UN obtains ‘clear and convincing information’ on sexual violence against hostages in Gaza | International

The UN team led by Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten obtained “clear and convincing information” during its 17-day visit to Israel that some hostages in Gaza suffered various forms of sexual violence. Palestinian militias captured more than 240 people in the Oct. 7 attack and returned about half of them in an exchange in November. In its conclusions, presented this Monday in New York, the United Nations mission also claims to have “reason to believe” that during this attack, organized by Hamas and which left some 1,200 dead, acts of sexual violence also occurred. took place in at least three locations around the Gaza Strip, “notably in the form of rape and gang rape.” Patten’s team was in contact with “several independent sources” in preparing this report. There is also “credible circumstantial information” that points to other forms of sexual violence, such as sexualized torture or genital mutilation. The release of the report generated a new incident with the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres. Israel accuses him of “trying to silence him” and has recalled its ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, for consultations.

The main scene of the acts of sexual violence would have been the Nova festival, where hundreds of young people were still dancing when they heard the first rockets and which ended up turning into a massacre: a third of the civilian deaths and dozens of hostages have arisen. Of the. The team has reason to believe that “multiple incidents of sexual violence took place on the esplanade where the event took place and in its surroundings, with the victims having been victims of rape or gang rape and then killed, or killed while being raped.”

The report, for example, alludes to descriptions of the discovery of five bodies, particularly of women, “naked from the waist down (and some completely naked) with their hands tied behind them, and many of them received a ball in the head “. It also collects “credible information based on witness testimonies” about a rape of two women by armed men on the same highway where the investigation found “a set of naked bodies, completely or up to the waist, in some cases “, tied to trees. or posts. He also notes the rape of a woman next to a shelter in Reim, one of the kibbutz (agricultural communities) attacked. He dismisses other cases mentioned by the media at the time as not very credible.

Israeli soldiers inspect the site of the attacked Nova festival on October 12.Leon Neal (Getty Images)

Israel has argued for months that on October 7 there were not isolated cases of sexual violence, but rather a trend that was part of the plans of Hamas militants. In its document on the attack, the Islamist movement denies having participated in a single case of sexual violence, because it went against the precepts of Islam. The UN team makes no comment on this in its findings. He stresses that he cannot determine, during a 17-day visit, how many cases there have been in total, “nor can they be attributed specifically.” This is something, he adds, that will require a thorough investigation that will likely last years. Systematically, there is always more sexual violence than we think.

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Cochav Elkayam-Levy, director of the Civilian Commission for Crimes Committed by Hamas against Women and Children, which documents the cases, and an expert in international law, human rights and feminist theories, pointed out in an interview with this newspaper that she “we will never know” what really happened in terms of sexual violence. “What we do know is that we have seen sexual crimes and abuse of bodies in different regions, and we recognize systematic sexual violence. And that women were attacked as women and in a very brutal way.

The UN report contains numerous references to the difficulties of its work. The main one, the “limited number and access” to survivors of sexual violence. In fact, Patten’s team was unable to directly interview any of the victims of the October 7 attack, “despite concerted efforts encouraging them to do so.” Patten said the small number still alive are receiving “specialized trauma treatment” and cannot talk about what happened.

Other challenges have more to do with the chaos that sparked the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history, during which security forces took hours to arrive and several days to survey the area. attacked as safe. The report cites among them “the limited nature of forensic evidence due to the large number of victims and the dispersion of crime scenes in a context of continuing hostilities; the loss of potentially valuable evidence due to the intervention of emergency volunteers without adequate preparation; and the prioritization of rescue operations as well as the recovery, identification and burial of the dead in accordance with religious practices, before the collection of forensic evidence.


Yael Sherer, who advises authorities on documenting the October 7 sex crimes, discussed this context in an interview with this newspaper. Director of the Advocacy Group for Survivors of Sexual Violence, which she founded in 2019 in Israel, she highlighted the difficulty of obtaining DNA samples or identifying signs of sexual violence when there are “ very few” survivors; there were 1,200 bodies in different locations. where there were battles and some “were burned to the ground.”

“We were unable to obtain the forensic evidence that we normally obtained or recorded as we would. It is unrealistic to expect a police photographer to go to thousands of crime scenes and not touch the bodies when there is still fighting and shooting going on. We also don’t know who was injured, who was kidnapped and who disappeared. People were taken to hospitals and no one knew where they came from. And all this in the middle of a heatwave, which is going very badly with the collection of evidence,” he stressed.

The mission visited the country between January 29 and February 14, at a time of growing hostility in Israel toward the United Nations and UN Women, an entity accused of ignoring sexual violence due to anti- Israelis and which was the subject of a campaign with the slogan “MeToo unless you’re Jewish» (Me toounless you are Jewish).

Israeli authorities therefore received the report’s findings as vindication months late, even though they did not directly name Hamas or confirm that sexual violence was systematic. “This is of enormous importance,” President Isaac Herzog said in a statement Tuesday. “This justifies with moral clarity and integrity the systematic, premeditated and ongoing sexual crimes committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women. »

The publication of the document also generated a new incident with the Secretary General of the United Nations. Israel, as reported by its Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, summoned its ambassador to the UN for consultations, accusing Guterres of “trying to silence” the “serious UN report on massive violations committed by Hamas and its allies. » ; for not having convened the UN Security Council to “declare Hamas a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on those who support it.” “The shame of the silence of the UN, which does not hold a single session on the subject, cries to the heavens,” Katz said.

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