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In light of the ongoing devastation in Gaza, Human Rights Watch called yesterday for the suspension of arms supplies to both the Israeli army and Palestinian armed groups, writes Andrew Stroehlein, media director of Human Rights Watch, in his daily briefing.
This is primarily an urgent request to help protect civilians who are being killed on an unprecedented scale right now – by the thousands.
It is also a warning to those supplying the weapons, given the real risk that the transferred weapons could be used to commit serious abuses. By providing weapons that would knowingly and significantly contribute to unlawful attacks, allies and supporters could become complicit in war crimes.
For the Israeli government, these allies include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany. All of them should immediately suspend military aid and arms sales to the Israeli government as long as its forces continue to commit war crimes.
On the Palestinian side, these allies include Iran and other governments, which should immediately stop supplying weapons to Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as long as they commit war crimes.
In the tense global information environment surrounding this conflict, I expect that this call for an arms freeze will receive considerable media attention in the coming days. However, for us, there is nothing unusual about our announcement.
We have called for an arms embargo many times: in Syria in 2011 and 2015 due to appalling abuses by the government; in Myanmar in 2017 following repression and mass atrocities against the Rohingya; in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2016 and 2020 in light of the atrocities in Yemen; and in Ethiopia in 2021, related to severe abuses in the Tigray region.
Earlier this year, we also urged the extension of the arms embargo to Sudan to help stop the country’s growing mass atrocities.
An arms embargo is one step governments can take to try to reduce civilian deaths in conflicts where warring parties commit atrocities with no sign of stopping.
In the current fighting, Israel and Palestinian armed groups continue to commit serious abuses, and their leaders have made statements indicating that serious abuses by their forces will continue.
Given all this, and given the need to save civilian lives, suspending the supply of arms to known violators makes only sense.
Refusal to take such a step when the cost is so clear – when thousands of civilians are being killed – risks making arms-providing governments and other countries complicit in ongoing atrocities.