On the afternoon of Wednesday, November 8, 2023, Amnesty International Canada issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on the Canadian government to support an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the occupied Gaza Strip.
November 8, 2023
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A2
Re: Call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the occupied Gaza Strip and Israel
Amnesty International continues to closely monitor the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023. We are witnessing horror unfolding on an unimaginable scale in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We write to follow up to our letter of October 14 with the urgent call for Canada to support an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the occupied Gaza Strip and Israel and the release of all hostages. A ceasefire is currently the only feasible step to prevent further loss of civilian lives and to ensure access to life-saving aid for people in Gaza.
We reiterate our previous calls for Canada to immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel until there is no longer a substantial risk that arms could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.
Dire humanitarian situation
An unprecedented humanitarian disaster is unfolding with civilians at risk and in need of immediate aid. Since the horrific attacks in southern Israel on October 7, in which Hamas and other armed groups killed at least 1,400 people and took over 200 hostages, Israeli forces have launched thousands of air and ground strikes on the Gaza Strip. The ground offensive now underway by Israeli forces into Gaza is having catastrophic consequences for civilians in Gaza. Forces have pulverized street after street of residential buildings killing civilians on a mass scale and destroying essential infrastructure. These attacks have killed more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, including at least 4,200 children, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More than 25,000 have been injured and over 2,000 bodies are still trapped beneath the rubble. Since the start of the fighting, more than 1.5 million of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents have been internally displaced – some of them twice.
New restrictions mean Gaza is fast running out of water, medicine, fuel, and electricity. The health sector is under severe strain and facing critical shortages. An immediate ceasefire would give hospitals an opportunity to receive life-saving medicines, water, and equipment as well as to repair damaged wards they need to treat the wounded. An immediate ceasefire is the most effective way to protect civilians and prevent further civilian deaths by safely delivering necessities.
Investigation of human rights abuses
In addition to preventing further loss of civilian lives and to ensure access to life-saving aid, a ceasefire would enable independent investigations into human rights violations and war crimes by all parties to be carried out, including by the International Criminal Court and the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Leaflets dropped in northern Gaza by the Israeli army on October 21 warned residents to leave immediately, declaring their lives at risk and explicitly stating that “anyone who chooses not to leave from the north of the [Gaza] Strip to south of Wadi Gaza may be determined an accomplice in a terrorist organization”. Declaring a whole city or region a military target violates international humanitarian law, which stipulates that those carrying out attacks must always distinguish between civilians or civilian objects and military objectives, and that they must take all possible measures to spare civilians and civilian objects.
Civilians in Israel also continue to come under attack from indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza. Amnesty International’s research has highlighted how on October 7, Hamas and other armed groups from the occupied Gaza Strip launched indiscriminate rockets into Israel and sent fighters who committed grave violations of international law, such as summary killings of civilians and hostage taking, which amount to war crimes.
We have also documented damning evidence of war crimes by Israeli forces in their subsequent Gaza offensive, including indiscriminate attacks and collective punishment, that have resulted in mass civilian casualties, wiped out entire families and destroyed residential neighbourhoods. These violations must be investigated as war crimes.
Access to the internet and telecommunications networks is essential to the protection of human rights, especially in times of conflict. Repeated communications blackouts by Israel have put civilians at unprecedented risk, disrupting rescue operations and further isolating the besieged area. Communications blackouts make it even more difficult to obtain critical information and evidence about human rights violations and to hear directly from those experiencing violations. Amnesty International lost touch with our own colleagues during the blackout on and around October 27. Amnesty International’s research has previously shown that internet shutdowns facilitate repression and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Action is urgently needed
The call for a ceasefire is widely embraced by the United Nations, civil society and human rights experts including the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, the UN agencies working in Palestine, numerous UN special procedures, the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who recentlyconcluded a visit to Canada.
Prime Minister, we were shocked and dismayed by Canada’s decision to abstain during the UN General Assembly resolution on the situation in Gaza on October 27. Irrespective of differences in wording, respect for international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and enabling vital humanitarian aid must be at the centre of the international community’s response to this unprecedented crisis.
Amnesty International urgently calls on Canada to support the call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the occupied Gaza Strip and Israel without further delay.
We also call on Canada to use all diplomatic means at its disposal to enable:
- An immediate end to unlawful attacks, including indiscriminate attacks, direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and disproportionate attacks by all parties.
- Israel to immediately allow unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid into the occupied Gaza Strip’s civilians, lift its 16-year illegal blockade on Gaza, and grant immediate access to the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
- The immediate restoration of internet and telecommunications infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, to allow rescue operations amidst Israeli pounding airstrikes and expanding ground operations.
- Hamas and all other armed groups to unconditionally and immediately release all civilian hostages and to treat all those being held captive humanely, including by providing medical treatment, pending their release.
- Israel to release all arbitrarily detained Palestinians.
- A comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in light of the serious violations amounting to crimes under international law currently being committed.
- The International Criminal Court’s ongoing investigation into the situation of Palestine to proceed and to receive full support and all necessary resources.
- The international community to address the root causes of this violence, with utmost urgency.
Prime Minister, for too long, the international community and Canada have failed to respond to the cruel and inhumane violations which prevent Palestinians from living with equal rights and dignity. Two years ago, Amnesty International released a groundbreaking report documenting the cruel system of segregation and dispossession Palestinians have lived under for decades: apartheid. Addressing and dismantling Israel’s system of apartheid against all Palestinians is crucial to end these repeated cycles of violence.
At this desperate hour, we reiterate our pressing call to place human rights and international humanitarian law at the centre of your government’s engagement with Israeli authorities. Humanity must prevail.
Ketty Nivyabandi, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canadian Section (English-Speaking)
France-Isabelle Langlois, Directrice Générale, Amnistie internationale Canada Francophone
What else you can do to help
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Top Image: A fireball erupts from an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images.