A Changing UN General Assembly?: UN condemns use of human shields

On June 26, the UN General Assembly, in a first, amended its Global Counter Terrorism Strategy to condemn the use of civilians as human shields by terrorist organizations. The Strategy was originally adopted by the UN in 2006, and is reviewed every two years.

Despite the UN’s usual sympathy towards the Palestinian cause, the new resolution is specifically aimed at Hamas – which uses human shields as a cynical propaganda and defence tactic against Israel. Hamas is known for hiding behind women and children, as well as inside hospitals and schools, while launching missiles into Israel. Hamas believes it wins either way – Israel either refrains from attacking Hamas terrorists, or it risks killing or injuring Palestinian civilians, which Hamas uses for propaganda purposes. The UN resolution condemned this double war crime of hiding behind women and children while attacking civilians, albeit without naming Hamas. Further, the resolution denounces the use of schools and hospitals for military means to launch attacks and store weapons – in addition to the use of civilians as shields against military retaliation from attacks.

This decision followed a vote on June 13, which saw a majority of the UN General Assembly support a US-backed amendment to condemn Hamas. Although the amendment was not passed because the motion was unable to obtain the required two-thirds majority, the fact that the vote was brought to the floor despite Algeria’s motion to repress it, and that all 28 EU countries voted in favour of this amendment, was seen as a victory for Israel. Following the UN’s adding the paragraph to the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon praised the majority vote and the new paragraph. He declared, “a plurality of members in the General Assembly voted to denounce Hamas, and now today’s resolution explicitly condemned terrorists for the despicable double war crime of hiding behind women and children while attacking civilians.”

Are these successes so close together a response to US Ambassador’s Nikki Haley’s statements condemning the UN’s behaviour towards Israel? Perhaps, or possibly the UN may finally be realizing that constantly blaming Israel alone for the violence is counter-productive. In early 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the naming of a Palestinian women’s centre after finding out that it was named after terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who was involved in a terrorist act in 1978 that claimed the lives of 38 civilians.

From the looks of these trends, there may be a faint light at the end of the tunnel for those hoping for a degree of even-handedness from the UN on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (for more AIJAC comment highlighting some recent positive signs at the UN, see here and here.)