UN rights council demands halt to arms sales to Israel

Resolution also calls for immediate ceasefire and emergency humanitarian access

An Israeli artillery unit fires towards Gaza. A UN resolution on Friday warned against large-scale military operations in the city of Rafah. EPA
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The UN Human Rights Council on Friday demanded a halt in all arms sales to Israel, whose war in Gaza has killed more than 33,000 people, almost half of them children.

The resolution was passed with 28 of the council's 47 member states voting in favour, six opposing it and 13 abstaining.

It marked the first time the UN's top rights body has taken a position on the bloodiest war to beset the besieged Palestinian territory.

The text called on countries to “cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel … to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights”.

It stressed that the International Court of Justice ruled in January “that there is a plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza.

Friday's resolution, which was brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of all Organisation of Islamic Co-operation member states except Albania, also called for “an immediate ceasefire” and “for immediate emergency humanitarian access and assistance”.

“We need you all to wake up and stop this genocide, a genocide televised around the world,” Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Mohammad Khraishi told the council before the vote.

Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, condemned the resolution as “a stain for the Human Rights Council and for the UN as a whole”, warning council members that “a vote yes is a vote for Hamas”.

Key ally Washington heeded Israel's call to vote no, as did Germany, Argentina, Bulgaria, Malawi and Paraguay.

Two of the countries who voted against – the US and Germany – provided 99 per cent of Israel’s major arms imports in the past four years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Italy accounts for a small share, while others such as the UK and the Netherlands typically provide vital parts for American-made F-35 fighter jets supplied to Israel.

Italy is one of several countries, also including Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium, that have suspended or limited sales since the offensive began. All are relatively small arms providers to Israel.

Activists have called on the UK to joint these states in reconsidering Israeli import licences since the start of war in Gaza.

Germany’s objections were that the text fails to mention Hamas, rejects Israel’s right to self-defence and makes unproven allegations against Israeli forces, said its representative on the council, Katharina Stasch.

The resolution “insinuates that Israel engages in apartheid, and it accuses Israel of collective punishment, deliberate targeting of the Palestinian civilian population and applying starvation as a method of warfare,” Ms Stasch said.

“While we believe that such allegations require thorough investigations, the result of such investigations should not be prejudged in a resolution of this council.”

US ambassador Michele Taylor agreed that “far too many civilians have been killed in this conflict and that every civilian death is a tragedy”, acknowledging that “Israel has not done enough to mitigate civilian harm”.

However, she said that Washington could not support the text, which she said contained “many problematic elements”, including its failure to specifically condemn Hamas and its October 7 attacks.

Friday's vote came after the UN Security Council in New York last week passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire, following an abstention from Washington.

The text of the UN resolution also urged countries to “prevent the continued forcible transfer of Palestinians within and from Gaza”.

It warned in particular “against any large-scale military operations in the city of Rafah”, in the south of the densely populated Gaza Strip, where almost 1.5 civilians are sheltering, warning of “devastating humanitarian consequences”.

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

The text insisted on the “imperative of credible, timely and comprehensive accountability for all violations of international law” in Gaza.

It called on UN war crimes investigators – tasked with investigating the rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories even before October 7 – to look into all “direct and indirect transfer or sale of arms, munitions, parts, components and dual use items to Israel” and “analyse the legal consequences of these transfers”.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Refugee Council on Friday called for decisive action, such as suspending arms transfers to Israel, and the immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza to avert further atrocities.

“The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has reached catastrophic levels, with nearly the entire population forcibly displaced and facing dire shortages of essential goods and services for survival,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the NRC.

“After six months of bloodshed, the UN Security Council must fulfil its responsibility to restore peace and security.

“It is beyond time for the international community to honour its commitments to prevent atrocity crimes and protect civilians,” said Mr Egeland.

In March, a UN investigator accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza urged countries to use sanctions and arms embargoes to force the Israeli leadership to change course.

Francesca Albanese said Israel would not “change on its own” after months of bloodshed in Gaza.

Her Anatomy of a Genocide report alleged that Israel is intentionally killing and harming Palestinians and making Gaza impossible for them to live in.

Updated: April 05, 2024, 12:37 PM