Claims of Israeli sexual assault of Palestinian women are credible, UN panel says.

Claims of Israeli sexual assault of Palestinian women are credible, UN panel says

Experts report evidence of rape, sexual humiliation and threats of rape against girls and women

Julian Borger in WashingtonThu 22 Feb 2024 14.12 ESTShare

UN experts say they have seen “credible allegations” that Palestinian women and girls have been subjected to sexual assaults, including rape, while in Israeli detention, and are calling for a full investigation.

Israeli tanks near the border with Gaza Strip on 12 February. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The panel of experts said there was evidence of a least two cases of rape, alongside other cases of sexual humiliation and threats of rape. Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, said the true extent of sexual violence could be significantly higher.

“We might not know for a long time what the actual number of victims are,” said Alsalem, who was appointed special rapporteur by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2021.

She noted that reticence in reporting sexual assault was common because of the fear of reprisals against victims. She said that in a wave of detentions of Palestinian women and girls after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October, there was an increasingly permissive attitude towards sexual assault in Israeli detention centers.

“I would say that, on the whole, violence and dehumanisation of Palestinian women and children and civilians has been normalised throughout this war,” Alsalem said.

There was evidence of widespread sexual violence by Hamas against Israeli women and girls during the 7 October raid in southern Israel. The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel has reported that the use of rape and other abuse by the Hamas attackers was “systematic and intentional”. Those assaults, which were also condemned by Alsalem and the other UN experts, are to be the subject of a report by the UN secretary general’s special envoy on sexual violence, Pramila Patten.

Alsalem said she did not know whether Patten’s report would cover the allegations of rape and sexual assault of Palestinians women and girls, but that she was hoping to discuss the issue with her.

The Israeli government has rejected the allegations of sexual violence against Palestinians as “despicable and unfounded claims”.

The US state department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, said the administration was aware of the allegations and had asked the Israeli authorities to investigate.

“I cannot independently confirm the reports,” Miller said. “I will say that we have been clear that civilians and detained individuals must be treated humanely and in accordance with international humanitarian law. We strongly urge Israel to thoroughly and transparently investigate credible allegations and ensure any accountability for abuses and violations, and that will continue to be our position.”

In their report, delivered on Monday, the UN experts said: “We are particularly distressed by reports that Palestinian women and girls in detention have also been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence.”

The independent experts, who have been appointed by the UNHRC but do not represent the UN, reported that degrading photos of female Palestinian detainees, reportedly taken by Israeli soldiers, had been uploaded to the internet.

The experts said women and girls had not been spared in the widespread killing of Palestinian civilians. With the estimated death toll in Gaza now close to 30,000, the experts pointed to reports of women and girls being arbitrarily killed in Gaza, often with family members.

“We are shocked by reports of the deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing,” the experts said in a joint statement. “Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces.”

Source: Claims of Israeli sexual assault of Palestinian women are credible, UN panel says | Israel-Gaza war | The Guardian

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