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Important Notice: As of 1 November 2023, Ms. Heba Hagrass (Egypt) has been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the current Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Relief workers rescue an elderly woman in a wheelchair. After an Israeli air strike on Gaza

UN experts outraged by Israeli strikes on civilians sheltering in Rafah camps


GENEVA (29 May 2024) – Israeli air strikes on a camp sheltering displaced civilians in Tal al-Sultan in Rafah, that have reportedly claimed at least 46 lives including 23 women, children and older persons on Sunday night are an outrage, UN experts* said today, demanding decisive international action to end the bloodshed in Gaza.

“Harrowing images of destruction, displacement and death have emerged from Rafah, including infants torn apart and people burnt alive,” the experts said. “Reports emerging from the ground indicate that the strikes were indiscriminate and disproportionate, with people trapped inside burning plastic tents, leading to a horrific casualty toll.”

“These barbaric attacks are a flagrant violation of international law. They are also an attack on human decency and our collective humanity,” the experts said.

At least 46 Palestinians were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan on the night of Sunday 26 May 2024, with hundreds more treated for severe burns. On Tuesday, another attack in al-Mawasi in Western Rafah reportedly killed 21 Palestinians, of whom 13 were women.

“Recklessly targeting sites known to shelter displaced Palestinians, including women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons, seeking refuge constitutes a grave breach of the laws of war and a grim reminder of the urgent need for international action and accountability,” they said.

“Even if Israeli leaders claim now that the strikes were a 'mistake', they bear international legal responsibility. Calling it a mistake will not make the strikes legal, bring back those killed in Rafah or give comfort to grieving survivors," the UN experts said.

They recalled that the attack comes soon after a landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ordered Israel to immediately halt the military offensive, and any other action in Rafah that may result in genocidal acts. Israel had flagrantly disregarded this directive in Sunday night’s attack, the experts said.

“ICJ orders like the one issued on 24 May 2024 to Israel are binding. And Israel – which has enjoyed impunity for its crimes against the Palestinian people for decades, and for its brutal assault on the people of Gaza over the past eight months – must comply,” the experts said.

They demanded an independent international investigation into the attacks on the Rafah displacement camps. “Those responsible for these atrocities must be held to account,” the experts said.

They called for immediate sanctions and other measures by the international community to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

“The flow of arms into Israel must stop immediately. It is abundantly clear that these weapons are being used to brutally kill and maim Palestinian civilians,” the UN experts said.

They demanded unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza and an end to the blockade and restrictions on the delivery of life-saving aid to civilians in the besieged enclave.

“A staggering five per cent of Gaza’s population has been killed or injured, more than 70 per cent of homes destroyed, and more than 75 per cent displaced. The agony of Gaza’s people must end,” they said.

The experts expressed deep frustration at the international community’s failure to come together and stop Israel’s brutal assault, which has endangered Palestinians and Israeli hostages alike.

“This cannot be tolerated,” the experts said. “An immediate and permanent ceasefire, coupled with meaningful measures to document and ensure accountability for atrocities, and secure the fundamental rights of Palestinians in Gaza, are the only path forward to salvage our shared humanity.”

* The experts: Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Laura Nyirinkindi (Vice-Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, and Haina Lu, Working group on discrimination against women and girls; Carlos Salazar Couto (Chair-Rapporteur), Michelle Small, Ravindran Daniel, Jovana Jezdimirovic Ranito, Sorcha MacLeod, Working Group on the use of mercenaries; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Gina Romero, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children; Surya Deva, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Cecilia M Bailliet, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; George Katrougalos, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Heba Hagrass, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Barbara G. Reynolds (Chair), Bina D’Costa, Catherine Namakula, Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana-Lorena Delgadillo Pérez and Angkhana Neelapaijit, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Nicolas Levrat, Special Rapporteur on Minority issues; Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorismBalakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Tlaleng MofokengSpecial Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Robert McCorquodale (Chair-Rapporteur), Fernanda Hopenhaym (Vice-Chair), Pichamon Yeophantong, Damilola Olawuyi, Elzbieta Karska, Working Group on business and human rights; Astrid Puentes, Special Rapporteur on the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Bernard Duhaime, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. 

The Special Rapporteur, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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