The United Nations will investigate sexual violence Israel claims Hamas terrorists committed against Israeli women and girls during their invasion on Oct. 7, satisfying a long-requested plea from Israel.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday that such reports of rape and sexual assault “must be vigorously investigated,” breaking weeks of silence on the issue.
“There are numerous accounts of sexual violence during the abhorrent acts of terror by Hamas on 7 October that must be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” Guterres said. His statement added: “Gender-based violence must be condemned. Anytime. Anywhere.”
The statement came as Israel has demanded for more than 50 days for the United Nations and its human rights groups to investigate the alleged sexual violence.
Guterres’ statement was met with swift criticism from Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan, who said the secretary-general was trying to satisfy critics.
“The Secretary-General’s words only sharpen the fact that when it comes to Israeli women, sexual violence that has been proven by state authorities still needs to be ‘investigated,'” Erdan said. “For him, when it comes to Israeli women, you can doubt the facts and wait 55 days to call an unknown party to conduct an ‘investigation.’”
He added: “The Secretary-General was merely trying to calm the justified anger of many around the world for his silence and the silence of the UN. Surprisingly, when it comes to the claims of Hamas and the ‘Gaza Ministry of Health’ against Israel regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza, for him there is no doubt and no need for ‘investigations.’”
The Israeli ambassador said next week Israeli officials would hold an event at the U.N. to provide evidence showing Hamas’ alleged sexual crimes. “I once again invite the Secretary-General to come, unequivocally condemn Hamas for committing these shocking crimes, and act to open an investigation against Hamas,” Erdan added.
Earlier this week, Israel attempted to get the United Nations to recognize and condemn Hamas’ alleged actions against Israeli women and girls during a meeting in Geneva.
At the event, Israeli officials urged the international body – which often condemns human rights violations – not to keep quiet about the issue.
Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, an associate professor at Bar-Ilan University who spoke at the event, accused U.N. rights bodies of having “downplayed” and “minimized” sexual violence to perpetuate Israel as “the aggressor” in the current conflict.
“Among the war crimes and the crimes against humanity that Hamas committed on Oct. 7 were also sexual crimes, sexual assaults, rapes, that were part, that were a systematic part of their attack, of the massacre, and we are expecting a strong condemnation,” she told Reuters. “We expected recognition of that. We expected a clear and loud statement that says that there is no justification for using the bodies of women as a weapon of war. None of this came up until now.”
The professor said she was “deeply concerned because of the complete lack of acknowledgment, of recognition by United Nations bodies and entities and by the international human rights world, lack of recognition that indeed Hamas committed horrific sexual crimes against women, against women and girls, on Oct. 7 in Israel.”
Guterres did not provide specifics on when the investigation would begin or how long it would continue.