A top United Nations watchdog visited Wellington on Tuesday, warning that war crimes were being committed in the Israel-Gaza conflict and that Israel could be displaying genocidal intent.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, spoke to MPs and diplomats in the Beehive Theatrette as part of a visit arranged by the Te Pāti Māori and the Greens, whose MP Golriz Ghahraman hosted the event.
Albanese warned that “Israel might be committing a crime of genocide against the Palestinian people” and that its allegedly indiscriminate targeting of Palestinian people may display “genocidal intent”. She has made three warnings about the potential of genocide since October.
“Genocide is the intentional targeting of a population based on racial, national, ethnic religious lines with intent to destroy it in all or in part,” she said.
“Certainly the statements made by Israeli politicians and military unveil a genocidal intent to wipe out Gaza and its residents.”
She was also critical of Hamas, whose attack on Israel and targeting of Israeli citizens on October 7 sparked the most recent conflict.
“These are war crimes and must be accounted for,” she said.
Albanese was critical of the way Israel and many of its supporters, including the New Zealand Government, had used the concept of a “right to self-defence” as a justification for its war in Gaza.
“Israel has the right to protect itself, to protect its citizens, and to protect itsterritory.
“But the right to self-defence is something else. It’s not the right to protect itself, it’s the right to wage a war, to use military force against another country,” she said.
The status of Gaza and the non-existence of a Palestinian state meant the right to self-defence could not be applied to the current war.
As a Special Rapporteur, Albanese’s role is to monitor and report on violations of international law that occur in the occupied Palestinian territory. She compares what she sees with international law. Albanese’s role also has a non-impartial advocacy component, which allows her to push for justice on the issues she has reported on.
“My job is not to be impartial between the perpetrator and the victim,” Albanese said.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.