26 January 2024

We are writing to you as the alumni of the European Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation (EMA), part of the Global Campus for Human Rights (mainly funded by the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).)  We acknowledge the reply to our statement and letter by Michael Mann on behalf of Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen on 14 December 2023 and express our deep disappointment with its contents.

We urge the EU, and the Commission in particular, to take a much stronger and more vocal stance on what is happening before our very eyes in Gaza. This is a moment in history on which the viability and moral authority of the EU will be judged. The very existence of human rights systems and human rights institutions are at risk. The failure of the EU to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and to encourage EU member States to ensure that international humanitarian law and human rights law are respected and protected is of great disappointment to our Alumni of human rights professionals. Decades of progress in international relations, peace building and, most of all, consensus on the central importance of human dignity and protecting human life is at risk.

Recent weeks have seen the International Court of Justice emergency hearing of South Africa’s case against Israel under the 1948 Genocide Convention, alleging that Israel are committing genocide and failing to prevent or punish the direct and public incitement to genocide by senior Israeli officials and others. Even before this development, a significant collective of independent UN human rights experts and special rapporteurs have been warning for several weeks of the threat of genocide and growing signs of genocidal intent, with Israel demonstrating it has the military capacity to carry out such intent.

These developments highlight the completely inadequate response of the EU to the deplorable situation in Gaza and the extremely concerning signs of genocide in the occupied Gaza strip. Even a “serious risk” of genocide occurring means that all states, including EU states have an international legal obligation to act to prevent genocide, whether or not they are party to the Genocide Convention.

Today, the ruling of the ICJ on provisional measures is very significant and should put the world on notice not to wait until it is too late. The highest court of the United Nations has accepted that there is a plausible case and risk that Israel is in breach or will breach its obligations under the Genocide Convention. This clearly triggers an obligation on all States to act to prevent genocide. While the court has stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, it has ordered that Israel take all measures in its power to prevent genocide in Gaza and demands that Israel contains death and damage in Gaza.

We urge the European Union (EU) to call for an immediate, unconditional and permanent ceasefire to the war in Gaza. Additionally, we call for the lifting of the illegal blockade, the imposition of relevant sanctions on Israel, the prompt release of all arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared Palestinian captives, and the return of Israeli hostages. It is crucial for the EU to take decisive measures to address the ongoing situation.

As stated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the situation in Gaza has become “apocalyptic”, while the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator has stated that “Gaza has simply become uninhabitable … while the world watches on”. The Israeli Government’s military campaign is the deadliest in recent history. It has reportedly killed well over 25,000 people – the large majority children and women – and injured tens of thousands more, including in UN facilities and hospitals and locations announced as “safe”.  Israel has completely ignored the distinction between civilians and combatants, in complete violation of international humanitarian law.

The UN Secretary General has informed the Security Council that an estimated 85 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are displaced, with more than 60 percent of homes destroyed, that hunger and thirst are rampant and widespread famine looms. The latest Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC) report found devastating levels of food insecurity in Gaza and confirmed that the entire population of Gaza – roughly 2.2 million people – are in crisis levels of acute food insecurity, or worse.  The destruction of homes, schools, universities and other vital infrastructure such as hospitals and power plants resemble some of the most devastating campaigns in modern history.

While we vehemently condemn the attacks committed by Hamas on 7 October, as a breach of international law and those responsible should be held to account. However, we emphasise that the response from Israel has been utterly disproportionate, amounting to collective punishment and unmeasurable suffering. More than 3 months into Israels’ war on Gaza, it is horrifying to read daily reports of indiscriminate Israeli attacks on the Palestinian people. This requires urgent and priority attention from world leaders.

We are aware of the calls for “humanitarian pauses” from the EU and the European Commission President in recent weeks, and the calls for a ceasefire from Commissioner Borrell. However, the EU has a moral obligation to act much more decisively and to play an active role in bringing about a ceasefire. The EU must play a strong role in calling on other international players, including the United States, to respect and uphold International legal obligations and to cease supporting Israel’s military offensive.

As human rights professionals, working in a variety of institutions around Europe and further afield, we call on the EU as a collective to build confidence in international law and institutions within its membership. Given the commitment and role of the EU to protect international law and justice mechanisms, the EU must publicly support the critical adjudication role of the independent ICJ.

The EU and its members must show decisive leadership in calling for a ceasefire. The fact that the ICJ has accepted jurisdiction in this preliminary hearing means that there is a significant risk that Israel is in breach or will breach the Genocide Convention.

The magnitude of devastation and destruction in Gaza, coupled with the humanitarian catastrophe threatening the survival of Palestinians, represents an erosion of the rule of law and has to be a matter of concern for all European Union member states and the global community. As an Institution, the EU must insist on respect for international human rights and humanitarian law and on the legal mechanisms created to uphold these laws and to hold those who breach them to account. This is essential to ensure accountability under law, non-discrimination and full respect for all human rights legal obligations. It is time for the EU to show with concrete actions and certainty that it has the commitment to its vision for the realisation of human rights values.

In view of the above, we call on the EU and individual EU States to adopt the following steps:

  • To call for an immediate, unconditional and permanent ceasefire and the release and safe return of all captives.
  • To support and respect the ICJ ruling by showing decisive leadership in the role all States must play to prevent breaches of the Genocide Convention.
  • To impose sanctions on Israel, block the sale of weapons and armament to Israel or any other parts engaged in the attacks as well as any other necessary measures to prevent the continuation and further escalation of the conflict.
  • To unequivocally, unconditionally and publicly support the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), by ensuring that the ICC has all the necessary meaning order to carry out its mandate.
  • To recognize the situation of apartheid in order to deal with the causes of the conflict
  • To concentrate all efforts on the creation a path towards peace which must include the recognition of a sovereign State of Palestine

EMAlumni association