Gaza Border Deaths: Unhrc Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:49 am on 22nd March 2019.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 11:49 am, 22nd March 2019

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s remarks, some of which I very much agree with. I also met Dr Tarek Loubani and colleagues from Medical Aid for Palestinians during the week. There is no doubt about his sincerity and the pain that he has experienced in relation to his injuries and the death of his friend. Any encounter with those who have been involved in the actions that resulted from the protests and the move towards the fence brings into sharp relief our discussions, when we confront the reality of what has happened—the loss of life, the life-changing injuries to a child hit by a bullet, a lifetime of disability and the loss of paramedics. Whatever the context of a right to protest and a right to defend, if such things result that is a tragedy, and such actions are shocking and appalling in equal measure. Whatever the context, that cannot and should not be an end result.

In relation to the procedural matters that the right hon. Lady raised, there are two parts to dealing with matters at the Human Rights Council: the vote itself, and the explanation of vote. The United Kingdom has not been alone in abstaining in relation to this accountability, and the votes were spread across the Human Rights Council. There are reasons for both.

The United Kingdom has taken a principled position in relation to item 7 for a period of time. When item 7 was introduced, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, Ban Ki-moon, the then UN Secretary-General, voiced his disappointment, given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world, that there was one specific item relating solely to Israel, and Israel was the only country that faced that. That has been the long-standing concern about item 7. At the same time, we have been at pains to make it clear that when issues came under other items, as with item 2 and this accountability report, the matter would be looked at entirely on its own merits, and we would support those actions that we believed we could.

In relation to this particular matter, at the time the inquiry was set up, we said that because of the nature of the inquiry—it would not be looking at the actions of those who were responsible for taking people to the fence and took some complicit action in relation to what happened—the inquiry could not be even-handed and balanced. That is why we abstained in the first place, and it is why we abstained again. If I may, I should put the explanation of vote that has been given in Geneva on to the record so that colleagues here can read it. It says:

“Our vote today follows on from our position in…2018 when we abstained on the resolution that created the Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza protests. Our expectation is that accountability must be pursued impartially, fairly, and in a balanced manner. We did not and cannot support an international investigation that refuses to call explicitly for an investigation into the action of non-state actors such as Hamas, and we cannot support a resolution that fails to address the actions of all actors, including non-state actors. The UK continues fully to support an independent and transparent investigation into the…events in Gaza. We note the IDF opening potential criminal investigations into a number of cases…But equally we have publicly and privately expressed our longstanding concerns about the use of live ammunition and excessive force by the Israel Defence Forces. Our decision to abstain reflects”— our concern and our balanced position. That is the reason for it, but it does not stop us calling out those actions we consider to be wrong. We welcome the fact that there will be some criminal investigations, and we wait to see the result of them.