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UN experts demand accountability for victims of sexual torture and unlawful killings during 7 October attacks

GENEVA (8 January 2024): UN experts* have called for full accountability for the multitude of alleged crimes committed against civilians in Israel in the 7 October attacks, and cooperation with investigators.

The allegations include grave violations of international law, including killings, hostage-taking, and torture including sexual torture. Across 22 villages approximately 1,200 Israeli and foreign nationals were killed. Thousands more were injured. An estimated 240 adults, children and infants were taken hostage.

“As armed Palestinian groups rampaged through communities in Israel bordering the Gaza strip, thousands of people were subjected to targeted and brutal attacks, the vast majority of whom were civilians,” the experts said. “The growing body of evidence about reported sexual violence is particularly harrowing.”

The UN experts said individuals were allegedly burnt alive in their homes or bomb shelters. Some bodies were found decapitated or mutilated or both. Many bodies had signs of trauma consistent with executions. Many bodies had injuries consistent with beatings at or near the time of death.

Allegations of sexual torture include rapes and gang rapes, sexual assaults, mutilations and gunshots to genital areas. Female bodies were found with their clothing pulled up to their waists, with underpants removed or torn or stained with blood.

“These acts constitute gross violations of international law, amounting to war crimes which, given the number of victims and the extensive premeditation and planning of the attacks, may also qualify as crimes against humanity”, the experts said.

“There are no circumstances that justify their perpetration,” the experts said. “Acknowledging and documenting the harm done, and the pursuit of justice are vital steps towards peace.”

“Each and every victim deserves to be recognised, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or sex, and our role is to be their voice,” they said.

The experts welcomed the release of 110 hostages while expressing deep concern for those still being held and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

“We are deeply conscious of the active conflict in Gaza and Israel and the severe humanitarian crisis. We urge all parties to agree a ceasefire, abide by international law, and investigate any crime alleged during the armed conflict,” the experts said.

The experts recall their previous statement on the need for independent and impartial investigations for all rights violations, including those in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

They have already raised these issues through a letter addressed to the State of Palestine as the official UN Observer State and party to relevant human rights and humanitarian law treaties. A copy of the letter was also sent to the de facto authorities in Gaza [Hamas] which claimed responsibility for the overall attack and bears command responsibility as well as has human rights obligations in light of their exercise of government-like functions. A copy was also sent to the Government of Israel, which has territorial jurisdiction over the crimes.

*The experts: Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.


United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 2024


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