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Dr Ruby Manukia Schaumkel
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The Role of International Law in Gaza

Dr Ruby Manukia Schaumkel, MCNZ Legal Advisor —

The United Nations is a forum for the world's nations to respond to conflict, however the organisation's real power is in the Security Council. To date members have been unable to agree on a speedy response to the war between Israel and Hamas.

The United Nations can play multiple roles in international conflicts, ranging from humanitarian efforts to military force, depending on the agency. Most recently, five United Nations (UN) agencies issued a joint statement calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire” to allow “immediate, unrestricted humanitarian access throughout Gaza to allow humanitarian actors to reach civilians in need, save lives and prevent future human suffering.” These humanitarian agencies, including the World Food Programme, participate in the relief efforts in the Gaza Strip.

The Security Council is made up of representatives from 15 countries. There are five permanent members - United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and France - who always sit on the Security Council. Each member has the power to veto any resolutions passed by the council, including statements of sentiment, economic sanctions or military force. There are also 10 members who are serving temporary roles that are elected by the full body of countries every few years. While all 15 members play a role in what the council does, the five countries with veto power are the most powerful because they can prevent the entire council from acting if even one of them disagrees.

For instance, in mid-October, the United States vetoed a resolution proposed by Brazil calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the Israel-Gaza fighting. Traditionally, the USA tends to be more protective of the Israeli position in these Security Council negotiations. But other countries are quick to issue vetoes when their own interests are threatened. For instance, Russia has vetoed resolutions related to the conflict in Ukraine. As the Security Council continues to meet to discuss the situation in the Middle East, the interests and views of these five permanent members will continue to play the most important role in whatever it decides to do.

New Zealand's position on international humanitarian law

New Zealand has joined others in the international community, in a statement to the United Nations Security Council: calling for a humanitarian pause to the conflict in Gaza and the immediate establishment of humanitarian corridors and safe areas to protect innocent civilians.

New Zealand condemns unequivocally Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel, especially by targeting civilians, and the taking of hostages which are clear violations of international law.

New Zealand and other nations in the international community, have called for the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza. New Zealand supports Israel’s right to defend itself in full compliance with international law including in respect of any actions taken in Gaza. The protection of civilians, and delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance remains a critical priority. New Zealand expects and urges all parties to act in accordance with international humanitarian law, which imposes obligations upon all those engaged in armed conflict.

Information for New Zealanders in the Region

The New Zealand Government has been operating a 24/7 emergency response to respond to the situation in Israel and Gaza and to provide consular assistance to New Zealanders located there. New Zealand’s assisted departure flights from Israel have ended, but commercial options remain available. New Zealanders in Israel, who wish to leave, should do so now. The security situation remains highly volatile and flight operations could be interrupted at any time. New Zealanders in the region are encouraged to register on SafeTravel for the most up-to-date information.

Anyone that wants to leave Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories but can’t, should contact the New Zealand Consular Emergency Line on +64 99 20 20 20. New Zealanders are advised to avoid non-essential travel in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Higher levels (do not travel) apply to some regions.

New Zealanders are advised against travelling to the region to join the conflict. New Zealand’s ability to provide consular assistance to New Zealanders caught up in the conflict is very limited. The New Zealand Government may not be able to assist New Zealanders who are detained, injured or otherwise prevented from leaving areas of armed conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Humanitarian Assistance

New Zealand announced a $5 million humanitarian contribution following appeals to address urgent humanitarian needs in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

A contribution of $2.5 million will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and $2.5 million will go to the World Food Programme (WFP).

For more information contact the New Zealand Consulate or Embassy in your region.

Our love and prayers are with everyone affected by the Israel-Gaza war.