‘Clear and convincing information’ that hostages held in Gaza subjected to sexual violence, says UN Special Representative

United Nations Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs journalists at the UN Headquarters, in New York.

United Nations, 4 March 2024

Following a 17-day visit to Israel, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict reported on Monday that she and a team of experts had found “clear and convincing information” of rape and sexualized torture being committed against hostages seized during the 7 October terror attacks.

Pramila Patten added in a press release issued along with the report that there are also reasonable grounds to believe that such violence, which includes other “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”, may be continuing against those still being held by Hamas and other extremists in the Gaza Strip.

The report from her Office arose from an official visit to Israel at the invitation of the Government which included a visit to the occupied West Bank, between 29 January and 14 February.

In the context of the coordinated attack by Hamas and others of 7 October, the UN mission team found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred in multiple locations, including rape and gang rape in at least three locations in southern Israel.

The team also found a pattern of victims – mostly women – found fully or partially naked, bound and shot across multiple locations which “may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence”.

In some locations the mission said it could not verify reported incidents of rape.

Watch Ms. Patten’s press conference announcing the team’s findings at UN Headquarters in New York, below:

The UN team is of the view that the true extent of sexual violence committed during the 7 October attacks and their aftermath could “take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known” according to the press release.

The mission made up of Ms. Patten and nine experts – which was not investigative in nature – conducted 33 meetings with Israeli representatives, examining more than 5,000 photographic images and 50 hours of video footage. It conducted 34 confidential interviews including with survivors and witnesses of the 7 October attacks, released hostages, first responders and others.

The report says that Israeli authorities have faced numerous challenges in collecting evidence.

The team also visited Ramallah in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to hear the views and concerns of officials and civil society representatives since 7 October which allegedly implicate Israeli security forces and settlers.

Ms. Patten heard concerns raised over cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians in detention, including sexual violence in the form of invasive searches, threats of rape and prolonged forced nudity.

The information gathered will complement that already gathered by other UN officials on allegations of conflict-related sexual violence inside Gaza, for potential inclusion in the Secretary-General’s annual report on the issue.

Ms. Patten’s recommendations include a call for the Israeli Government to grant full access to the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Council-mandated independent Commission of Inquiry on the occupied territory “to conduct fully-fledged independent investigations into all alleged violations”, according to the press release.

She called on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all those being held as hostages and to ensure their protection, including from sexual violence.

Ms. Patten also called on all relevant and competent bodies to bring all perpetrators of sexual violence to justice while offering the full support of her office to bolster national efforts.

She also called for the highest standards of information integrity in reporting and handling of sexual violence cases, as the press release notes, “given the risks of inflammatory rhetoric and sensationalized headlines escalating tensions” along with media or political pressure which will only compound the trauma and stigmatization of survivors.

The Special Representative echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire and urged any ceasefire agreement to acknowledge the importance of recognizing sexual violence as a key issue and to allow affected communities to be heard.

She reiterated her profound sympathy and solidarity with all civilians impacted by the “brutal violence in the region” since 7 October.

The original article appeared here.

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