UN rights chief tilts towards Hamas

In his latest report to the Human Rights Council, presented on February 29th, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk promotes a narrative that sanitizes the terrorist group’s barbaric atrocities and refuses to acknowledge its genocidal goal of destroying the State of Israel along with its Jewish inhabitants. Like other UNHRC reports, this report disproportionately attacks Israel with 80% focused on criticizing Israel and only 20% on the Palestinians, including 4% criticizing internal violations by Palestinian actors against Palestinians.

The High Commissioner begins by putting the Hamas October 7th assault in context of “over 56 years” of Israeli occupation (Para 2), effectively justifying it. His report considers Gaza to be occupied never mind that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and clearly had no control over the territory since then.

The report then continues to passively describe the initial Hamas attack and invasion as if it equally shocked and victimized Israelis and Palestinians—“On 7 October, Israelis and Palestinians awoke to the heaviest barrage of explosive projectiles from Gaza in years” (Para 11)—when in fact many Palestinians on the Gaza side joined in the attack, while countless others cheered and celebrated it. These facts are conveniently omitted from Turk’s report.

The High Commissioner never uses the word “terrorist” to describe Hamas and its militants, including those who participated in the group’s October 7th massacre of Israeli families and young people. Instead, it legitimizes them as “armed groups” and “fighters.” Also never mentioned are Israel’s security needs and right to self-defense.

Indeed, the High Commissioner presents Israel and Hamas as two morally equal players, ignoring that Israel is a sovereign state which endeavors to comply with international law and to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas is a terrorist organization that intentionally and strategically flouts international law with the aim of inflating Palestinian civilian casualties. Other than two lines—one referencing an Israeli “claim” that is then turned against Israel and another in the report’s final conclusions—nowhere does the High Commissioner acknowledge or discuss Hamas’s widespread embedding of its military operations within Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, which has been extensively documented and reported.

Furthermore, the High Commissioner repeats highly disputed claims which excuse Hamas and portray Israel in a bad light without acknowledging that these claims are subject to controversy or presenting the other side of the story. For example, citing to a Haaretz article vehemently denied by Israel and debunked in a France-24 news report, the High Commissioner suggests that some of the Israeli civilian deaths on October 7th were caused by fire from an IDF helicopter (Para 12). Similarly, the report refers to “journalists killed in record numbers during hostilities in Gaza” (Para 67), without mentioning reports that many of these so-called journalists in fact double as Hamas agents.

Most appalling, the High Commissioner goes out of his way to make sure that the worst atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, are also charged against Israel. Thus, if Hamas committed the war crime of hostage-taking, so did Israel; if Hamas commits the war crime of using human shields, so does Israel; if Hamas commits the war crime of indiscriminate rocket-firing, so does Israel; if Hamas committed mass rape and sexual assaults, so did Israel, and so forth. In some cases, the High Commissioner accuses Israel while ignoring Hamas’s own crimes. Below are some examples of these outrageous distortions:

1. Hostages

Against Hamas: “Many civilians as well as military personnel were taken to Gaza and held there… Hostage-taking is a war crime.” (Para 15) 

Against Israel: Israel’s apparent use of two Palestinian men in Jenin as shields “may amount to the war crime of hostage-taking in the context of occupation” (Para 64)

2. Human Shields

Against Hamas: “Israel claimed that Al Qassem and other armed groups used civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and shelters, or tunnels underneath them, to conduct military operations. If armed groups did so with the intent to use protected places or the presence of civilians or persons hors de combat to prevent their military assets from being attacked, this would constitute a violation of the prohibition on use of human shields and would amount to a war crime.” (Para 43)

Against Israel: “Israeli security forces put Palestinians, including children, in danger, including by appearing to use them as human shields.” (Para 64)

3. Indiscriminate Attacks

Against Hamas: “The barrage of indiscriminate projectiles launched by Palestinian armed groups on Israel has continued beyond 31 October…They violate the prohibitions on indiscriminate attacks and the use of weapons, which are by nature indiscriminate under international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes.” (Para 17)

Against Israel: “The use of a GBU-31 or a GBU-32, in such densely populated areas in the middle of residential neighbourhoods when extensive civilian harm would be foreseeable, raises very serious concerns that these attacks were disproportionate and/or indiscriminate, and that no or insufficient precautions were taken.” (Para 37)

4. Rape and Sexual Assault

Against Hamas: “There are numerous reports of rape, sexual violence and abuse of women and girls during the attacks of 7 and 8 October in southern Israel.” (Para 72)

Against Israel: “Israeli security forces arrests after 7 October were often accompanied by beating, ill-treatment and humiliation of Palestinian women and men, including acts of sexual assault such as kicking genitals and threats of rape.” (Para 73)

5. Attacks on Children

The report contains 26 mentions of attacks or impact on children

Israeli children: 4 mentions in relation to general “impact” on Israeli civilians, including women and children, Hamas sexual violence against women and children, and a footnote detailing the number of child-hostages released by Hamas. The report does not otherwise mention Hamas atrocities against Israeli children, including how many children were taken hostage, murdered, orphaned, etc.

Palestinian children: 22 mentions, all against Israel with zero condemnations of Hamas for recruiting and using child soldiers, resulting in deaths of Palestinian children under the age of 18 that are blamed only on Israel.

6. Denial of Red Cross Visits

Against Hamas: Nothing

Against Israel: “Israel has stopped all International Committee of the Red Cross visits to Palestinians in Israeli prisons.” (Para 75)

7. Non-Compliance with IHL, Distinction, Proportionality, Precautions

Against Hamas: Nothing

Against Israel: “The widespread damage in northern Gaza raises serious concerns about Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attack.” (Para 27) + call on Israel to comply with these principles (Para 90)

UN Watch