Ex-rights chief Navi Pillay to lead UN Israel-Palestinian inquiry

This comes after the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians in May this year. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - Former UN rights chief Navi Pillay will lead the United Nations' open-ended inquiry into "systematic" abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories, it was announced on Thursday (July 22).

The UN Human Rights Council's president said Pillay would lead a three-person investigation into abuses and their "root causes" in the decades-long conflict.

A commission of inquiry (COI) is the highest-level investigation that can be ordered by the council.

The probe was triggered during a special session of the council held on May 27 to discuss the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians earlier in the month.

The conflict killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, according to Gaza authorities.

In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by projectiles fired from Gaza, the police and army said.

The council established an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate "all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law" in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.

It will look into "all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity".

The commissioners were mandated to get to the facts and circumstances surrounding violations and identify those responsible "with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations are held accountable".

First report in June

While the council has previously ordered eight investigations into rights violations committed in the Palestinian territories, this is the first with a mandate to examine "root causes" and probe systematic abuses.

The resolution was presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It passed with 24 of the council's 47 members in favour.

The COI is set to report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council each year from June 2022.

This commission is the first-ever open-ended COI - others like the one on Syria need their mandates renewed every year.

Current UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is set to provide an oral update to the council in September on progress made in implementing the resolution.

Pillay, the South African former judge, served as the UN high commissioner for human rights from 2008 to 2014.

She will be joined by Miloon Kothari of India, the first UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, and Australian international human rights law expert Chris Sidoti.

They are set to travel to the region to meet witnesses and victims.

They will be backed up by a secretariat including professional investigators and legal analysts.

In a statement, the Israeli permanent mission to the UN in Geneva said the COI was created during a "flawed and biased" council session convened "with the sole intent of attacking Israel".

"Not surprisingly, the purpose of this mechanism is to find Israeli violations, while whitewashing the crimes committed by Hamas, a terrorist organisation in the Gaza Strip," the mission said in a statement.

Israel therefore "cannot and will not cooperate with such an investigation".

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