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UN rights council rebukes Israel for human rights violations in Lebanon

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] in an emergency special session [materials; JURIST report] in Geneva Friday adopted by majority vote a resolution [draft, PDF text] condemning Israel for violating international human rights laws in the ongoing Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive] involving Lebanon. Twenty-seven of the 47 states with Council seats supported a slightly-amended final version of the measure, with 11 voting against, including 7 EU countries, Canada, Japan, Romania and Ukraine. Eight nations abstained, including Switzerland, although it had been critical of Israel [JURIST report] in the past. The resolution also called for the immediate end to the offensive in southern Lebanon, and for a commission to investigate alleged human rights abuses there. A last-minute amendment broadened a call on Israel to respect humanitarian law to include "all interested parties", but that was not enough to prevent the negative votes.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] read a statement [text] at the session setting out its legal context:

The most basic human right is the right to life: under no circumstances can anyone be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. I, and many others, have repeatedly reminded all parties to the conflict that in carrying out military operations, they must distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants. Civilians must never be the object of a direct intentional attack. The anticipated incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian property must always be proportionate to the pursuit of a concrete and direct military objective. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited and civilians must not be used to shield military objectives from attack.

While effective advance warning of attacks which may affect civilian populations must be given, compliance with this legal obligation does not relieve the parties from their other obligations under international law regarding the protection of civilians. These are some of the fundamental principles that all belligerents must adhere to.

When these legal obligations regulating the conduct of hostilities are violated, personal criminal responsibility may ensue, particularly for those in position of command and control.

Thus, I reminded all belligerents that war crimes and crimes against humanity may be committed even by those who believe, accurately or not, that their combat is a just one and their cause a worthy pursuit.
Arbour additionally reminded the Council that Hezbollah is also guilty of violating human rights standards, citing Hezbollah's use of human shields and missile attacks on densely-populated areas in northern Israel.

The session was convened by request of Tunisia on behalf of the UN Group of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference [advocacy website]. Reuters has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.

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