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U.N. expert says Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In a new report released this week, a human rights lawyer and appointee with the U.N. found, quote, "reasonable grounds" to believe Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza. She presented her findings this week in Geneva, more than five months into Israel's war in Gaza that started after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 and took hostages. We have the author of that report with us. Francesca Albanese is the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Good morning, and thanks for being on the program.

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: Good morning, and thanks for having me.

FADEL: So genocide has such a narrow and specific legal definition. So what evidence can you point to that leads you to believe that Israel has met the threshold for committing acts of genocide in Gaza?

ALBANESE: Yes. Just probably for the benefit of those who are listening to us, it might help explaining what genocide is - because it's often told to be the crime of crimes. And it's true. It has a very high threshold to be proven. But genocide is the condition of any special acts prescribed by the Genocide Convention committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a group as such. And acts that are listed in the Genocide Convention include the killing members of the group, causing seriously - serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in full or in part.

And what characterizes genocide is the intent, which is the intent to commit one of those acts that I just listed and the intent - the specific intent - of the - through these acts destroying the group in total or in part. I've analyzed and I've monitored Israel's conduct of hostilities since the beginning of this latest assault. And I had been a special rapporteur doing this job for 16 months before the 8 of October, and I had already documented serious violations of international law, which, in my assessment, amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But then as of the 7 of October, there has been a declared genocidal - there has been genocidal incitement that has been manifested through statements of policy and military leaders. But this is not enough. This is not enough. This is - this can be indicative, suggestive of genocide. What has been conclusive for me is how this has reverberated both through policy documents, like, for example, the legal justification that Israel has given, how it has reverberated, been internalized and resulted in the conduct of the troops on the ground, but also patterns.

FADEL: Right. But if you could give me some specific examples of both the language that you're referring to and how it's reverberated that makes you get to this conclusion.

ALBANESE: Yeah. First of all, I've looked at the acts committed. How did we get to 70 - to 30 - over 30,000 people killed, 70% of whom have always been women and children? And we cannot assume, as the government has, as the militaries - Israeli occupation forces - have done, that those are all militants. But there is the killing. There is the heightened blockade which has caused starvation, the destruction of the hospitals.

But as you ask me for this language, I talked about humanitarian camouflage to refer to the distortions of IHL that Israel has proposed since the 8 of October, because, in fact, Israel has never denied the commission of the act. It has justified those as IHL-abiding both in its statements and in front of the International Court of Justice during the proceedings initiated by South Africa.

So, for example, human shields, warnings, evacuation, safe zones, military objectives - all this jargon has been used to justify military assaults and military operations. But if we look at the conduct that has been undertaken, it's clear that each action justified as through the terms I used reveals the full distortion of the very protection function that IHL carries because there has been a generalization of what can be considered human shields. Use of human shields is prohibited, but it's clear that Israel has assumed, like, a blanket justification, that civilians in Gaza wear human shields.

Or, for example - let me give you this example - how it has - the concept of proportionality has been completely, completely capsized - the bombing of Jabalia - of the Jabalia refugee camp kill one commander, one Hamas commander. And never we received evidence of that. But let's assume that there was one commander - hundreds of people were killed and injured, including hostages. How proportionate can it be?

FADEL: Right. Your report has been met with serious opposition. In a statement, the Israeli Embassy in Geneva says the report brings shame on the Human Rights Council and that it utterly rejects the report. And when the U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked about it, he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTHEW MILLER: First, we have for a long-standing period of time opposed the mandate of this special rapporteur, which we believe is not productive. And when it comes to the individual who holds that position, I can't help but note a history of antisemitic comments that she has made that have been reported.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: She made antisemitic comments?

FADEL: So how do you respond to that?

ALBANESE: Look, first of all, I want to clarify. I feel that the report has been met with - by a sense of relief among the human rights community and also civil society, who has been watching and asking what was happening in Gaza because it has - this is a genocide, as the South African legal team has said, which has been televised by its own - and thanks to the - its own victims - and the soldiers, I would say. But so, yes, of course, there was a criticism of Israel.

And I was appalled by the by the words that the U.S. spokesperson used. It's so irresponsible because it's true - I've criticized the state of Israel for its policies. Is it that outrageous to expect that Israel behaves in line with international law? Is this antisemitic? And I find it really discouraging because this man has no idea of the pressure that has been put on me just before delivering - just for serving the Human Rights Council - and also for free, as I've been asked. And there is a lot of pressure on me because of that. So he is not making my life easier.

FADEL: Now, you made a number of recommendations in your report, including an arms embargo on Israel, an investigation and an international protective presence in Gaza. But I have to ask if this is an exercise in futility. I mean, we saw the U.N. Security Council pass a resolution demanding a cease-fire and the release of hostages. Both of those things haven't happened. Do you expect international backing for these recommendations?

ALBANESE: There must be. There must be - because the reason why we face the most significant failure of multilateralism, of international law and international protection systems is because of the opposition. And I'm sorry to say that, but this is the opposition made by the United States. The United States are a clear - part and parcel of what's happening in Gaza. In the same message the U.S. spokesperson used to smear me, he said that Israel is complying with international humanitarian law. I mean, how can this be credible when it's clear that there are violations through and through? Think just of starvation - causing starvation. How can it be legal?

FADEL: Francesca Albanese is the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. Thank you for your time and for being on the program.

ALBANESE: Thank you, Leila. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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