An independent United Nations expert has requested access to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to gather first-hand information on the impact of current hostilities on the human rights situation.
“As a newly appointed Special Rapporteur, it is my priority to see with my own eyes the situation on the ground, to listen and to speak face-to-face with victims and witnesses, and to discuss issues of concern with officials on both sides,” Makarim Wibisono said in a news release.
Mr. Wibisono is tasked by the Geneva-UN Human Rights Council with monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The last visit of a Special Rapporteur with this mandate to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory was in 2007. Access was then granted by Israel, but no meetings with Israeli officials were held.
“The recent escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and heightened tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have given me an even greater sense of urgency to see at first-hand the impact on the lives of civilians,” he stressed.
The Rapporteur voiced dismay at the renewed escalation of hostilities, and urged leaders to take “bold and courageous steps to immediately bring this senseless violence to a halt, particularly in light of the exceedingly high loss of life.”
Over the past six weeks of hostilities, the death toll has already exceeded 1,450 Palestinian civilians, including over 490 children, and four civilians in Israel. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in UN shelters or with host families across the Gaza Strip, the news release pointed out.
It is estimated that around 17,200 housing units have been totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable across the Gaza Strip, with life-sustaining infrastructure for entire neighbourhoods in need of urgent repair.
Mr. Wibisono reiterated the joint appeal made with fellow UN experts before the Human Rights Council in July to both sides to abide by the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and for much more to be done to protect civilians.
“Lifting the seven-year old blockade on Gaza is an essential step towards ending this perpetual crisis and allowing the people of Gaza to rebuild their lives,” he added.
“I call on all parties to return to the negotiating table. Only by putting international human rights and humanitarian law at the heart of the talks will the cycle of violence and destruction be brought to an end.”
Mr. Wibisono, who works in an independent and unpaid capacity, plans to conduct his mission in September 2014, with a view to preparing his oral update to the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly in October 2014 and his first substantive report to the twenty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council in March 2015.