UN finds 'convincing' information Hamas members abused women

Palestinian militant group has repeatedly rejected accusations of personal violence during the raids

Pramila Patten, UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict speaks during a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York. Reuters
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A UN report released on Monday stated that there was “convincing information” suggesting Palestinian militant group Hamas engaged in sexual violence during the attacks against Israel on October 7.

Investigators, however, were unable to verify some claims and said a “fully fledged investigation” would be required to establish the overall magnitude, scope and specific attribution for the sexual violence.

“The mission team found clear and convincing information that some hostages taken to Gaza have been subjected to various forms of conflict-related sexual violence and has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing,” the 24-page UN report said.

Hamas has repeatedly rejected accusations it took part in sexual violence during the attack.

Pramila Patten, special representative of the Secretary General on sexual violence in conflict, who recently returned from a trip to Israel, told reporters in New York that the team had found that there are “reasonable grounds” that violence including rape and gang rape occurred in at least three locations.

She said women had been raped and killed. The team also found a recurring pattern of victims found fully or partially undressed, bound and shot, “often in the head”.

The mission to Israel, led by Ms Patten, was conducted over a period of two and a half weeks from January 29 to February 14, and was not meant to be “investigative in nature” but to “gather, analyse and verify” allegations against Hamas.

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The UN mission visited four locations affected by the attacks in the Gaza periphery: Nahal Oz military base, Kibbutz Beeri, the Nova music festival site and Road 232.

The team reviewed 5,000 photos and about 50 hours of footage of the attacks provided by various state agencies, and independent private and open sources.

According to the report, the team encountered challenges in collecting and verifying details on the occurrence of conflict-related sexual violence due to difficulty gaining access to survivors and witnesses.

It also noted that the information gathered by the team was in a large part sourced from Israeli national institutions due to the absence of UN entities operating in Israel, "as well as the lack of co-operation by the state of Israel with relevant United Nations bodies with an investigative mandate".

The absence of comprehensive forensic evidence also “limited the mission team’s ability to draw definitive forensic conclusions in many instances”.

Ms Patten said that the team did not meet any survivor of sexual violence of October 7 attacks despite making a “call for survivors to come forward”.

“But we received information that a handful of them were receiving very specialised trauma treatment, and were not prepared to come forward,” she said.

The report added that the distrust survivors and hostage families had towards national institutions, international organisations and media scrutiny limited access to survivors.

Mother of two hostages describes nightmare situation with Hamas – video

Mother of two hostages describes nightmare situation with Hamas

Mother of two hostages describes nightmare situation with Hamas

At Kibbutz Beeri, Ms Patten said, her team “was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered”.

Chloe Marnay-Baszanger, team leader of the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict said they could not verify any sexual violence in Kibbutz Beeri.

It “does not mean necessarily it didn't occur", she told reporters. “It means we couldn't verify it.”

Ms Patten stressed that the findings will be used solely for the “purpose of the annual report of the Secretary General which will be debated before the council on the of April 25”.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan said: “Where is the voice of the United Nations?

"We have heard the empty words of UN officials calling for the release of the hostages. But have we seen any of them take action? Nothing.

“During the last five months, there was not a single discussion here dedicated to the welfare of the hostages."

After Mr Erdan’s remarks, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz summoned his UN envoy for consultations “regarding the attempt to silence the serious UN report".

“Despite the authority granted to him, the UN Secretary General did not order the convening of the Security Council in view of the findings, in order to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation and impose sanctions on its supporters,” Mr Katz wrote on the X social network.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 7:32 PM