What's In Blue

Posted Thu 16 May 2024

Arria-formula Meeting on Condemning Hostage-taking in Israel on 7 October 2023

This afternoon (16 May), the US will convene a Security Council Arria-formula meeting titled “Condemning Hostage-Taking in Israel on October 7 as a Psychological Tool of Terrorism”. The meeting is being co-sponsored by Council members Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the UK, as well as by non-Council member states Albania, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. Professor of Law at the Bar-Ilan University and former Vice Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) Ruth Halperin-Kaddari is expected to brief. It seems that the briefers may also include two hostages that were held captive in Gaza and released in November 2023 or their family members.

The meeting, which will begin at 3 pm EST and take place in Conference Room 11, will be broadcast on UNTV.

According to figures provided by Israeli authorities, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed during the 7 October 2023 attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza. As at 15 May, an estimated 132 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza, according to figures cited by OCHA. Following the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On 27 October 2023, the IDF also launched a ground operation initially focused on northern Gaza and later extended to most other areas of the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 15 May, at least 35,233 Palestinians had been killed. Large areas of Gaza have been bombed to the ground, with the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) recently estimating that it could take 14 years to remove an approximate 37 millions of tonnes of debris from Gaza.

Despite repeated warnings from the UN and humanitarian agencies about the catastrophic consequences of an Israeli offensive targeting Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, the Israeli government has been threatening for several months to carry out a major operation in Rafah to eliminate the Hamas forces that it says are present in that area. Following the issuance on 6 May of evacuation orders and the carrying out of airstrikes on some areas on Rafah, the IDF on 7 May took control of the Rafah border crossing, which connects Gaza with Egypt. According to OCHA, as at yesterday (15 May), the Rafah crossing remained closed and Israeli bombardment continued to be reported “across much of the Gaza Strip”, with “[g]round incursions and heavy fighting” reported in eastern Rafah as well as in areas in northern and central Gaza. Over a million people had been sheltering in Rafah, one of the few areas in Gaza where the IDF had not carried out their ground operation. According to an update by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) delivered by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq, as at 15 May, “some 600,000 people–a quarter of Gaza’s population–ha[d] been displaced from Rafah since 6 May”.

According to a concept note prepared by the US, one of the objectives of today’s meeting is to focus on the demand that “Hamas and other armed groups immediately and unconditionally release all hostages being held in Gaza”. The meeting also aims to “highlight the long-term health and psychological impact of hostage-taking not only on those held” but also on “those left behind” and to identify steps that the Security Council can take to “address and deter hostage-taking and the related use of physical and emotional abuse and mental anguish as tactics of terrorism”.

The concept note emphasises that the prohibition against taking hostages is well established in international law and invites participating states to propose steps that the UN can take to “support effective communication channels with family members, incorporate collective efforts to secure the release of the hostages, and establish mechanisms to further pressure to surrender all hostages and abductees”.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion at today’s meeting, including:

  • How can the Security Council deter hostage-taking as a means of armed conflict and hold non-state actors accountable for such actions?
  • What resources are available and how might the UN, other international organisations, regional organisations, and member states support the health, emotional, psychological, and financial needs of victims and survivors of hostage-taking?
  • How can the UN support efforts to obtain proof of life, the immediate provision of medical assistance to hostages, or information about the welfare and whereabouts of hostages and abductees to mitigate family and hostage suffering?

At today’s meeting, Council members are expected to reiterate their condemnations of the 7 October 2023 Hamas-led attacks. In line with the focus of the meeting, members are likely to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, condemn hostage-taking, and stress that international humanitarian law prohibits such acts. Several members are also likely to reiterate their previous appeals for the full application of international humanitarian law by all parties, including, in particular, regarding the protection of civilians, the unfettered provision of humanitarian aid at scale, and the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution.

The briefers who were taken hostage in Gaza during the 7 October attacks are expected to share their personal experience of the period during which they were held captive and the impact it had on their lives and those of their family members.

Participants might cite some of the resolutions mentioned in the concept note, such as resolution 2474. Adopted in 2019, this resolution condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians in situations of armed conflict and called upon conflict parties to, among other things “take all appropriate measures, to actively search for persons reported missing, to enable the return of their remains” and to put channels in place “enabling response and communication with families on the search process”. Today, members are also likely to highlight the need for humanitarian monitors to be able to reach the hostages.

Council members’ interventions are likely to be divided between members focusing mostly on condemning Hamas and concentrating on violations against the hostages during and following the 7 October attacks, and members also focusing on violations against Palestinians. For instance, some members are expected to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of Palestinians detained by the IDF and may call on all parties to comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain. As in previous meetings, differences in tone and directness of the statements in addressing violations and attributing blame are likely to be apparent at today’s meeting.

Several members and the briefers are expected to condemn any instances of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) perpetrated in connection with the 7 October attacks. Members may refer to the findings of a mission by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten to Israel to verify information on CRSV during the attacks. (Patten’s mission also included a short visit to Ramallah, in the West Bank.) The mission’s findings were reflected in a 4 March report issued by Patten’s office as well as in the annual report of the Secretary-General on CRSV, which was issued on 4 April. The 4 March report was discussed during an 11 March Security Council briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” which focused on CRSV.

Today, members may echo the findings cited in the reports that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that CRSV occurred “in multiple locations” during the 7 October attacks. The reports also note that the mission received “clear and convincing information” that “sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment occurred against some women and children during their time in captivity” and that the mission had “reasonable grounds to believe that this violence may be ongoing”. Some members are also likely to reference the report’s finding regarding the West Bank and Gaza. The report says that in the West Bank, UN-verified information confirmed reports that arrests and detention of Palestinians by Israeli forces following the 7 October attacks “were often accompanied by beatings, ill-treatment and humiliation, including acts of sexual assault”, and that, in Gaza, reports have emerged of “alleged mass detention of Palestinian women, men and children, compounded by multiple forms of sexual violence”. Some members may also refer more broadly to the impact of the conflict on women and children in Gaza, including as a result of the widespread destruction of healthcare facilities and the ongoing restrictions on key humanitarian supplies.

While the concept note does not refer to the indirect ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas, most Council members are expected to call for such a measure and may stress the urgent need for the parties to reach an agreement on the terms of a ceasefire. A dynamic that is likely to be apparent today, and that characterised the negotiations on resolution 2728 in March, is the difference between the position of the US and most other Council members regarding how to articulate calls for a ceasefire and for the release of the hostages. After an extended period during which the US opposed any calls for a ceasefire, Washington’s position shifted to tie any call for a ceasefire to the release of the hostages. Other Council members have maintained instead that the Security Council should call for these elements in their own right and avoid suggesting or endorsing any sequencing or conditionality.

The Security Council has adopted three resolutions on the war between Israel and Hamas (resolutions 2712, 2720, 2728). All three resolutions have called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and for “ensuring immediate humanitarian access” to the hostages. The Council has yet to issue an unqualified demand for a ceasefire. Resolution 2712 called for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip”, resolution 2720 called for urgent steps to “create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”, resolution 2728 demanded an “immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire”.

The Security Council has not condemned any of the conflict parties in its products. A draft resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses” proposed by former Council member Brazil in October 2023 would have condemned “the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas that took place in Israel starting 7 October 2023 and the taking of hostages” (S/2023/773). However, the draft resolution failed to be adopted owning to a veto by the US. (For background on the negotiations, see our 16 October 2023, 15 November 2023, 20 December 2023, and 22 March What’s in Blue stories.)

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