GENEVA - The United Nations human rights office is echoing a recent call by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an independent investigation into Israel's use of force against Palestinians who staged protests in Gaza on March 30. The call came Friday as Israeli troops again clashed with Palestinians staging "right of return" border protests.
What began as a peaceful demonstration along the Gaza-Israeli border Friday turned deadly shortly after the U.N. human rights office in Geneva called for restraint by both the Israeli security forces and Palestinians. Spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters U.N. officials feared a repeat of last month's riots, which resulted in the deaths of 16 people and injuries to more than 1,000.
She said several hundred protesters reportedly were wounded by live ammunition. She noted the victims reportedly were unarmed or did not pose a serious threat to the Israeli security forces, who were well protected. The rights office said Israeli security forces used excessive force last month. Throssell told VOA that Israel denies the accusation.
“From what we have documented, it is certainly that the killings and the injuries do actually point to an excessive use of force and, in particular lethal force," said Throssell. "And, that was in a situation where there was no threat of death or serious injury. And, that is why we have made this call. This is a law enforcement issue. This has law enforcement principles.”
Under international human rights law, firearms may be used only as a last resort, only in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury. Throssell said international law obliges Israel’s security forces to respect the rights of peaceful assembly.
She said in the context of a military occupation, as is the case in the self-governing Palestinian territory, the unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms by law enforcement resulting in death may amount to a willful killing and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The Palestinians have constructed protest tent camps along the entire length of the Gaza Strip in five locations. They are expected to stay in place for six weeks.
The protests are designed to commemorate the Nakba or "catastrophe" when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee their land or were expelled during the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel. Israel has deployed more than 100 snipers along the Gaza Strip.