UPDATING LIVE: Civilians in Israel and Palestine 'cannot be abandoned', says top UN official on sexual violence in conflict

UPDATING LIVE: Civilians in Israel and Palestine 'cannot be abandoned', says top UN official on sexual violence in conflict

Amid worsening humanitarian conditions in the war in Gaza, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, briefed the Security Council in New York on her sexual violence report relating to the 7 October attacks. She said while nothing can justify the "deliberate violence" perpetrated by Hamas, nothing could justify "the collective punishment of the people in Gaza".

4:10 PM

Russia: More information needed

Russian representative Maria Zabolotskaya, recalling her delegation’s unequivocal condemnation of the October attacks, said these crimes, no matter how heinous, cannot be just to justify collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.

Welcoming efforts aimed at shedding light on the crimes committed during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, she said the UN is not taking sufficient measures in this area nor does it have access to reliable information.

Moreover, she said, the Special Representative's visit did not include a visit to Gaza, and it was unclear what kind of Israeli cooperation the report refers to. Indeed, the Council has only been given partial information.

Noting that Ms. Patten’s team was unable to meet victims of the sexual assault that took place during the tragic events of 7 October, she said the data was mainly received from the Government of Israel.

“Only after a comprehensive and objective study of the situation in its entire geographical extent will it be possible to draw any conclusions,” she said, adding that Russia categorically rejects attempts to manipulate the important issue of combating sexual violence in the conflict.

“We consider it unacceptable that the suffering of people who have experienced sexual violence or accusations of this serious crime become a ‘bargaining chip’ in political games,” she concluded.

4:02 PM

Mozambique: Intervention urgently needed

Domingos Estêvão Fernandes, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mozambique to the UN, said that the relentless violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, coupled with the bombardment in the Gaza Strip demanded the “immediate intervention” of the Security Council.

“All parties must fully respect international humanitarian law as rape and other forms of sexual violence constitute grave violations in armed conflict,” he said, strongly urging all parties to pursue a peaceful resolution and a cessation of hostilities during the scared month of Ramadan.

“We should all pause and reflect on whether our world needs further bloodshed and violence,” he added.

3:35 PM

France: Ceasefire needed now

French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière said it is unacceptable that the Security Council and the General Assembly have not yet been able to clearly condemn the terrorist acts and violence, including sexual violence, committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups on 7 October.

France will continue to work so that the reality of the crimes committed that day is recognized and cannot be called into question, he said.

“We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” he continued, emphasizing that international law is binding on all. It will be necessary to shed light on the allegations contained in the report about some forms of sexual violence against Palestinians.

At the start of Ramadan, and while no agreement has been reached on a cessation of hostilities, France reiterates its call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in order to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and the protection of civilians, he said, stating that the lack of sufficient access to those in need is unjustifiable and indefensible.

3:29 PM

Civilians terrorized: UK

Tariq Ahmad, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, said that it is a tragic fact that sexual violence is used to terrorize civilians, shattering lives and leaving brutal and lifelong scars on victims, their families, and communities.

He voiced “deep concern” over Special Representative Patten’s findings, including “reasonable grounds” to believe that sexual violence occurred in Israel on 7 October and the existence of “clear and convincing” information that sexual violence has been committed against hostages.

“It is deeply disturbing to know that ‘such violence may be ongoing against those still in captivity’,” he added, calling for the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all hostages.

United Kingdom’s Minister for the Middle East, Lord Tariq Ahmad, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
UN Photo
United Kingdom’s Minister for the Middle East, Lord Tariq Ahmad, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

Lord Ahmad also expressed “deep shock” at the reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinian detainees, which are being investigated.

“I call on Israel to take immediate measures to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, to abide by international humanitarian law, to ensure thorough investigations into these reports, and for perpetrators to be held to account,” he added.

“Let me be absolutely clear – we, the United Kingdom, condemn conflict-related sexual violence unequivocally, wherever it occurs, and stand in solidarity with all victims and survivors,” he said.

“Put it simply, it must stop. Perpetrators must be held accountable. Survivors must receive holistic support,” he said.

In conclusion, Lord Ahmad said that justice delayed is justice denied, and that a two-State solution is the “only way” to achieve justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

“The first step must be an immediate stop to the fighting leading to a permanent, sustainable ceasefire, the release of all hostages and vital humanitarian lifesaving aid delivered to Gaza. It is this solution that we seek,” he said, adding:

“We owe it to the legacy of every innocent civilian killed in Israel and across the Occupied Palestinian Territories to utilize every lever and channel we have in pursuit of this.”

3:10 PM

‘I saw the pain in their eyes’: Patten

UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, provided an overview of her mission to Israel and the West Bank, which was not investigative in nature, but aimed at gathering, analysing and verifying reports on conflict-related sexual violence.

Considering the ongoing hostilities, she did not request a visit to Gaza, where other UN entities are operation, with some monitoring sexual violence.

“There has been no attempt by the Secretary-General to silence my report or suppress its findings,” she said at the outset, emphasizing that her team, including nine UN experts, conducted the mission in accordance of independence and transparency.

Conclusions were based on the credibility and reliability of sources and assessing whether or not there was information sufficient to determine a finding of fact, she said, noting that in a number of cases, the team assessed that certain allegations were unfounded.

Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs UN Security Council members on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
UN Photo
Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs UN Security Council members on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

Israel visit

Her team conducted interviews with 34 individuals, including survivors of the 7 October attacks, visiting four sites of alleged attacks and review over 5,000 images and 50 hours of footage provided by authorities and independent sources. The team did not meet with survivors of sexual attacks, she said.

What I witnessed in Israel, were scenes of unspeakable violence perpetrated with shocking brutality resulting in intense human suffering,” she said, recalling meeting with traumatized communities who are trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

“I saw the pain in their eyes,” she said, citing reports of people who had been shot, burned in their homes and killed by grenades alongside the abduction of hostages, mutilation of corpses and widespread looting. “It was a catalogue of the most extreme and inhumane forms of killing, torture and other horrors.”

Hostages in Gaza

“We found clear and convincing information that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has been committed against hostages and we have reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may still be ongoing against those in captivity,” she said, adding that this information does not legitimize further hostilities.

Instead, this creates “a moral imperative” for a humanitarian ceasefire to end the unspeakable suffering imposed on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and bring home the hostages, she said.

West Bank

On the visit to Ramallah, she said UN entities had already provided information that would be included in her report to the Council in April.

“What I witnessed in the occupied West Bank was a climate of intense fear and insecurity with women and men terrified and deeply disturbed over the ongoing tragedy in Gaza,” she said.

Interlocutors raised concerns of invasive body searches, unwanted touches, threats of rape against women and inappropriate and prolonged forced nudity among detainees, she said.

Raising these reports with Israeli authorities, who indicated its who provided her with some information regarding their protocols in place to prevent and address such instances and indicated their willingness to investigate any alleged breaches.

“In this regard, I wish to express my disappointment that the immediate reaction to my report by some political actors was not to open inquiries into those alleged incidents, but rather to reject them outright via social media,” she said.

“We must translate political resolve into operational responses, which are critical in the current context of unremitting violence,” she said.


The report makes a number of recommendations, including urging all parties to agree to a ceasefire and for Hamas to release all hostages.

“The implicated parties in these hostilities have turned a blind eye to international law,” she said, encouraging the Government of Israel to grant without further delay access to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that Israel to carry out fully-fledged investigations into all alleged violations that occurred on 7 October.

Truth is the ‘only path to peace’

“Truth is the only path towards peace,” she said, also calling on relevant bodies to bring perpetrators to justice.

Nothing can justify the violence perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October nor the horrific collective punishment of the Palestinian people, she said.

“The end goal of my mandate is a world without war,” she said. “Civilians and their families in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory cannot be abandoned by the international community. Survivors of sexual violence and persons at risk must be protected and supported. We cannot fail them.”

She said horror and heartache must be replaced with healing, humanity and hope.

“The credibility of the multilateral system depends on it, and the rules-based international order demands no less.”

3:06 PM

Ms. Patten is briefing ambassadors, and said the Council was meeting more than 150 days after the coordinated Hamas-led attack, the deadliest in Israeli history.

She also reminded that more than 30,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have perished in the aftermath of 7 October during the Israeli offensive, according to figures released by the health ministry in Gaza.

2:45 PM

Ms. Patten is expected to provide an overview of the report on sexual violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, which made headlines worldwide upon its release last week following a visit to the region from late January to mid-February.

According to the report, the Special Representative said that during the Hamas attacks on Israel in October, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that incidents of sexual violence took place “in at least three locations”, including the Nova music festival. 

Findings also showed hostages taken during the attacks faced “rape and sexualized torture and sexualized cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and it also has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing” inside Gaza.

In the West Bank, her team heard “the views and concerns" of Palestinian counterparts over incidents “allegedly committed by Israeli security forces and settlers”. The report noted that stakeholders had “raised concerns about cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians in detention, including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence, namely invasive body searches, threats of rape and prolonged forced nudity”.

The meeting is taking place against the backdrop of rising hunger in Gaza, where aid deliveries have been blocked by Israel and the risk of famine is steadily mounting, as Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) military operations are planning a ground invasion in Rafah, the southern point of the besieged and bombarded enclave, where more than 1.5 million Gazans are seeking shelter from the fighting.

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