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UN experts say “grounds” to believe sexual violence occured during Oct. 7 attacks

A general view of the United Nations headquarters is seen, Sept. 21, 2020.   -  
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Mary Altaffer/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.


The U.N. envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict presented in New York Monday (Mar. 04), a new report which says there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israeli women suffered sexual violence during the deadly Oct. 7 attack in Israel.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations,” UN envoy Pramila Patten said.

Patten and a 9-member team visited Israel and the West Bank from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 .

The mission team was led by her and the envoy was supported by a technical team composed of nine experts drawn from the United Nations, including staff from the office of the SRSG-SVC and specialists trained in safe and ethical interviewing of survivors/victims and witnesses of sexual violence crimes; a forensic pathologist; and a digital and open-source information analyst.

The 23-page long report says the team’s visit “was neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature.” 

The UN envoy said the team was not able to meet with any victims of sexual violence. 

The October 7th attacks saw around 1,200 people get killed when Hamas militants stormed Israel's southern border. Citing Israeli sources, the report says the border breach saw waves of Palestinian militants groups enter Israel's southern border. 

The waves included Hamas commandos, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees, and other Palestinian paramilitary organizations.

At the Nova music festival and its surroundings, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence took place [...] in most of these incidents, victims were first subjected to rape and then killed, and at least two incidents related to the rape of women's corpses."

"The mission team conducted a visit to kibbutz Be’eri and was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media, were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered. These included a highly publicized allegation of a pregnant woman whose womb had reportedly been ripped open before being killed, with her fetus stabbed while still inside her. Other allegations, including of objects intentionally inserted into female genital organs, could not be verified by the mission team due in part to limited and low-quality imagery."

"The UN report said  the mission was neither intended to, and nor could the mission team, in such a short period of time, establish the prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence during and after the 7 October attacks."

Allegations of systemic sexual violence have been fact-checked by multiple media houses.

Meetings with Israeli institutions, released hostages

The report says that "it must be noted that the information gathered by the mission team was in a large part sourced from Israeli national institutions. This is due to the absence of United Nations entities operating in Israel, as well as the lack of cooperation by the State of Israel with relevant United Nations bodies with an investigative mandate."

It adds that "the mission team nevertheless, took every step, in line with UN methodology, to mitigate issues of source reliability before drawing conclusions within the scope of" the report.

The mission team was for instance able "to ascertain that multiple bodies of women and a few men were found totally or partially naked or with their clothes torn, including some bound and/or attached to structures, which – though circumstantial– may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence."

UN team members held 33 meetings with Israeli institutions and conducted interviews with 34 people including survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 7 attacks, released hostages, health providers and others.

"With regard to the hostages taken to Gaza, we found clear and convincing information that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has been committed against captives", Patterns told a presser. 

"We also have reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may still be ongoing against those still held in captivity."

Militant group Hamas has rejected earlier allegations that fighters of its military wing committed sexual assault.

Cruel and degrading treatment of Palestinians

"Given the mission was not investigative, it did not gather information and/or draw conclusions on attribution of alleged violations to specific armed groups. Such attribution would require a fully-fledged investigative process," the report reads.

In the occupied West Bank, Patten said she received reports about cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians, men and women in detention including sexual violence in the forms of invasive body searches, threats of rape and prolonged forced nudity."

The Office of the special representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict urged "all parties to the conflict to adopt a humanitarian ceasefire, and to ensure that expertise on addressing conflict-related sexual violence informs the design and implementation of all ceasefire and political agreements and that the voices of women and affected communities are heard in all conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes."

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