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An urgent meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council shed much needed light on the current crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), but the council could have contributed more if it had addressed the roles of all parties to the conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. The special session on the Occupied Palestinian Territories concluded today.

“The council was right to bring attention to the desperate situation in Gaza, and to call on Israel to take immediate steps to end the crisis,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “But it failed to address acts of violence by Palestinian armed groups or to recognize that Palestinian authorities can help to resolve the situation.”

The special session was requested by Tunisia, chair of the Arab group, on behalf of 21 HRC members. One advantage the new council has over its predecessor is that such a session can be requested by one-third of its 47 members, making the council more able to respond quickly to urgent human rights violations.

“The Human Rights Council should hold additional special sessions on other pressing situations, such as Darfur,” Hicks said. “The council should bring the same vigor to its consideration of other urgent human rights situations as it has to the Gaza crisis.”

The special session concluded with the adoption of a resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territories by a vote of 29 in favor and 11 against, with five abstentions.

The resolution appropriately draws attention to the impact of the current crisis on Palestinians, and to human rights abuses and humanitarian law violations relating to Israeli military operations. Since June 25, the Israeli air force has destroyed government buildings, bridges and the only domestic electricity plant in Gaza. Israeli aircraft have caused sonic booms over Gaza on a nearly nightly basis, a practice which contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on “measures of intimidation” against the civilian population. Following an amendment to broaden the draft resolution, the final text also urges all parties to respect international humanitarian law by refraining from violence against civilians and to treat detained combatants and civilians in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

The resolution fails, however, to condemn recent actions by Palestinian armed groups, which include the indiscriminate firing of Qassam rockets into Israel, the murder of an Israeli settler in the West Bank, and the holding of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as a hostage. This omission is significant regardless of the relative weight of the violations by the parties, especially where attacks by one side are used to justify violations by the other. The new Human Rights Council’s credibility and thus its effectiveness will depend on its ability to address complex human rights situations objectively and even-handedly.

The resolution does request that the human rights expert appointed by the council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, undertake an urgent fact-finding mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“An independent investigation of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is an important step,” said Hicks. “The investigation should examine the conduct of all parties and focus on whether force has been used without proper care to avoid harming civilians.”

Human Rights Watch also called upon Israeli and Palestinian authorities to cooperate fully with this investigation.

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