The use of force against Palestinian protesters by Israel amounts to a "war crime" under the Statute of Rome, said the UN rapporteur on Palestine on Friday.
The remarks came in Geneva, at a UN Human Rights Council special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
Speaking via a video recording, Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestine, said: "I must point out that the 'willful killing' and the 'willful causing of great suffering or serious injury to body or health' of civilians is both a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime under the Rome Statute."
"The Gazan demonstrations have been almost entirely unarmed and non-violent. Thousands and thousands marching, singing, protesting against their conditions, and demanding the right to a better future," Lynk said.
"Yes, some threw Molotov cocktails, or flew burning kites, or rushed the wire fences at the Gaza frontier. But the overwhelming majority have been committed to non-violence over the past seven weeks, armed only with the oldest and most human of aspirations: to live free in one’s own land," he added.
According to the UN, over the past seven weeks, over 100 Palestinian demonstrators have died at the hands of the Israeli military. Among the dead are children, journalists, medics, and many young unemployed men. Approximately, 12,000 have been injured.
"I note that the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has issued a caution regarding the violence against civilians in Gaza last month," Lynk said.
'No threat to life or serious injury'
An attempt to approach the fence, to damage the fence, or even to cross the fence, by an unarmed individual faced with heavily armed soldiers would not constitute a threat to life or serious injury that would justify the use of lethal force, he said.
"Similarly, stones, or even Molotov cocktails, thrown at significant distances towards well-protected and heavily armed security forces behind defensive positions, would not rise to the level of threat necessary to justify use of lethal force," he said.
"l call upon the international community, through the United Nations, to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the killings and injuries that have occurred in the context of these demonstrations since March 30," he said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said during the session: "These people [the killed protesters], many of whom were completely unarmed, were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs with live ammunition, as well as rubber-coated steel bullets and tear-gas canisters."
"The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also described the demonstrators as being 'paid by Hamas', and has said the Israeli security forces 'try to minimize casualties,'" he said. "There is little evidence of any attempt to minimize casualties on Monday."
"Killings resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute 'wilful killings' — a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention," he said.
Calling for an investigation that is international, independent and impartial, he added: "Those responsible for violations must in the end be held accountable."
'Occupation must end'
"The occupation must end, so the people of Palestine can be liberated, and the people of Israel liberated from it. End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear," he said.
"I urge Israel to act in accordance with its international obligations," he said.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Aviva Raz Shechter said that calling for an independent investigation was "politically motivated".
Shechter criticized protesters for throwing Molotov cocktails, adding that "Israel defends itself".
Israel and the U.S. urged the council to reject the resolution.
"The resolution being considered today establishes a Commission of Inquiry into violations of human rights and humanitarian law. While the United States rejects the assertions that human rights violations took place, it notes that the scale of violence is quite small compared to the worst human rights situations occurring across the globe," Theodore Allegra, charge d'affaires of the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva, said.
"It is hypocritical for this body to spend time and money on this commission if there are no commissions looking into human rights and atrocities in the DPRK [North Korea], Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and the Russian occupation of Crimea," Allegra said.
"The continued anti-Israel bias of this council does nothing to promote that future, and the one-sided action proposed by this council today only further shows that the Human Rights Council is a broken body," he claimed.
UN urges against deportation of human rights NGO official
A group of UN rapporteurs also issued a joint statement on Friday opposing the deportation of an official from the NGO Human Rights Watch.
The officials — including Michael Lynk, the special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine; David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Michel Forst, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders — called on Israel to rescind its May 7 decision to cancel the work permit of Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, who is based in Jerusalem.
"The decision to revoke Shakir’s work permit appears connected solely to his human rights research and advocacy," they said.
"Deporting Mr. Shakir sends a troubling message that Israel resists the kind of human rights fact-finding and debate that Human Rights Watch and other domestic and international non-governmental organizations conduct all of the time, in almost every part of the world," they said.
Turkey's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Naci Koru, added: "We are horrified by the events that took place in Gaza and condemn the appalling, deadly violence during which more than 60 Palestinians were martyred and hundreds were injured. This massacre carried out by Israeli security forces is unacceptable."
"Turkey also strongly condemns the illegal move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which is violating international law and all relevant UN resolutions. We reiterate that this action is legally null and void. Turkey emphasizes that such a step, which disregards the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, will inevitably ignite further tensions and jeopardize the security and stability in the region," Koru said.
Noting that Turkey firmly supported the convening of this special session, Koru said: "Only an independent and transparent investigation into the incidents in Gaza will ensure accountability."
"The Council has to make sure that impunity does not prevail," he said.
Extraordinary Islamic Summit in Istanbul
Turkey, the rotating president of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), is set to host an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss a potential joint action against Israel in the wake of the recent Gaza killings.
The Istanbul summit meeting — called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — is expected to send a strong message against the Israeli violence that martyred at least 62 Palestinians — the youngest being eight months old — during mass rallies Monday along Gaza's eastern border.
"Turkey will continue to work with the responsible members of the international community to revive the peace process on a sound basis and build a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace in the region. This primarily requires the establishment of a sovereign, independent and contiguous Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital," added Koru.
On Monday, at least 62 Palestinian demonstrators were martyred and thousands more injured by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza-Israel fence, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Thousands of Palestinians had gathered on the Gaza Strip’s eastern border to take part in protests marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel — which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, Arabic for "Catastrophe" — and protest the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.