover, funds and arms.  Also, he emphasized that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, whose responsibility is to ensure accountability during the investigation, has failed to act according to his mandate in the most documented genocide in history.

Juxtaposing the situation in Gaza to that in Ukraine, he recalled that the West was shaken by Moscow’s invasion and reaffirmed the right of the Ukrainian people to resist the occupation by all means.  Ukraine was supported politically, legally, financially and with arms of all types.  Additionally, seven waves of unprecedented sanctions were imposed on the Russian Federation’s economic and political system.  Meanwhile, the world has not woken up to the situation in Palestine, he asserted.

In the second plenary meeting, many underscored the pivotal role of civil society organizations in ensuring third-party responsibility.

Among them was Samah Sisay, Staff Attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, who said that her organization advocates for the rights of Palestinians in the United States and supports the work of the International Court of Justice in investigating human rights violations in Palestine.  It has brought a case to court against United States President Joseph R. Biden and other members of the Government for their complicity in the ongoing genocide.  It has asked the Court to prevent any further support to Israel while the case is under consideration.

Rawan Arraf, Director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, said that, in her country, the Gaza conflict has triggered the greatest anti-war movement since the 2003 Iraq War.  While Australia has ignored Israel’s attacks, providing it with political cover, the Centre filed a case in the Federal Court to gain more transparency over arms transfers. Australia must assess its political, economic and military links with Israel and impose an arms embargo on that country, she asserted.

Likewise, Yasmine Ahmed, Director of Human Rights Watch United Kingdom, drew attention to her organization’s efforts to push London to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on Israel. 

Echoing her call for sanctions, Frank Chikane, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Global Anti-Apartheid Conference – South Africa, stressed that the public brutalization of Palestinians could have only occurred because they are not viewed as human beings.

For information media. Not an official record.