On 23 July there was a vote at the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution entitled: “Ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”. Ireland, together with our EU partners, abstained on the resolution. Ireland did not oppose the resolution at the HRC, or the establishment of an investigation into breaches of international law in the current conflict in and around Gaza.
Ireland made a very clear statement at the HRC session:
"Irish people have been appalled by the upsurge of violence in Gaza, and especially the very high and unacceptable level of civilian casualties. Ireland condemns both the firing of missiles from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other militant groups, and the killing of hundreds of civilians in military attacks by Israel on targets in Gaza which fail to respect the requirement under international law for any military action to be proportionate and discriminate. It is clear to us that neither side is paying adequate regard to the cost of their actions on innocent civilians."
(extract from statement by Ireland at the UN Human Rights Council, 23 July 2014)
Ireland further stated that it agreed that any breaches of international law should be investigated.
The EU group at the HRC, including Ireland, had however signalled a number of problems with the resolution, and had negotiated with the Palestinian delegation to try and resolve these. These reservations were not about the general substance, but about the precise terms of the resolution we were being asked to agree with – which is something we must always take into account.
The specific issues included: that the resolution should clearly condemn all relevant actions, including firing of rockets at Israeli civilian targets; that any investigation should cover all alleged breaches of international law, by either side; and that the existing UN mechanisms should be used to carry out the investigation, rather than setting up a new mechanism.
The last point related both to our desire to see a speedy and effective investigation – the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is already established on the ground in the West Bank, ready to go – and to a long standing concern which has arisen a number of times at the HRC of establishing new bodies to investigate specific issues rather than using the mechanisms which are already established for the purpose. We had expressed these concerns before, and the sponsors of the resolution were fully aware of them when they drafted their text.
Ireland and the EU group worked hard in negotiations to try and improve the resolution on these points. We hoped until a late point that these negotiations would result in a text that we could vote in favour of. Unfortunately this didn’t happen, and the problems with the text were not resolved. So the EU group took a common decision to abstain.
It is important to be aware that abstention on a resolution in an international forum is not the same as a ‘no’ vote, and nor is it simply ‘sitting on the fence’. Countries who abstain are, in most cases, signalling that they are not trying to block the resolution, but they have specific difficulties with it which prevents them supporting it. This was stated directly by the EU at the session, and was fully understood by other countries present. It was also always clear to us that the resolution was going to pass – it did not depend on Ireland’s vote.
EU members at the HRC try to vote together where possible, to maximise our influence there. In this case, had the EU not decided on a common abstention, it is quite likely that a number of EU partners might have voted ‘No’ instead. This would have resulted in a worse voting outcome for the resolution, and have weakened the EU at the HRC for future occasions.
The resolution having been passed, as we knew it would be, Ireland will fully support the Commission of Inquiry in fulfilling its mandate. Our own focus will continue to be on trying to add to international pressure for an immediate cessation of all attacks and a renewed ceasefire. Ireland will also continue to stress, as we have consistently done, that a ceasefire on its own is insufficient, without a resolution of the underlying problems of Gaza and above all the opening of the border to normal civilian activity.