Global conflicts intensified last year as warring factions pushed boundaries, says UN's rights chief

Volker Turk says Israel’s relentless strikes on Gaza causing immense suffering and widespread destruction

Peter Kenny  | 18.06.2024 - Update : 18.06.2024
Global conflicts intensified last year as warring factions pushed boundaries, says UN's rights chief


The UN's human rights chief said Tuesday that warring sides have pushed past acceptable limits in conflicts across the world of the past year, including in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces who have so far killed over 37,000 Palestinians since Oct. 7.

Volker Turkspoke while giving his annual report to the UN Human Rights Council's 56th session in Geneva, referring to conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, South Sudan, and Haiti.

“I am appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict in Gaza,” said Turk, adding that “Israel’s relentless strikes in Gaza are causing immense suffering and widespread destruction.”

Turk said that since Israel escalated its operations to include the southern city of Rafah in early May, nearly a million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced yet again, while aid delivery and humanitarian access have deteriorated further.

“Palestinian armed groups continue to hold many hostages, and in some cases, in densely populated areas, putting them and Palestinian civilians at further risk. They must be released,” said the rights chief.

He added that the situation in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, is deteriorating rapidly, raising serious concerns about unlawful killings.

During the same period, 23 Israelis were killed in the West Bank and Israel in clashes with or attacks by Palestinians, including eight members of Israel's security forces.

“Israel’s relentless strikes in Gaza are causing immense suffering and widespread destruction, and the arbitrary denial and obstruction of humanitarian aid have continued. Israel continues to detain arbitrarily thousands of Palestinians,” said Turk, adding: “This must not continue.”

‘Respect Security Council’

Turk urged respect for binding decisions issued by the UN Security Council and International Court of Justice.

Flouting a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire, Israel has faced international condemnation amid its continued brutal offensive on Gaza since an Oct. 7, 2023 attack by Hamas.

More than 37,300 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, and more than 85,000 others injured, according to local health authorities.

Over eight months into the Israeli war, vast tracts of Gaza lie in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water and medicine.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, whose latest ruling ordered Tel Aviv to immediately halt its operation in Rafah, where over a million Palestinians had sought refuge from the war before it was invaded on May 6.

About ongoing cross-border attacks between Israeli forces and Lebanese group Hezbollah, Turk said 401 people had reportedly been killed in Lebanon, "including paramedics and journalists."

He said that more than 90,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon, while over 60,000 have been displaced in Israel, with 25 Israeli fatalities. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed, he added.

Turning to Ukraine, Turk warned that there, too, the situation continues to deteriorate.

“The recent ground offensive by Russian armed forces into Ukraine’s Kharkiv region has destroyed entire communities,” said Turk.

“Residents, many of them older people, hid in basements, without electricity, water, or adequate food, as the area came under intense attack.”

On Sudan, Turk said the northeastern African country is being destroyed by two warring parties and affiliated groups.

“They have stoked inter-ethnic tensions, denied humanitarian assistance, arrested human rights defenders, and flagrantly cast aside the rights of their own people,” he said.

‘Generals on notice’

Turk also delivered a stark warning to the leaders of the two warring factions in Sudan, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group.

“I put both generals on notice for their own responsibility in the commission of possible war crimes and other atrocity crimes, including through sexual violence and ethnically motivated attacks,” he said.

The war in Sudan broke out on April 15, 2023, between army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo over disagreements about integrating the RSF into the army.

Turk said al-Burhan and Dagalo are ultimately responsible for the impact of their actions on civilians, including massive displacement, impending famine, and an intensifying humanitarian disaster.

“It is vital that ongoing mediation efforts, including by the African Union, bring this conflict to an end. Existing civilian initiatives to influence a future transition also need support,” said Turk.

He added that South Sudan is a country exhausted by inter-communal violence and revenge killings, widespread attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions, conflict-related sexual violence, mismanagement of resources, food insecurity, and large-scale displacement, including due to environmental factors.

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