20 Nov 2023

UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese calls for multilateral intervention in Gaza

8:00 pm on 20 November 2023
UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese, speaking in Auckland

UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese, speaking in Auckland Photo: RNZ / Jordan Dunn

UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese says there is a disconnect between atrocities committed in Gaza and the response of the Western world.

In New Zealand to meet with politicians, NGOs, human rights advocates and businesses this week, Albanese is calling for a multi-country intervention in the conflict.

She told reporters in Auckland that Hamas had committed war crimes, but actions taken by the Israeli military also violated the principles of international law - and there was a risk the crime of genocide was being carried out against the Palestinian people.

"Let's be clear: [Hamas'] killing civilians and taking civilian hostages are war crimes, and I've extended and continue to extend my deepest condolences to all communities affected.

"At the same time, what has happened in the occupied Palestinian territories - primarily in Gaza - is a complete violation of all basic principles that international law establishes.

"There have been over 12,000 people killed over a month now by Israeli bombs and military operations, 5000 of these are children, over 1.6 million people forcibly displaced, 30,000 Palestinians injured, and there is no measure to rescue them because Israel has also tightened its illegal blockade ... a collective punishment on the 2.2 million people living in the Gaza strip, half of whom are children.

"Half of the civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, 40,000 homes and churches, mosques, entire residential buildings, refugee camps and schools, bakeries, universities, there's very little to start, restart life after a ceasefire is declared.

"I've warned three times against the risk that Israel might be committing the crime of genocide in Gaza ... there has been calls to flatten Gaza, to erase Gaza from Earth, and to kill the Gazans because they are 'also responsible for what Hamas has done' and there is no distinction here between civilians and militants."

Albanese, an international lawyer and academic, is the first woman appointed to the role since it was established in 1993.

Officially the "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967" - she is required to objectively monitor and report the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and to provide details on it and its international legal ramifications to UN member countries.

"My role does entail observing the strictest standards of objectivity and impartiality ... once the facts are established, my responsibility is to analyse them according to the applicable international framework," she said.

The situation required the international community to promptly intervene, she said.

"We face a reality of a 56-year-old occupation - which has been the vehicle to colonise, to illegally annex, land that should be for ... an independent and sovereign state of Palestine - accompanied by the oppression of the Palestinian residents under a regime that cannot be called otherwise than apartheid. And nothing concrete has been done at an international level," she said.

"I'm really appalled the international community and each member state has not powerfully stood up to see a ceasefire declared and imposed among the warring parties.

"I don't understand why the political echelon in Western countries is being so removed from its obligations under international law, which include prevention of atrocity crimes. There is atrocity crimes being committed in Gaza and no-one is taking responsibility for it.

"What's going on in the occupied Palestinian territory is not only horrific in and of itself but is also a risk to threaten a broader regional conflagration. So I know peace is not the first thing that comes to the mind of the US administration - ever, if we look at 20 years of engagement in the Middle East and beyond - but at the same time, why the rest of the West needs to go behind it? Do we have our own consciousness?"

"What does it take to require a ceasefire, when over 12,000 people have been killed, 5000 of them are children and 3000 of them are under the rubble? Until a few days ago I would say gasping for air, but in fact they are now rotting under the rubble."

She said the situation had not been addressed as it should have been over a period of years, and the UN was completely paralysed because of the US veto and ongoing support for Israel.

"The general assembly and the Human Rights Council being more democratic and representative entities have tried to change the course of the meta (sic) but eventually international law is [only] as strong as the will of the member states to enforce it and there has been very little appetite, very little interest to take concrete measures."

It was clear Israel's continued military operation in Gaza was "not just about neutralising or annihilating Hamas military capacity".

"The goal was flattening the entire civilian infrastructure in Gaza, killing thousands of innocent people, how does it serve the purpose of depotentiating Hamas?

"I mean, how is this going to make the Palestinians less traumatised and less resentful towards the state of Israel which - it is to be remembered - had already killed thousands of people including 1000 children over the five wars that had occurred in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022. It's heavy."

She also placed some blame with Western media, saying the reporting contributed to the dehumanisation of Palestinians and failed to take a principled, objective and impartial stance. This included a lack of reporting on the Israelis who opposed the occupation, on the marches in support of Palestinian citizens around Europe, and a failure to challenge Israeli generals over their statements in live interviews.

"I will not name any particular media but for example I come from a country, Italy ... while not representative of entire Europe it does represent a general modus operandi.

"In the West, both political leaders and the media are playing an incredibly dangerous and irresponsible role in not presenting the facts as they are and in often confusing their legal qualifications," she said.

She said war crimes "happened while states were continuing to recite the mantra of the two-state solution - which, I mean, there is international consensus but how can we get there while Israel continues to build the colonies and to maintain an apartheid regime by default?"

She called for a multilateral intervention in the conflict.

"That clearly accompanies Israel's demilitarisation, not just Hamas, but Israel needs to withdraw its military troops and needs to end the colonial enterprise in what remains of the occupied Palestinian territory ... what remains of historical Palestine. This is what needs to be done if the two-state solution really means something."

She said some had talked of a different kind of solution, and while she didn't know whether that was the right one, the two-state proposal did not match the reality.

"Why there is so much obsession with the form of state? There is a one-state reality on the ground with profound discrimination, and what should be the care of the international community is that everyone between the Jordan River and the sea enjoys recognition of humanity, and equal rights and freedoms of humanity.

"These people, both people - one more than the other, if you look at the numbers - need healing. Healing. This is not something that politicians ... doesn't register with them, the trauma, and heal the trauma that has been there forever.

"There should be accountability but more than anything else it's a fair approach to both people. That cannot happen without ... the deployment of a protective presence on the ground."

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