GENEVA — The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today said: “I strongly condemn the killing of dozens of civilians, among whom a very high proportion were children, resulting from the shelling by the Israeli Forces of a residential building in which civilians were sheltering in Qana, South Lebanon, on 30 July.
“I call again on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international law, and to take all measures to effectively protect civilians and civilian objects.” The High Commissioner extended her deepest condolences to the families of the victims.
Noting that Israel had warned the population of likely military action, the High Commissioner underlined that while effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population must be given, this legal obligation does not absolve the parties to the conflict of their other obligations under international law regarding the protection of civilians.
“All parties to the conflict must respect the principles of distinction and proportionality, particularly when civilians remain in the zone of military operations after a warning has been issued”, t he High Commissioner said.
She also recalled that international humanitarian law requires all parties to avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.
The High Commissioner noted the decision of the Israeli Forces to halt air strikes for 48 hours and called for full implementation of that commitment.
She added that “this brief halt does not in any way lessen the clear obligations of the Israeli Forces and Hezbollah under international law. Many people are simply unable to leave southern Lebanon because they have no transport, because roads have been destroyed, because they are ill or elderly, because they must care for others who are physically unable to make the journey, or because they simply have no where else to go. Many thousands of civilians will still be in Southern Lebanon after the suspension of air strikes is ended”.
The High Commissioner welcomed reports that Israel would conduct an inquiry into the civilian deaths at Qana. In order to establish facts and conduct an impartial legal analysis of the persistent allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during this conflict, the High Commissioner reiterated the need for independent investigations. To this end, she advocated the active involvement of international expertise in any such investigations. Once again the High Commissioner reminded all parties of the need for accountability for violations of international law. She reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cessation of all hostilities.