Emily Thornberry: UK abstention over Gaza at UN was a ‘disgrace’

Emily Thornberry: UK abstention over Gaza at UN was a ‘disgrace’

Shadow foreign secretary berates government for not backing a probe into Palestinian deaths, as minister Alistair Burt brands the motion 'not impartial and unbalanced'

Emily Thornberry and Alistair Burt
Emily Thornberry and Alistair Burt

UK allies are allowed to be their own judge and jury after breaking international law, Labour has said as it criticised the Government’s response to Palestinian deaths.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said it was “a disgrace” that the UK Government abstained on a UN Human Rights Council vote that launched an investigation into the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians during protests at the Gaza border.

The resolution, to which a further 13 countries abstained on, condemned the “disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians”.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said the substance of the resolution was “not impartial and it was unbalanced” as he defended the UK’s decision.

Speaking during an urgent question in the Commons, Ms Thornberry said: “This is the Government that says Saudi Arabia should be allowed to investigate itself for bombing weddings in Yemen.

“This is the Government that says Bahrain should be left to investigate itself for torturing children in prisons.

“Time and time again we see this – if you’re an ally of the Government, you get away with breaking international law with impunity, and you can also be allowed to be your own judge and jury too.”

Ms Thornberry accused Israel of producing “a blatant piece of nonsense” over a previous investigation into an incident in Gaza.

“That is what an independent investigation by Israel looks like and that, instead of an international commission of inquiry, is what this Government on Friday decided to support, and that is nothing short of a disgrace,” she added.

Mr Burt, in his reply, said: “We could not support an investigation that refused to explicitly examine the action of non-state actors such as Hamas.

“An investigation of this kind would not provide us with a comprehensive assessment of accountability.

“It would risk hardening positions on both sides and move us further away from a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.”

He said the UK continued to support the need for an independent and transparent investigation “with an international element”.

SNP MP David Linden (Glasgow East) welcomed the UN Human Rights Council decision, adding: “It was a disgraceful decision for the UK to abstain from the vote. It flies in the face of previous statements from the Prime Minister and other ministers in this House calling for an independent investigation.”

Conservative former minister Crispin Blunt said: “Given that Gazans did all the dying and the Israeli soldiers did all the killing, in what way does he expect an internal Israeli inquiry to be less partial and less unhelpfully unbalanced than the inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council?”

Mr Burt said the answer was unknown until the make-up of the inquiry process is seen, reiterating an “international element” is one of the most important things required of the Israeli process.

Conservative former minister Stephen Crabb said there is a need to reform the UN Human Rights Council, adding: “Whatever difficult questions Israel needs to answer for the violence last week, this absurd body – which we see some of the world’s worst human rights abusers play judge and jury on the rest of the world – is not the way to do it.”

Mr Burt said the UK has had concerns over the council for “some time”, particularly in relation to Israel.

Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton Kemptown) branded any Israeli-led investigation as a “whitewash” as he pushed the UK to support an independent inquiry.

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