US Senators Call for Independent UN Investigation Into Hamas Sexual Violence

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
December 12, 2023Israel–Hamas War
US Senators Call for Independent UN Investigation Into Hamas Sexual Violence
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres looks on during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session in Geneva on Feb. 24, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of 33 U.S. senators is calling on the United Nations to set up an independent investigation into reports that Hamas terrorists committed acts of sexual violence during their Oct. 7 attacks across southern Israel.

In a Dec. 11 letter to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, the senators criticized the U.N.’s proposal to hand the task of investigating allegations of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks over to its permanent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel (COI).

The senators argued that the COI—which was established in May 2021—”has a history of bias and unfairly singling out Israel.”

The letter—which was organized by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and signed by 28 other senators—calls for the U.N. to find a “separate mechanism” to investigate the allegations of sexual violence committed by Hamas.

“Tasking the one-sided COI to investigate these atrocities undermines the effort’s credibility, creates the strong potential for biased outcomes, and provides no measure of justice for the victims and survivors,” the letter reads.

Israel Criticizes COI Investigation

The concerns raised by the senators largely align with criticisms already raised by the Israeli government.

Over the weekend, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan told Fox News that Israel would have zero trust in the COI’s investigation and said such an investigation by the COI is “akin to Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, investigating its crimes.”

The 18-person COI is requesting U.S. and Egyptian help in convincing Israel to grant access to investigate, but Washington has also criticized the commission, as have European allies. At issue is that its investigations, unusually for the U.N., have no end date and a perception among some Western states that it subjects Israel to disproportionate scrutiny.

In November, COI Chair Navi Pillay said the commission was preparing to release a public “call for submissions” for evidence of Hamas’ sexual violence. She said she had also met with war crimes prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to discuss evidence-sharing efforts.

“I was very impressed with the deputy prosecutor’s emphasis on how seriously she wishes to investigate the incidents of sexual violence, the complaints coming from Israel,” Ms. Pillay said of ICC prosecutor Nazhat Shameem Khan.

In addition to investigating sexual assault allegations involving Hamas, Ms. Pillay said another commission priority is investigating the killings of reporters since the start of the conflict.

Ms. Pillay has also shown an interest in Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip. She has called the bombing campaign “absolutely shocking,” and raised alarm about the death toll in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry recently estimated that more than 18,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. The U.S. and Israeli governments have called into question the reliability of these numbers.

Condemnation of UN Women’s Rights Group

In addition to their concerns that investigations into sexual violence by Hamas would fall to the COI, the U.S. senators raised more general concerns about the U.N.’s willingness to confront and condemn Hamas’ actions on Oct. 7.

The group took particular issue with the response to the attacks by the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (dubbed U.N. Women).

“As multiple UN Security Council Resolutions affirm, the use of sexual violence is a war crime under international law. Hamas’s premeditated campaign of systematic sexual violence on October 7 clearly meets this standard. Sexual violence, particularly on this scale and of this level of brutality, must be condemned unequivocally and without qualification, which is why we were shocked that it took U.N. Women nearly two months to speak out against these atrocities,” the letter from the senators reads.

U.N. Women issued a Dec. 1 press statement in which the organization “unequivocally” condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

“We are alarmed by the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks,” the statement by U.N. Women continued. “This is why we have called for all accounts of gender-based violence to be duly investigated and prosecuted, with the rights of the victim at the core.”

The U.S. senators said these condemnations of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks were “halfhearted.”

“Moreover, [U.N. Women] has taken no meaningful steps to provide support to the Israeli survivors of sexual violence. U.N. Women’s failure to publicly stand with Israeli women undermines its legitimacy and contributes to the outrageous effort by some to dismiss, downplay, or outright deny these atrocities,” the letter from the senators continued.

The senators called on Mr. Guterres to hold leadership within U.N. Women accountable for not condemning Hamas for its use of sexual violence sooner and more forcefully.

“Previously, the UN called this type of abhorrent behavior a war crime. The difference now is that it’s being committed against Jews,” Ms. Ernst said in an emailed press statement. “The UN has abandoned any facade of being a ‘human rights’ group. I’m calling for an investigation. On October 7, the world witnessed the bloodiest day in Israel’s history since the Holocaust, and women across this country must not be silent. I will speak up for Jewish and Israeli women at the mercy of Hamas and around the world.”

NTD News reached out to Mr. Guterres’ office for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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