© UNRWA/Ashraf Amra | People search for their belongings in the rubble in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza.
Invoking a rarely used article of the UN Charter, Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday called on the Security Council to “press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and unite in a call for a full humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants.
This says that the UN chief “may bring to attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
In a statement to journalists along with the letter, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that this was the first time Mr. Guterres had felt compelled to invoke Chapter 99, since taking office in 2017.
Scale of loss
Mr. Dujarric explained that the UN chief was taking the step “given the scale of the loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, in such a short amount of time”.
He described the use of Article 99 as a “dramatic constitutional move” that Mr. Guterres hoped would put more pressure on the Council – and the international community at large – to demand a ceasefire between the warring parties.
“I think it’s arguably the most important invocation”, Mr. Dujarric told reporters at UN Headquarters, “in my opinion, the most powerful tool that he [the Secretary-General] has.”
The letter was sent to the President of the Security Council in New York late on Wednesday morning.
Since the 7 October terror attacks by Hamas militants in southern Israel and the ongoing bombardment and ground operation by Israeli forces into the Gaza Strip, the Security Council passed one resolution in mid-November, after four failed attempts to find consensus previously, calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses”.
Following a week-long pause in hostilities during which some of the 240 hostages being held by militants in Gaza were exchanged for Palestinian prisoners, fighting began again on 1 December, leading the Secretary-General to register his deep regret.
‘Appalling human suffering’
In his letter to the Council president, Mr. Guterres said the more than eight weeks of fighting overall had “created appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
He highlighted the more than 1,200 “brutally killed” by militants on 7 October, including 33 children, and the 130 people still being held captive.
“They must be immediately and unconditionally released. Accounts of sexual violence during these attacks are appalling”, the UN chief added.
As Israel continues to target Hamas fighters, he said civilians throughout the Strip face grave danger, with over 15,000 reportedly killed, over 40 per cent of them children.
Around 80 per cent of Gazans are displaced, over 1.1 million seeking refuge in UN Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA) shelters.
Hospitals now ‘battlegrounds’
Mr. Guterres said there is simply no effective protection for civilians and nowhere is safe.
“Hospitals have turned into battlegrounds”, he added, saying that amid the constant bombardment of all parts of Gaza “and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon”.
Turning to the 15 November Council Resolution 2712, he said the current conditions were making it impossible to scale up humanitarian supplies, to meet the huge needs of civilians – as the resolution demands.
“We are simply unable to meet those in need inside Gaza”, he wrote, and facing “a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system.”
The consequences of that have irreversible implications for Palestinians and the peace and security of the entire region, he argued.
‘This is urgent’
“Such an outcome must be avoided at all cost. The international community has a responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and end this crisis.
“I reiterate my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared. This is urgent. The civilian population must be spared from greater harm.”
He stressed that with a ceasefire, there was hope “and humanitarian assistance can be delivered in a safe and timely manner”.