UN rights body demands Israel be held accountable for possible ‘war crimes’

UN Human Rights Council also backs call to halt all arms sales to Israel, highlighting warnings of ‘genocide’ in Gaza.

Palestinians gather around the bodies of victims before they are taken away on April 2, 2024 following Israeli bombardment of a residential neighbnourhood in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinians gather around the bodies of victims killed in the Israeli bombardment of a residential neighbourhood in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [File: Mohammed Abed/AFP]

The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for Israel to be held accountable for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Gaza Strip, and demanding a halt to all arms sales to the country.

Friday’s vote marked the first time that the UN’s top rights body has taken a position on the nearly six-month war, highlighting warnings of “genocide” in the conflict that has killed more than 33,000 people.

The resolution passed with 28 of the council’s 47 member states voting in favour. The United States and Germany were among the six countries that opposed it, while France, Albania and 11 other countries abstained.


The council said the vote was a necessary measure, among other things, “to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights”.

It stressed that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in January “that there is a plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza, as it expressed “grave concern at reports of serious human rights violations … including of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the enclave.

The World Court in March unanimously ordered Israel to take all the necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies arrive without delay to the territory, warning that Palestinians face worsening conditions and famine and starvation are spreading.

“Symbolically this is significant. This is the first time that the top human rights body had taken a position on this conflict. This is reflective of the unprecedented nature of this [conflict],” Marc Owen Jones, an associate professor on Middle Eastern studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

Friday’s resolution was brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of all the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states except Albania.

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, slammed the measure as “a stain for the Human Rights Council and for the UN as a whole”.

The vote follows the UN Security Council’s passage of a resolution calling for a ceasefire in March.

While countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain and Belgium have suspended arms sales to Israel, several other Western nations continue to supply lethal weapons despite mounting criticism over the growing civilian casualties.

The United States has supplied the bulk of Israel’s defence requirements, including 2000-pound bunker buster bombs. This year, the US Congress also approved an additional $14bn military aid package to Israel.

The council resolution also condemned “the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in Gaza”, where the UN has warned that famine is looming.

It denounced “the unlawful denial of humanitarian access, willful impediment to relief supplies and deprivation of objects indispensable to the survival of civilians, including food, water, electricity, fuel and telecommunications, by Israel”.

The rights body criticised as well Israel’s persistent refusal to cooperate with numerous investigations ordered by it.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies