Gaza: UN expert on sexual violence in conflict reiterates grave concern for hostages

Gaza: UN expert on sexual violence in conflict reiterates grave concern for hostages

The UN expert working to end rape during wartime remains gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of hostages still being held by Hamas militants, especially the 15 women captives, 75 days after the extremist group’s brutal incursion into southern Israel. 

Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, called for the immediate, safe, and unconditional release of all those who remain in captivity.

Ms. Patten met this week with the mother of one of the young women taken hostage who expressed the pain, despair and helplessness that families are facing as they wait for the return of their loved ones. 

Sexual violence risk 

“The toll of this war on innocent civilians, on both sides, is too high and must end. We know that in circumstances of abduction or detention, women especially are at a heightened risk of different forms of violence, including sexual violence,” she said.

"Therefore, I call upon Hamas to release the remaining hostages, especially the 15 women, immediately and unconditionally. I urge States, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, and women’s rights organizations to join me in that demand.”

Ms. Patten recalled that all forms of sexual violence and the taking of hostages are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian and human rights law.

Investigate alleged incidents 

All horrific reports of sexual violence allegedly committed by Hamas on 7 October must be promptly and rigorously investigated, she said, underlining the UN’s readiness to independently investigate any such violations.

She said a wide range of stakeholders in Israel, including first responders and forensic experts, have already begun documenting acts of sexual violence which will serve as an important basis for both investigations and judicial accountability in the future.

 “Pending any such investigation, we cannot wait to raise the alarm, and to declare unequivocally that sexual violence should never, under any circumstances, be used as a tactic of war or terror. The failure to acknowledge and investigate such crimes is the surest sign that violations will continue unabated,” she added.

Support for ceasefire 

Ms. Patten reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and further appeals for urgent humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians there, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Separately, two organizations working to ensure children continue to learn even during conflict have supported the call for a humanitarian ceasefire to preserve lives and safeguard the future and education of the Palestinian people.

UNRWA schools are now serving as shelters and places where people can get medical care.
© UNFPA Palestine/Bisan Ouda
UNRWA schools are now serving as shelters and places where people can get medical care.

Action on education

Education Cannot Wait, the UN fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, and the Education Above All Foundation, urged immediate action on Gaza.

“We welcome the ongoing efforts in securing a United Nations Security Council Resolution and stress the need to protect both civilians and civilian infrastructure; principally students, teachers and educational personnel, schools, universities and vocational and training centres,” they said in a joint statement.

They noted that the ongoing war has killed many civilians and demolished and partially destroyed educational and training/vocational centres.

No safe place for children 

More than 625,000 students and 22,000 teachers have been affected by school closures and attacks on schools, universities and education facilities for two months, resulting in a total disruption of education which will have long-lasting effects on children in Gaza.

Additionally, more than 8,000 children have been killed as of 18 December, “evidencing the absence of any safe place for children in Gaza,” they added.

The partners jointly called for protecting all children from the effects of the war through essential and immediate medical, psycho-social and emotional rehabilitation and support.

They also highlighted their commitment to working to ensure that the survivors, including vulnerable children and children with disabilities, have access to safe and equitable education.

Supporting education under fire 

Education Cannot Wait is a global billion-dollar fund that supports “holistic learning outcomes” for refugee, internally displaced and crisis-affected children.

Education Above All Foundation works towards ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for vulnerable and marginalized people, especially in the developing world and in conflicts.

It was founded by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the former First Lady of the State of Qatar, who is a long-time advocate for education. 

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