Human rights defenders in Gaza risk death and can no longer carry out their mission

en fr
Mohammad Ahmad / AFP

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is extremely worried about the safety of human rights defenders in the Gaza Strip. For the first time in history, staff from member organisations in the enclave are left almost entirely inoperative: they cannot document the human rights violations that are currently being committed, which reinforces the cycle of impunity for international crimes. FIDH urges for a ceasefire.

Paris, 22 November 2023. When Israel’s retaliatory attacks started last October, like in past wars, human rights defenders in Gaza attempted to carry out their mission: to document and report human rights abuses. But almost immediately, the scale of the human catastrophe became overwhelming. Within a week, the man-made collapse and destruction of Gaza prevented them from doing anything other than trying to survive.

Of the seven FIDH Palestinian and Israeli-based member organisations, four have staff members operating in the Gaza Strip: Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, which is based in Gaza, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), in Gaza City, Al-Haq, headquartered in Ramallah, West Bank, and B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. In total, before the latest Israeli war on Gaza began, around three dozen human rights defenders affiliated to FIDH were working there. They monitored the situation on the ground, provided legal aid, and documented human rights abuses, regardless of the perpetrators.

Human rights defenders in Gaza are now trying to survive with their families

The vast majority of human rights defenders in Gaza have now suffered forced displacement, the destruction of their homes, and tragically for some, the loss of relatives. Like the 2.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, they are presently deprived of food, water and medicine, and have to risk their lives by going out in search of these most basic necessities. Because of the telecommunications blackouts and electricity shortages, all contact with the outside is sporadic at best, adding to the uncertainty surrounding their situation, and that of the undocumented crimes perpetrated in the enclave by the Israeli military.

FIDH member organisations that have offices in Gaza say they are unable to ascertain whether their premises were bombed or raided. These havens for the respect of human rights and human dignity, which store important and sensitive information on the victims of human rights violations and their perpetrators, had to be abandoned overnight.

"Currently in Gaza without a ceasefire, the Israeli occupying force is not only indiscriminately targeting civilians and civilian objects, hence committing international crimes, but also denying millions of people their basic rights. People lack all elements for survival such as food, drinking water, and medicine. Their right to life, safety, proper healthcare, children’s rights such as education and play, all is jeopardised. This affects human rights defenders like everyone else, who are worried for their lives, the lives of their families and children, and who for the first time cannot report on what is going on outside of fragmented testimonies", said Diana Alzeer, FIDH Vice President and Al-Haq representative.

"Like shown in Syria and elsewhere, human rights defenders are essential to the process of establishing accountability. Knowing this, authoritarian regimes harass, condemn, imprison and sometimes kill human rights defenders. In Gaza, Israel throws them on the streets, bombs them, starves and displaces them. The humanitarian disaster provoked by Israel in the Gaza Strip amounts to a crime against humanity unfolding which cannot remain unpunished", said Yosra Frawes, head of Maghreb & Middle East desk of FIDH.

Read more