28 January 2009 | Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) demands that the European Union (EU) immediately takes action in order to protect human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The EU is currently failing in its obligations to effectively intervene in order to protect the lives of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), especially civilians in the Gaza Strip, whose human rights are being massively violated by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). PCHR is dismayed by recent statements made by, and actions taken by, EU states regarding human rights violations in the OPT.
Since launching its widespread military offensive against the population of the Gaza Strip on 27 December, 2008, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have killed 1,285 Palestinians in Gaza, and injured at least 4,336 others. Thousands of bereaved and traumatized survivors are now also homeless, as IOF have completely destroyed at least 2,400 homes across the Gaza Strip. Ongoing PCHR investigations indicate that 82.6% of the total IOF victims were civilians, including at least 280 children.
Despite the overwhelming number of Palestinian civilians killed by the IOF during its offensive in the Gaza Strip, the 27 EU member states abstained from a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on 12 January, 2009, which condemned the IOF military offensive in the Gaza Strip because of IOF “massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.” A week later, on 20 January, the Czech Foreign Minister and President-in-Office of the EU Council, Karl Schwarzenberg, claimed that the EU presidency, which is currently held by the Czech Republic, “should not act as a judge” of IOF violations of humanitarian law during its offensive in Gaza. “I have never seen a war were humanitarian law was completely respected” added Schwarzenberg.
On 26 January, Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, visited the Gaza Strip, where he claimed that Hamas bore “overwhelming responsibility” for the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The EU abstentions from the UN Human Rights Council resolution, and these statements issued by senior EU officials, highlight that the 27 EU member states are blatantly failing in their obligations as High Contracting Parties to the (1949) Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. The shameful silence of the entire international community, including the EU member states, illustrates its utter failure to hold Israel accountable for its masse violations of human rights across the OPT and especially in the Gaza Strip. According to the principles of international law, Israel must be held responsible for its actions.
In light of the scale of the 22 day IOF military offensive in the Gaza Strip, PCHR demands that the international community, including all EU member states, act immediately in order to protect the lives and property of all Palestinians, especially the 1.5 million civilians who continue to be imprisoned under siege inside the Gaza Strip.
The Centre reiterates that the root of the continuing violence in the OPT is the continuing IOF belligerent military occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. International silence in the face of IOF human rights violations across the OPT, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and their property, is encouraging Israel to continue to use excessive lethal force against civilians, including the widespread use of bombs believed to contain white phosphorous, and to act with utter impunity.
The Centre demands that the international community, including the 27 EU member states, hold Israel to account for its masse violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and forcefully and effectively demand that Israel begin to respect international human rights and humanitarian law. PCHR also demands that the EU does not upgrade its political and economic relationship with Israel vis a vis the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The Agreement is conditional on Israel’s respect for human rights. Rewarding Israel with an upgrade on the basis of “shared values’ whilst Israel blatantly continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights in the OPT will only further encourage Israel to act as though it is completely above the law.
The EU has a vital role to play regarding Israel’s accountability, and the 27 member states must all meet their obligations regarding independent investigations into the crimes that PCHR believes have been committed against the civilians of the Gaza Strip. All Palestinians in the Gaza Strip deserve justice, and the EU member states must finally make a stand for the respect of law, and the protection of civilian lives.