Middle East

Australia, US vote against Gaza war crimes probe

A Palestinian protester throw stones during the clashes near the border between Israel and Gaza Strip, eastern Gaza City on, 18 May 2018. Source: AAP

Australia and the US were the only countries to vote against sending a team of international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces.

The UN Human Rights Council voted Friday to send a team of international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces.

The UN's top human rights body voted through a resolution calling on the council to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry" -- the UN rights council's highest-level of investigation.

Only two of the council's 47 members, the United States and Australia, voted against the resolution, while 29 voted in favour and 14 abstained, including Britain, Switzerland and Germany.

"Australia voted against the Human Rights Council resolution because of our principled opposition to resolutions that fail the test of balance and impartiality," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told SBS News in a statement.

"The UNHRC resolution pre-judged the outcome of an inquiry into violations of international law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.

"Nor did it refer to the role of Hamas in inciting violent protests."

Ms Bishop said the Australian Government would "consider specific proposals for external investigations into events on the Gaza Strip perimeter on their merits".

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed the rights council's decision, calling it "another shameful day for human rights".

"At a time when Venezuela lurches toward dictatorship, Iran imprisons thousands of political opponents, and ethnic cleansing has taken place in Burma, the UN’s so-called Human Rights Council has decided to launch an investigation into a democratic country’s legitimate defence of its own border against terrorist attacks," Haley said.

The text said the team should investigate all alleged violations and abuses... in the context of the military assaults on large scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018, ... including those that may amount to war crimes."

The special UN session comes after six weeks of mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border with Palestinian refugees demanding the right to return to their former homes inside what is now Israel.

The violence has claimed more than 100 Gazan lives, with 60 Palestinians killed and thousands injured in a single day of protests that coincided with Monday's move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

'New height of hypocrisy' 

Israel has justified its actions, arguing it was necessary to stop mass infiltrations from the blockaded Palestinian enclave which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Israeli ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter, slammed what she called a "shameful" and "biased" resolution by the UN rights council.

"Hamas is the aggressor. Hamas is the one committing war crimes," she said, insisting that with Friday's resolution, the Human Rights Council "has reached a new height of hypocrisy".

"This resolution is void of any sense, and deserves nothing less than being torn apart."

Opening the special session earlier Friday, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein slammed the "wholly disproportionate" use of force by Israeli troops and backed the call for an international probe.

"Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week," he said.

But Zeid insisted that many of those injured and killed on Monday "were completely unarmed, (and) were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs with live ammunition", he said, saying there was "little evidence of any (Israeli) attempt to minimise casualties".

He said, "some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used slingshots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel." 

But he added: "these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force." 

Israel has justified its actions, arguing it was necessary to stop mass infiltrations from the blockaded Palestinian enclave which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

 

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