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UN Mission Says It Has ‘Clear and Convincing’ Information That Hamas Sexually Violated Women

FILE - Demonstrators gather outside U.N. headquarters in New York, Dec. 4, 2023. Israeli women and legal activists criticized international rights groups' response to reports of alleged sex crimes committed by Hamas militants during the October 7 attacks.
FILE - Demonstrators gather outside U.N. headquarters in New York, Dec. 4, 2023. Israeli women and legal activists criticized international rights groups' response to reports of alleged sex crimes committed by Hamas militants during the October 7 attacks.

A U.N. mission that visited Israel to look into reports that Hamas raped and sexually abused women during the October 7 terror attacks said Monday that it had received “clear and convincing information” that such violence occurred and could be continuing in captivity.

“We found clear and convincing information that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, has been committed against captives,” Pramila Patten, special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, told reporters.

“We also have reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing against those being held in captivity,” she added.

The team of nine technical experts visited Israel from January 29 to February 14. They met with an array of officials at relevant Israeli ministries, the National Center of Forensic Medicine and a military base. They also went to four locations where sexual violence was reported on October 7, including the site of the Nova music festival, where many young people were killed or abducted.

Additionally, the experts reviewed more than 5,000 photographic images and about 50 hours of footage of the attacks, much of it from Hamas members’ GoPro cameras. However, Patten said they did not meet with any of the survivors of sexual violence, despite their efforts.

“On the very first day, I made a call for survivors to come forward, but we received information that a handful of them were receiving very specialized trauma treatment and were not prepared to come forward,” she said.

Patten said the team received full cooperation from the government of Israel and found the information presented to them to be “authentic and unmanipulated.”

'Authentic' information

The mission, which was not intended as an investigation to collect evidence, was there to “gather, analyze and verify allegations of conflict-related sexual violence” during October 7 and its aftermath.

The U.N. team said it could not verify some reports of rape and sexual abuse, including a widely reported case of a pregnant woman living on Kibbutz Be’eri, whose womb was allegedly torn open and her fetus stabbed before they both died.

At the Nahal Oz military base, the U.N. experts said they could not verify a reported case of rape, nor did they find a clear pattern of genital mutilation in either female or male soldiers — although forensic analysis revealed injuries to multiple body parts.

Israel immediately took issue with the report, criticizing the U.N. hours before it was officially released.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on the social media platform X that he has recalled his U.N. ambassador to Israel for consultations, accusing the United Nations of attempting “to silence” Patten’s report.

Katz criticized U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for not ordering the U.N. Security Council to convene and to declare Hamas a globally recognized terrorist organization. Currently, the United States, European Union and some other Western countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Earlier Monday, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan also lashed out at Guterres and the U.N.

“If the U.N.’s deafening silence continues, despite the findings in the report, this will definitely be the last nail in the U.N.’s coffin. It will lose any remaining legitimacy,” he said.

Guterres’ spokesperson said the U.N. chief has fully supported Patten’s work.

“The work was done thoroughly and expeditiously. In no way, shape or form did the secretary-general do anything to keep the report 'quiet,' " Stephane Dujarric said, pointing to the public presentation of the report.

A group representing the families of the 134 hostages still being held by Hamas and affiliated groups said of the U.N. report that the people of Israel would not forgive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet “if they fail to put an end to the horrific acts the hostages have already endured for 150 days."

“It is glaringly obvious that the female hostages are going through hell every moment, every minute,” the Hostages Families Forum said in a statement, urging the government to agree a deal for their release.

Ramallah visit

The U.N. team also visited Ramallah in the West Bank to hear information about allegations of conflict-related sexual violence carried out by Israeli security forces and settlers against Palestinians following October 7.

Patten said the team heard from several interlocutors about cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of male and female Palestinians in detention.

“Including sexual violence in the forms of invasive body searches, threats of rape and prolonged forced nudity,” she told reporters. “Concerns were also raised about disproportionate physical and sexual violence, including sexual harassment and threats of rape during house raids, including at night and at checkpoints.

“The true prevalence of sexual violence during the October 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge, and may never be fully known, given that sexual violence remains a chronically under-reported crime in every conflict-affected setting due to trauma, stigma and fear faced by survivors,” Patten said. “But also in the context of Israel, where many did not survive the sexual violence.”

Read the full report here.