Open Letter: Urgent call to secure a ceasefire and to prevent a human rights catastrophe in Palestine


Open Letter to Mr. Josep Borell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Geneva-Brussels, 26 February 2024

Mr. President,

We are now more than four months into the terrible escalation of violence following the horrors perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, constituting crimes under international law. No one would think of denying the right of Israel to protect its citizens from such crimes, as no one can seriously deny the right of people living under a 57-year occupation to resist and defend themselves and to strive for their inalienable right to self-determination. Those rights can only be exerted in compliance with international law, notably human rights and humanitarian law, proportionality and distinction being essential to compliance.

In this conflict, we still have hostages kept by Hamas, as well as a dramatic rise in arbitrary arrests and detention of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. All this amidst alarming allegations of torture and, ill-treatment and dehumanization to a point to warn of a widespread and systematic scale of such treatment (see enclosed). We now have an overall death toll, which is most probably higher than 30,000, and more than 500,000 injured people, of which many children are deprived of the most essential sanitary assistance. The international rule-based order with human rights law as a centrepiece is at a breaking point with dire long-term consequences for Europe.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is committed to combat torture and other ill-treatment. In its ruling of 26 January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has made clear in § 78 c) and 80 the obligations of the State of Israel. The ruling also has legal implications for third states to prevent genocide and not become complicit.

The European Union has rightly stressed that the provisional orders are legally binding. It is time for the Commission to ensure their enforcement and to act itself to prevent irreparable damage, considering a plausible Genocide and ethnic cleansing unfolding. Undoubtedly, what we see goes far beyond anything justified in any armed conflict. Its conduct and treatment inflicted on the people living in Palestine and the Gaza Strip who do not have any possibility to leave or to seek safety constitutes ill-treatment and a form of collective punishment. In the same way, we see what appears to be a deliberate policy of suffocation and starvation being applied in violation of the explicit provisional order of the ICJ, constituting a possible war crime of starvation and cruel, inhuman treatment.

Your statement concerning UNRWA’s role and needed support was welcome. It must be matched with concrete support and pressure on Israel to allow the delivery of aid - which it is legally obliged to as an occupying power and under the ICJ ruling. Israel is today in breach of its obligations as a state party to the United Nations Convention against Torture. It violates core principles of international humanitarian law (4th Geneva Convention, article 33).

We welcome your 10-point proposal made to the EU Council of Ministers on 22 January 2024, as there is an urgent need to stop the cycle of violence and human rights violations. At the heart of these 10 points must be the full respect for international law, including human rights law and breaking the cycle of impunity for such violations.

We urge you to seek with all parties ways to end the blockade of Gaza to prevent a direct attack on Rafah with unspeakable consequences. There is no alternative to an immediate and lasting cease-fire. It is the only way to ensure compliance with the ICJ order and to allow humanitarian aid (water, food, medical and sanitary assistance) to be delivered promptly.

We urge you to restore the rule of law and use all mechanisms at your disposal to prompt the enforcement of the provisional measures issued by the ICJ and prevent a lasting stain on the ability of the EU to speak out on human rights. This is the time for the European Commission to act and avoid a human rights catastrophe.

Sincerely yours,

Gerald Staberock

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