The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, declared that war crimes were being committed during this recent eruption of conflict in Gaza. She blames both sides for an utter lack of adequate protections of civilians. The current death toll for the last few weeks continues to rise with the last count at 649 Palestinians and 31 Israelis, with the UN reportinga whopping 74% of the dead as Palestine civilians.
This afternoon an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council was held in Geneva based on Pillay’s claims and votes were cast on a resolution calling for an investigation into war crimes.
Twenty-nine countries voted for an investigation to be carried out by the body, notably including China, India, and several South American countries. There were 17 Abstentions, mostly from EU member countries. There was a single, definitive vote against an investigation: the United States.
The EU abstentions speak to the political influence of their relationship with the United States. The votes for investigation by South American countries is no surprise either, given their poor trade and diplomatic relations with Israel.
The vote against investigation by the U.S. was expected, but interesting nonetheless given the fact that the vote is just for an investigation, not an automatic accusation. Pillay called out both Israel and Palestine, specifically Hamas, on their possible violations of international law. She has said bombing medical facilities was equally as wrong as Hamas’ “indiscriminate attacks” against Israel. She did not call into question Israel’s right to defend itself against attack, and insisted that a proper investigation should include Hamas and other militant groups operating in Gaza.
Mark Regev, Spokesperson of Prime Minister Netanyahu, said today on MSNBC’s Reid Report that Israel “urged people to go to a specific safe area” through leaflets prior to the attacks. Officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, however, say that nearly half the land in Gaza has been declared a ‘no-go’ zone by the Israeli army.
Israel’s envoy to the UNHRC, Eviator Manor, claims that the vote violates the human rights of Israelis as the escalation of the conflict continues. Regardless, the UN will now open an investigation into the allegations of war crimes at this time. In the coming days and weeks, a the High Commissioner will appoint members of a commission of inquiry who will then write a report with recommendations for further action by the Council–possibly even to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. At that point, the Human Rights Council would decide whether or not to forward the report to the Security Council for action. So, the diplomatic showdowns on this issue at the Human Rights Council are far from over.