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Palestinian groups condemn silence of UN’s top official on Genocide

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Picture: United Nations / Taken on March 9, 2022 – Alice Wairimu Nderitu, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the prevention of genocide. ‘The failure of the international community, including Ms Alice Wairimu Nderitu, to prevent Israel’s genocide in Gaza has tangible consequences on the ground,’ says the letter from Palestinian groups.

By Jake Johnson

“The glaring absence of any action in response to the sustained mass atrocities endured by Palestinians in Gaza raises significant concerns about the special adviser’s capability to execute her mandate.”

More than a dozen Palestinian human rights groups on Wednesday demanded an investigation into the United Nations Office of Genocide Prevention and its special adviser, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, over their near-total silence as the Israeli military continues its large-scale assault on Gaza’s starving population.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Al-Haq, and other organisations wrote that the “absence of any action in response to the sustained mass atrocities endured by Palestinians in Gaza raises significant concerns about the special adviser’s capability to execute her mandate with due effectiveness and impartiality”.

The groups argued that the silence from Nderitu is “particularly glaring” now that the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest legal body, has ruled that South Africa’s genocide case against Israel is plausible and ordered the Israeli military to do everything in its power to prevent genocide.

Other UN experts have vocally warned that Palestinians in Gaza are facing a possible genocide at the hands of the Israeli military. In November, eight UN special rapporteurs issued a joint statement declaring that “time is running out to prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

“The UN cannot afford to stay silent in the face of the genocide currently taking place in Gaza and must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”

Nderitu, a Kenyan diplomat, expressed alarm on October 15 over “the loss of civilian lives resulting from Israeli bombardments” in Gaza but has not described Israel’s actions as possibly genocidal. A review of the UN Office on Genocide Prevention’s website shows that Nderitu has not issued a public statement on Gaza in nearly four months, even as she has condemned the intensification of violence in Sudan and other countries.

Israeli forces have killed tens of thousands of Gazans since Nderitu’s October 15 statement, and nearly the entire population of the enclave has been displaced in those intervening months.

“The gravity of the situation on the ground in Gaza and the urgency it commands intensify our concerns that the special adviser is in dereliction of her duties and responsibilities demanded by her mandate,” the Palestinian groups wrote Wednesday.

“This failure includes neglecting to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza or, at the very least, to the alarming risk of genocide; failing to acknowledge the ICJ ruling that Israel is plausibly committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza along with the provisional measures ordered for Israel; and refusing to engage meaningfully, meet, or respond to requests from Palestinian human rights organisations.”

The groups urged Guterres to launch an investigation into “the reasons behind the failure of both the special adviser and the Office on Genocide Prevention to fulfil their mandates” and to publicly disclose the findings.

“The failure of the international community, including Ms Alice Wairimu Nderitu, to prevent Israel’s genocide in Gaza has tangible consequences on the ground,” the new letter reads. “This is evident in the tragic toll of 100,000 Palestinians who have been killed, injured, or are missing, constituting 4 percent of the total Gaza population. The ongoing mass atrocities in Gaza, require an unequivocal response. The UN cannot afford to stay silent in the face of the genocide currently taking place in Gaza and must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”

Nderitu has faced internal criticism at the UN over her lack of response to Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip.

In late October, dozens of unnamed UN staffers signed an internal memo rebuking Nderitu for failing to sufficiently condemn Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and its yearslong blockade, which has denied food, water, and medicine to increasingly desperate Palestinians.

A petition calling for Nderitu’s resignation, meanwhile, has garnered more than 21,000 signatures.

“With the official in charge of genocide prevention taking no action despite public pressure, statements by UN special rapporteurs, and thousands of civilians killed, including UN staff and their families, we demand Nderitu’s immediate resignation and for her to be held accountable for her failure to act in response to mass atrocities in Gaza,” states the petition, which was launched in December.

“The world is watching, and history will remember the actions taken, or not taken, by the United Nations in response to a genocide unfolding in Gaza.”

Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article was first published on Common Dreams