A United Nations independent commission of inquiry has held a second series of public hearings as part of its mandate to investigate human rights violations in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The five-day hearings in Geneva, which ended on Friday, focused on shrinking space for civil society and attacks against human rights defenders, activists, lawyers and journalists.
Among those who gave their testimony to the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem and Israel, were the colleagues and relatives of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
The 51-year-old veteran TV reporter was killed by Israeli forces on May 11, 2022 during a military strike in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
“Independent investigations have concluded that the gunfire directed at Abu Akleh and other reporters came from Israeli soldiers and that the journalists were deliberately targeted despite wearing conspicuous press placards on their vests,” said Walid Omary, head of the office of Al Jazeera Arabic in Jerusalem, the committee in its impeachment.
“The deliberate attack on journalists during a conflict constitutes a war crime,” he said.
Miloon Kothari, one of three members appointed to serve on the investigative committee, told Al Jazeera that the evidence presented at the hearings was “deeply disturbing”.
“There has been an escalation in the closure of the space to civil society by both the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian authorities and the de facto authority in Gaza,” Kothari told Al Jazeera.
“We are in the process of collecting all this information, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June of this year.”
The Commission of Inquiry into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel was established in the aftermath of the 11-day Israeli bombing of the besieged Gaza Strip in May 2021, which killed at least 250 Palestinians. At least 13 people have been killed in Israel in rocket attacks from Gaza.
Through a resolution passed at a session on May 27, 2021, the Human Rights Council decided to “establish as a matter of urgency a continuing, independent, international Commission of Inquiry” to investigate abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory and – for the first time – in Israel. investigations , as of April 13, 2021.
The resolution further requested that the Commission of Inquiry “investigate all root causes of recurring tensions, instability and sustained conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity”.
The Commission has an indefinite mandate to report annually to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly from June 2022 and September 2022 respectively.
It held a first series of public hearings from November 7 to 11, 2022, focusing on the closure orders and designation of “terrorism” issued by a number of Palestinian human rights organizations, as well as the assassination of Abu Akleh. At the time, Israel called the hearings “sham trials” and accused the investigation of an “anti-Israel” agenda.
The committee has previously said it “deplores the lack of cooperation on Israel’s part, along with its refusal to enter Israel and allow access to the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Kothari, an expert on international law who served as UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing to the Human Rights Council, said evidence gathered by the commission would be made available “to all judicial authorities”. He added that it submitted a report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year and expected a ruling on “the legality of occupation”.
“We have also asked the ICJ to outline the responsibilities of third states,” Kothari said.
Navi Pillay, chair of the commission, said on Tuesday that the occupation had been identified as the “root cause” of human rights abuses. She added that its nature was clearly “permanent” rather than temporary and negotiations were “just an appearance”.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights defender who testified at the hearings, said his work and that of others like him aims to “show the world what is happening”.
“Palestinians deserve full rights; we deserve justice, equality and we will not compromise on our basic human rights,” he said.
“We will not give up, but we need the international community to support and protect us,” he added.