Israel/Gaza: IBAHRI calls for adherence to international law

Thursday 2 November 2023

In the aftermath of the atrocities that took place on 7 October 2023, the President of the International Bar Association (IBA) issued a statement in condemnation of Hamas’s atrocity crimes. The statement acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defence. In the weeks following, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has closely monitored consequent events, which have been fast-moving and evolving. The IBAHRI also understands the requirement for context while not condoning actions or viewing in a vacuum.

Each one of us expresses our heartbreak and dismay at the horrific toll already taken by this conflict.

The IBAHRI’s position on the unfolding situation in Israel/Gaza is premised on international law. On this basis, the IBAHRI firmly reminds all parties to the conflict:

  • that the principle of proportionality applies to all uses of military force, irrespective of the rationale of resorting to military force;
  • that the humanitarian law principles of distinction (this means distinguishing between military and civilian objects, and the duty to protect the latter) and proportionality are sacred, and must be complied with at all times; and
  • that international human rights law and international criminal law continue to apply in armed conflict, alongside international humanitarian law.

These are well-established principles of international law, rooted in the imperative to take every and all measures necessary in order to protect human life and uphold human dignity, even in war. They need to be followed in the interest of us all, including Israelis and Palestinians. This means that if one party does not adhere to the rule of law, a green light is not given to the other side to ignore the laws of armed conflict. In confronting Hamas’s crimes and upholding Israel’s right to defend itself, the above-mentioned principles, grounded in the rule of law, the laws of war and human rights, must be upheld and adhered to at all times.

  1. The IBAHRI calls for an immediate ceasefire, and the creation of humanitarian corridors and civilian safe havens. It urges all parties to take appropriate steps to remove children from harm. The IBAHRI calls on the UN and the international community to support those efforts.
    The protection of children should be one of the highest priorities in any conflict. Save the Children reminds us that ‘a child is a child, no matter where they are from, and must be protected’.
    Since 7 October, countless children have lost their lives. Hamas has killed Israeli children and others remain in captivity within the Gaza Strip, held as hostages. Thousands of children have been killed as a result of Israeli military action in Gaza, and children have been killed in the West Bank. In Gaza, children are bearing the catastrophic consequences of the absence of humanitarian aid.
    The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are clear in calling for special respect, protection and care to be granted to children during armed conflict.
  2. Without humanitarian corridors and civilian safe havens, the moving of people to South Gaza while air strikes continue in the same area is wholly unjustifiable and reprehensible.
    The daily bombardment of Gaza by Israeli airstrikes is tearing apart the lives of many Palestinian civilians, including children. The laws of war are clear that there cannot be collective punishment. Many civilians who fled Gaza City and the North of Gaza at the direction of the Israeli authorities have been killed by airstrikes.
    Equally, the effective delivery of warnings to civilians, which is a legal requirement under the laws of war, implies civilians’ ability to receive such warnings. In this sense, internet and communication shutdowns are detrimental to efforts to protect civilian life.
    It is imperative that the regular firing of Hamas rockets into Israel stop. While they are rarely as lethal as the sophisticated Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military apparatus, they still cause anguish and mortal fear among the Israeli population.
  3. The IBAHRI calls for the immediate and safe return of all hostages taken into Gaza.
    The abduction of people including the elderly, women, children, even babies, and holding them hostage is a gross violation of law.
  4. The IBAHRI calls on Israel to allow the unhindered provision of humanitarian aid to civilians throughout the Gaza Strip. Given concerns of possible misuse of essential aid for military purposes by Hamas, the provision should be overseen by and coordinated with international humanitarian agencies to ensure that aid is used for humanitarian purposes only.
    The blocking of humanitarian aid, including water, energy, fuel, food, and medicines, and the failure to enable it to enter Gaza in appropriate quantities is having a devastating impact on civilian life.
  5. Where war crimes have been committed, we remind Israel and Hamas that there will be serious consequences for those in leadership positions that have planned, facilitated and executed them.
    A ground invasion to ‘root out’ Hamas will inevitably lead to a great loss of Israeli and Palestinian life, and there is a likelihood that hostages held in tunnels will lose their lives. During the course of such a military intervention, members of the IDF are also likely to be killed.
    According to the laws of war, only legitimate military targets may be attacked, and when there is a chance that civilians could be harmed, military action can be taken only if the demonstrable military advantage gained is substantial enough to justify the action in question. This is where the fundamental principle of proportionality applies.
    The IBAHRI recognises that storing armaments in schools and hospitals is a violation of the laws of war. Responding to such violations, if accurate, poses a moral dilemma that no nation should have to face. However, we urge Israel to follow the time-honoured principles that form the basis of international law as the best way to defeat terrorism and secure long-term defence.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in the aftermath of the Second World War and calls for the respect of every human life. International law prohibits language that calls for the annihilation of groups of human beings. The peoples of Israel and Palestine are both crying out with grief. The escalation of violence only adds to their suffering. The spread of antisemitism and Islamophobia throughout the world is a horrifying reminder of why human rights principles must be our lodestar in times of crisis.

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Director, IBAHRI

Anne Ramberg, Co-Chair, IBAHRI

Mark Stephens CBE, Co-Chair, IBAHRI


Notes to the Editor 

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  2. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  4. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:

For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org