Top UN rights experts urge Western powers cease arms exports to Israel: Statement

Mohamed Badereldin, Friday 23 Feb 2024

A group of United Nations (UN) experts has issued a strong call for an immediate cessation of arms exports to Israel, stating that any transfer of weapons or ammunition to be used in Gaza would likely violate international humanitarian law.

Technicians inspect an Israeli air force F-16 jet at the Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel. AP


The group of experts who issued this statement includes more than 30 high-level officials working for various bodies including; Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. 

The statement was also endorsed by several high-level UN officials including; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Nicolas Levrat, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.

The experts emphasized that all states have a responsibility to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and refrain from transferring weapons or ammunition if there is a clear risk that they will be used to violate international humanitarian law.

The experts hailed the recent decision by a Dutch appeals court that ordered the Netherlands to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.

The court found that there was a "clear risk" that the parts could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law.

It cited extensive evidence of civilian casualties, destruction of infrastructure, hunger, and displacement in Gaza, as well as the use of imprecise weapons and incriminating statements by Israeli commanders and soldiers.

The figures presented by the experts are alarming, with over 29,514 Palestinians killed and 69,616 injured in Gaza since 7 October 2023, the majority of whom are women and children.

The experts accused Israel of repeated failures to comply with international law.

They stressed that States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty have additional obligations under the treaty to deny arms exports if they have knowledge that the arms would be used to commit international crimes or if there is an overriding risk of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

They added that European Union member states are also bound by EU arms export control law.

The need for an arms embargo on Israel is further highlighted by the International Court of Justice's ruling on 26 January 2024, which stated that there is a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza.

The experts emphasized that all means reasonably available should be employed to prevent genocide, which necessitates halting arms exports in the present circumstances.

The experts commended the suspension of arms transfers to Israel by Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Japanese company Itochu Corporation. They called on other states to immediately halt arms transfers to Israel, including export licenses and military aid.

They singled out the United States and Germany as the largest arms exporters to Israel, with shipments increasing since 7 October.

France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia were also identified as military exporters.

The experts reiterated that arms transfers to Hamas and other armed groups are also prohibited by international law due to their grave violations of international humanitarian law.

They emphasized that the duty to ensure respect for humanitarian law applies in all circumstances, including when countering terrorism, and that military intelligence must not be shared when there is a clear risk of violating international humanitarian law.

The experts warned that state officials involved in arms exports may be individually criminally liable for aiding and abetting war crimes, crimes against humanity, or acts of genocide.

They called on all states to take measures within their power to prevent and stop violations of international humanitarian law by Israel, including diplomatic dialogue, technical assistance, sanctions, legal proceedings, and support for investigations.

The responsibility of arms companies and businesses investing in them was also highlighted, with the experts stating that they must respect human rights, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law.

Failure to demonstrate the required human rights due diligence could risk complicity in violations, according to the UN Experts.

The experts concluded by emphasizing that "international law does not enforce itself" and that "all States must not be complicit in international crimes through arms transfers. They must do their part to urgently end the unrelenting humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

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