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OHCHR: Israeli strikes in Gaza may be war crimes


  • The UN rights chief said that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes in the latest, 11-day war with the militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip, while also pointing that Hamas’ indiscriminate rocketing during the conflict was also a clear violation of the rules of war.
  • The remarks by Michelle Bachelet, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), came as the UN’s top human rights body opened a one-day special session to discuss the plight faced by Palestinians in the fighting.


GS-II: International Relations (Important International Organizations, Important Conventions and International Laws)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  2. Objectives of OHCHR
  3. What is a War Crime?
  4. Geneva Conventions
  5. What was said by the OHCHR regarding the recent Israel-Palestine war?

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

  • The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is commonly known as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or the UN Human Rights Office.
  • OHCHR is a department of the Secretariat of the United Nations that works to promote and protect the human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
  • The office was established by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 1993 in the wake of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights.
  • The office is headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who co-ordinates human rights activities throughout the UN System and acts as the secretariat of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Objectives of OHCHR

The objectives of OHCHR are to:

  1. Promote universal enjoyment of all human rights by giving practical effect to the will and resolve of the world community as expressed by the United Nations
  2. Play the leading role on human rights issues and emphasize the importance of human rights at the international and national levels
  3. Promote international cooperation for human rights
  4. Stimulate and coordinate action for human rights throughout the United Nations system
  5. Promote universal ratification and implementation of international standards
  6. Assist in the development of new norms
  7. Support human rights organs and treaty monitoring bodies
  8. Respond to serious violations of human rights
  9. Undertake preventive human rights action
  10. Promote the establishment of national human rights infrastructures
  11. Undertake human rights field activities and operations
  12. Provide education, information advisory services and technical assistance in the field of human rights

What is a War Crime?

  • War crimes are those violations of International Humanitarian Law (treaty or customary law) that incur individual criminal responsibility under International law.
  • War crimes carry an individual liability i.e., the person who has committed a war crime cannot take the defence that he was following the orders of his seniors, one is supposed to not indulge in war crimes even on the orders of their superiors.
  • War crimes include torture, rape, destroying property, intentional killing of civilians and prisoner of war, not providing necessary items for the survival of captured people, taking hostages, etc.

Geneva Conventions

  • The Geneva Conventions (1949) and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war.
  • They protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
  • The first Geneva Convention protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during war.
  • The second Geneva Convention protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during war.
  • The third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners of war.
  • The fourth Geneva Convention affords protection to civilians, including in occupied territory.
  • Article 3, common to the four Geneva Conventions, covers situations of non-international armed conflicts. They include traditional civil wars, internal armed conflicts that spill over into other States or internal conflicts in which a third State or a multinational force intervenes alongside the government.
  • Two Protocols of 1977: Additional to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions were adopted in 1977. They strengthen the protection of victims of international (Protocol I) and non-international (Protocol II) armed conflicts and place limits on the way wars are fought.
  • In 2005, a third Additional Protocol was adopted creating an additional emblem, the Red Crystal, which has the same international status as the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems.
  • The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), an international humanitarian organisation, has the mandate to monitor that signatories follow the rules in situations of conflict.

What was said by the OHCHR regarding the recent Israel-Palestine war?

  • Air strikes in such densely populated areas resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries, as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure.
  • Such strikes raise serious concerns of Israel’s compliance with distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law. Such attacks may constitute war crimes.
  • Hamas “rockets are indiscriminate and fail to distinguish between military and civilian objects, and their use, thereby, constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
  • Unless the root causes of the violence are addressed, it will certainly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences with further pain and suffering for civilians on all sides.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023