Within days of Hamas’s attack on Israel and Israel’s declaration of war, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory issued a statement detailing “clear evidence” of war crimes having been committed by Israel, Hamas, and other armed groups participating in the violence. A JURIST report on October 11, 2023, outlined the Commission’s statement and quoted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ reminder to all sides of the conflict to keep international humanitarian law in mind and “take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian objects.” Expressing its deep distress over the situation, the UN Commission highlighted Hamas’s “abhorrent” and intolerable crimes against Israeli civilians, alongside Israel’s siege of Gaza and collective punishment of the Palestinian civilians in that territory. Hamas’s taking of hostages is in direct contravention of the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages and Common Article Three of the Geneva Convention. Likewise, Israel’s “withholding of water, food, electricity, and fuel” constitutes collective punishment, which is proscribed by Article Fifty of Hague Convention IV on War on Land. Collective punishment is punishment of a population for the actions of its government, other groups or individuals who operate within or around that population.
The Commission and High Commissioner have called for both sides to respect their international obligations and to adhere to humanitarian and human rights laws, stating their “intent to ensur[e] legal accountability” and continued dedication to investigating allegations of war crimes and human rights violations. The Commission called for the unconditional release of all hostages and emphasized the need to address the “root causes of the conflict” so that further suffering on both sides may be ended.