Geneva - An urgent letter was sent by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor to Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. The letter called for sending a UN mission to monitor the protests along the Gaza eastern border and to document the Israeli practices against protesters taking part in what Palestinians call the Great March of Return.
Following calls by local groups for peaceful and nonviolent protests claiming Palestinian refugees’ right of return, thousands of Palestinian civilians from various areas in Gaza started since 30 March 2018 to gather in mass peaceful protests at the Gaza eastern border near the border fence. In response, the Israeli army used lethal force against unarmed protesters.
During the period between 30 March 2018 and 20 April 2018, Israeli snipers have killed 39 protesters, most of them wete unarmed civilians, and injured 5,000 others, including journalists. These protesters did not pose any threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers.
These protests are a result of Israel’s 12-year-long blockade imposed on Gaza’s two million Palestinians. This blockade has left a devastating impact on every aspect of Gaza’s daily life, depriving Palestinians of several basic human rights, such as, inter alia, the right to health care, education, and freedom of movement.
The killing of Yasser Murtaja, a 30-year-old Palestinian journalist and a father of a child was documented during these protests. Murtaja was shot in the abdomen “despite him wearing a vest clearly marked press. The journalist succumbed to his wounds after hours of struggling for his life.
An Israeli sniper shot a Palestinian young man while performing prayers at one of the protest areas. Another was shot while carrying a tire as he tried to run away from the border. The Israeli soldiers also fired teargas canisters at a field medical tent that provided first aid to the injured on 13 April, 2018.
These killings and excessive use of force occurred after many Israeli leaders publicly threatened to use force against demonstrators at the border fence. Israel refused to grant the necessary permits to the wounded to leave Gaza for treatment in the better-equipped hospitals in the West Bank, causing more deaths and forcing doctors to cut off the limbs of some of the wounded.
The UN Secretary-General, independent human rights experts, the International Criminal Court and the European Union, all have issued separate statements over the past few days expressing their concern over the unjustifiable excessive use of force by the Israeli forces against demonstrators, including live ammunition. They called for opening an urgent investigation into the Israeli forces' use of excessive force against the protests.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor stated that the use of excessive force against protesters may constitute a crime under the Rome Statute, calling for an end to the blockade on Gaza, which is a form of collective punishment of Palestinian citizens, and that constitutes a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.