Australia Votes Against UN Investigation On Gaza Violence, One Of Only Two Countries To Do So

'Australia is on the wrong side of history', Amnesty International said.

What you need to know
  • More than 100 Palestinians are dead after weeks of protests
  • Many were shot by Israeli security forces
  • Most of the dead are said to be members of Hamas
  • Australia, USA only two countries to vote against inquiry

Australia is under fire for opposing a United Nations Human Rights Council push to investigate the killing of nearly 90 Palestinians by Israeli defence forces in Gaza in recent months, joining the United States of America as the only two countries to vote against the measure.

The UN's  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said 89 Palestinians -- including 12 children -- had been killed by Israeli security personnel since protests began in Gaza on March 30. He said another 29 have been killed in "other circumstances" since protests began, while more than 12,000 people were left injured following protests, including "more than 3,500 of them by live ammunition".

On Monday alone -- as protests escalated around the opening of the United States' new embassy in Jerusalem, which was controversially moved from Tel Aviv -- 43  people were killed and 1360 wounded, while another 17 died outside of the main protest zones, making it the deadliest day in Gaza in several years.

"These people, 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," Al Hussein told the Human Rights Council.

"Although some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used sling-shots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel, and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel, these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force."

On Friday, the council held a special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” after a request from Palestine and the Arab Group of States, and considered a resolution calling for an inquiry into the Gaza violence.

The draft resolution asked the council to "investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in the area since protests began. The vote saw 29 countries support the push, 14 abstain, and just two -- Australia and the USA -- oppose.

Palestinian demonstrators take cover during a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The result will see the UN "dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory". Australia has now come under criticism for opposing the measure, with Amnesty International saying it was "appalled".

"Australia is on the wrong side of history. Last night it was one of only two countries, the other being the United States, who voted against the UN Human Rights Council resolution to investigate the killings of over 100 Palestinians, including children, and injuries to thousands,” Diana Sayed, Crisis Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia, said in a statement.

"Australia must use every opportunity to ask the Israeli authorities to immediately rein in the military to prevent any further loss of life and serious injuries."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and foreign minister Julie Bishop said last week that terror group Hamas had incited the violence in Gaza and stopped short of criticising Israeli forces for shooting on protesters.

"It’s tragic, any loss of life... is tragic in these circumstances, but Hamas’ conduct is confrontational. They're seeking to provoke the Israeli defence forces," Turnbull told 3AW radio.

"They’re pushing people to the border... in that conflict zone, you're basically pushing people into circumstances where they are very likely to be shot at, as Israel seeks to defend itself."

A demonstrator holding a Palestinian flag gestures during a protest where Palestinians demand the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Bishop said "The protesters should not seek to enter the Israeli territories by force. Hamas should not be instigating this kind of protests which they must know could lead to violence, and the Israelis must use proportionate measures in self-defence."

Notes from the Human Rights Council vote said Australian representatives had voted against the inquiry because they were "concerned that the language of the draft resolution prejudged the outcome of the inquiry." The notes also added:

"Australia was of the opinion that the inquiry must also acknowledge the role of Hamas, which was not mentioned at all. Furthermore, the draft resolution did not just cover Gaza where the events had occurred and the time period during which it had occurred, but had an unlimited time period and all areas. Australia was very concerned that it was not independent and impartial. For these reasons it would vote against it."

The results of the vote the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland
(Photo by Fatih Erel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Notes from the special session said Australian representatives:

"expressed deep sadness and regret about the loss of life and injury that had occurred during the protests in Gaza. But it was of a firm view that Israel had legitimate security concerns, and that it had the right to protect its population. Israel should also exercise appropriate restraint in the use of force. Investigations into incidents had to be independent and impartial and all relevant parties should cooperate."

The Times of Israel reported the Israeli government responded to the vote by saying it would not cooperate with the inquiry. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Human Rights Council was a "hypocritical and biased body".

"The results of this investigation are a forgone conclusion and are written in the text of the decision itself," Israel's foreign ministry said.

"It is clear to all that the aim of this council is not to investigate the truth, but to undermine Israel’s right to self-defense and to uniquely demonize the Jewish state."