Violence that included sexual atrocities committed during the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 in Israel amounts to war crimes and may also be crimes against humanity, two United Nations human rights experts said on Monday, following months of frustrated accusations from Israel and women’s groups that the U.N. was ignoring the rape and sexual mutilation of women during the Oct. 7 invasion.
Alice Jill Edwards, a special rapporteur on torture, and Morris Tidball-Binz, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the growing evidence of sexual violence in the day’s wide range of “brutal attacks” was “particularly harrowing,” noting allegations of sexual assault, gang rape, mutilation and gunshots to the genital areas.
In a statement, they called for “full accountability for the multitude of alleged crimes,” and urged all parties to agree to a cease-fire, abide by international law, and investigate any crimes alleged to have occurred during the fighting.
“These acts constitute gross violations of international law, amounting to war crimes which, given the number of victims and the extensive premeditation and planning of the attacks, may also qualify as crimes against humanity,” they said. “There are no circumstances that justify their perpetration.”
Israeli officials say about 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 taken hostage on Oct. 7. Investigators with Israel’s top national police unit, Lahav 433, have been gathering evidence of cases of sexual violence but have not specified a number. Hamas has denied the accusations of sexual violence.
Reacting to the experts’ statement on Monday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said on social media: “Harrowing. Hamas’ horrific acts of sexual violence must be immediately and unequivocally condemned.”
Accounts of sexual violence on Oct. 7 were shared in a presentation at U.N. headquarters in New York in early December. “Silence is complicity,” said Sheryl Sandberg, the former Meta executive, who helped organize the presentation. Hundreds of protesters outside accused the United Nations of holding a double standard on sexual violence, which the U.N. has acknowledged in many other conflicts. Some chanted: “Me too, unless you’re a Jew.”
The New York Times published a two-month investigation in late December, finding that the attacks against women were part of a pattern of gender-based violence on Oct. 7. The Times identified at least seven locations where Israeli women and girls appeared to have been sexually assaulted or mutilated.
Reporters interviewed witnesses who described seeing women raped and killed along a highway, reviewed photographs that showed a woman’s corpse with dozens of nails driven into her thighs and groin, and spoke with volunteer medics and Israeli soldiers who came across at least 24 bodies of women and girls in at least six houses, some mutilated, some tied up, and many naked and alone.