The U.N. human rights chief expressed deep concern Wednesday about allegations of sexual violence by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 attack and called on Israel to allow his team access to the investigation. “These are very, very serious allegations and they must be investigated and properly documented,” Volker Turk, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said at a news conference.
“Justice must be served for the victims,” he said, stressing that he had repeatedly asked Israel for access to investigate the claims without receiving a response.
Turk’s comments came amid mounting criticism of the United Nations over its lackluster response to the alleged rapes and other sexual violence committed during Hamas’s unprecedented attack in Israel on October 7.
Even before forensic investigations began, a wealth of images pointed to the gruesome nature of the attacks, including images shared online and live footage streamed by the militants as they killed, according to an Israeli count, 1,200 people, mostly civilians , killed.
In response to the Hamas attack, Israel vowed to destroy the group and launched a relentless bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza, killing more than 16,200 people, most of them women, according to the Hamas-led government in Gaza and children.
Hamas has flatly rejected allegations of rape and sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks as “baseless lies.”
Israeli police, meanwhile, say they have investigated evidence of sexual violence ranging from alleged gang rape to post-mortem mutilation. A senior police official said last week they had so far collected “more than 1,500 shocking and difficult witness statements”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly accused the Palestinian militant group of such acts, said on Tuesday he had heard “of cases of sexual abuse and gruesome rape” during a meeting with hostages released by Hamas.
Anger over the allegations is growing, with U.S. President Joe Biden this week calling on governments and international organizations to “strongly and unequivocally condemn the sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists.”
Too little too late?
But deeply frustrated activists accused the United Nations of an inadequate response and the global human rights community of betrayal.
Just last week, the United Nations began issuing more forceful comments, including statements from UN chief Antonio Guterres and the UN Women’s Agency.
Catherine Russell, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, described reports of sexual violence on Oct. 7 as “horrifying” early Wednesday.
“Survivors need to be listened to, supported and cared for. Allegations must be fully investigated,” she said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“We condemn gender-based violence and all forms of violence against women and girls.”
However, this comment was immediately condemned by the Israeli Foreign Ministry as too little, too late.
Spokesman Lior Haiat criticized Russell for not mentioning the alleged perpetrators.
“The fact that she (Russell) does not mention the terrorist organization Hamas is another way of turning a blind eye to Hamas’ atrocities,” he told AFP.
“By not mentioning Hamas, she legitimizes their activities.”
Independent investigation required
Meanwhile, Turk stressed that Israel itself had not responded to his repeated requests for access to the independent investigation into the allegations.
“We take the allegations extremely seriously,” he said, but “we need to examine very carefully whether these allegations are deliberate, widespread and systematic.”
“I am unable to confirm this.”
He stressed that for weeks he had been “asking the Israeli authorities to set up a team, my team, to monitor, document and investigate the horrific attacks on Israelis.”
“I have repeated this call and hope that it will be heard, but so far I have received no response.”
Even if access is denied, Turk said that “we will find other ways and means to talk to whoever we need to talk to.”
“Abhorrent forms of sexual violence must be thoroughly investigated and we must ensure that justice is served,” he said.
“We owe it to the victims.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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