India Abstains as UNHRC Approves Probe Into Israeli Human Rights Abuses in Palestine

The resolution, passed by 24 votes in favour and nine votes against, marks an exceptional level of examination into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This would be the first time that a Commission of Inquiry is not time-bound.

New Delhi: India on Thursday abstained on the resolution that calls on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to set up a permanent commission to probe human rights violations in Gaza, West Bank and Palestine.

The resolution, passed by 24 votes in favour and nine votes against, marks an exceptional level of examination into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This would be the first time that a Commission of Inquiry has received a “continuing mandate”, that is, it is not time-bound.

India abstained along with 13 others, including France, Japan, Nepal, Brazil and South Korea. The nine nay-sayers included the UK, Germany, Bulgaria and Czech Republic.

The resolution, moved by Pakistan and Palestine, called on the president of the UN Human rights council to set up an “independent, international commission of inquiry” into the events which led to the current Gaza crisis.

The COI was also mandated to look at “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity”.

The resolution also urged all third parties to refrain from transferring arms to either of the two parties if there is a “clear risk” that such weapons could be used in commission or facilitation of serious violations of international law.

The one-day special session of the Geneva-based UNHRC was convened on request of the member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Palestine.

Delegates, wearing masks, listen to speeches during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland September 14, 2020. Photo: Martial Trezzini/Pool via Reuters/File

The latest round of Gaza violence began with tension escalating over Israeli forces cutting off the loudspeakers used to broadcast prayers from the Al-Aqsa mosque on April 13. This was followed by Israel’s decision to ban gatherings at the plaza near Damascus Gate.

With an imminent Israel Supreme court decision, there was also frequent protests about a looming eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Israel police were rushed into the Al-Aqsa compound and used heavy-handed tactics to subdue the protesting Palestinians over several days.

On May 10, Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas fired rockets into Israel, most of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israel then retaliated with airstrikes. The devastating exchange of firepower went on for 11 days before the Egyptian brokered ceasefire came into existence on May 21.

Over 250 people were killed, out of which 230 were Palestinians. The toll in Gaza included 65 children. In Israel, twelve people were killed, including a five-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. An Indian national, who worked as a caregiver in Ashkelon, also died in the missile strikes targetting Israel.

India did not give an explanation of its vote at the virtual session. However, other members states which voted against or abstained on the resolution, like the UK and France, cited the expansive nature of the mandate given to the Commission of Inquiry.

Until now, the UN body’s Commissions of Inquiry set up to probe human rights violations in particular hotspots like Syria or Sri Lanka have a validity of one year, renewed periodically.

India’s statement, read out by Permanent Representative Indra Mani Pandey, was nearly identical to the ones delivered in the UN Security Council and General Assembly earlier this month.

Welcoming the ceasefire, India reiterated that none of the parties should attempt the “unilaterally change the existing status-quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods”.

“We remain concerned about the continuing violence in Jerusalem, especially at Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount and other Palestinian territories, and about the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, an area which is part of an arrangement facilitated by the UN,” said Pandey.

He also criticised the violence, with specific condemnation of Hamas rocket strikes. “The indiscriminate rocket firings from Gaza targeting the civilian population in Israel, which we have condemned, and the retaliatory airstrikes into Gaza in the last two weeks have caused immense suffering- and resulted in deaths, including an Indian national—a caregiver in the Israeli city of Ashkelon,” Pandey said.