UN Rights Council Condemns Israeli Offensive in Gaza

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Agence France Presse

UN Rights Council Condemns Israeli Offensive in Gaza

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United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees hold a U.N. flag stained with red paint during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against Israel's offensive in Gaza January 12, 2009. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun/West Bank)

GENEVA - A divided UN Human Rights Council voted on Monday to condemn Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip and set up a probe into "grave" human rights violations by Israeli forces against the Palestinians.

The resolution setting up a fact-finding mission was adopted despite the lack of Western support.

Thirty-three African, Asian, Arab and Latin American countries voted for the resolution. Thirteen mainly European states abstained, while Canada was the only country to vote against.

The 47 member council -- frequently critical of Israel in the past -- normally seeks to adopt resolutions by consensus.

Western countries said the text put forward by Arab and African states was too biased and failed to clearly recognise the role that rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants played in triggering the offensive.

Last minute changes failed to overcome the differences after the special session on the violence in the Gaza Strip spilled into a second day.

The European Union's representative said the EU could have supported some elements, but found the text too one-sided despite its concern about human rights violations in Gaza.

Israel also dismissed the resolution as biased and cast doubt on the Council's credibility. The United States is not on the Council and steers clear of it.

The text released by the UN Council "strongly" condemned the Israeli military operation in Gaza, saying it had "resulted in massive violations" of the human rights of Palestinians.

With the toll surpassing 900, including nearly 400 women and children, according to Gaza medics, it called for "urgent international action" to halt "grave human rights violations by Israel".

The draft resolution also called for an end to rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

But the key contents were four overlapping probes targeting Israel.

The resolution tasked 10 UN experts on human rights and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay with two separate probes into the violence.

It also set up an independent, international fact-finding mission to "investigate all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Israel", while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked to investigate the bombing of UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip.

During the first day of the session on Friday, Pillay had warned that human rights violations in Gaza were extremely serious and some attacks that hit civilians and relief workers might warrant prosecutions for war crimes.

"Credible, independent and transparent" investigations were a first step towards ensuring accountability, she added on Friday, warning that "violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked."

Julie de Rivero of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said lack of consensus and the resolution's focus on Israel "undermined its credibility."

Israel has refused to cooperate with similar fact-finding missions in the past, as well as a UN special rapporteur on the human rights of the Palestinians, complaining of bias because they fail to consider attacks on Israelis as well.

Israeli authorities last month detained and turned back the UN expert, Richard Falk, upon his arrival at Ben Gurion airport, accusing him of "legitimising Hamas terrorism."

 

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